Tag Archives: Dustin Hoffman

John and Mary (1969, Peter Yates)

Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow are John and Mary, respectively, and they’ve just woken up after spending the night together. They met at a singles bar. Is it going to be a one night stand or is it going to be something more?

Both come with some baggage, though of different varieties. Farrow’s last serious relationship was with a married politican (Michael Tolan); they spent a lot of their time hiding from his family. Hoffman, on the other hand, had a model ex-girlfriend (Sunny Griffin) who moved in with him and wasn’t a good cook. Seeing as Hoffman’s a neat freak and a control freak, it didn’t work out.

John Mortimer’s screenplay uses a handful of techniques to fill in the backstory. For a while, there’s narration from both Hoffman and Farrow–the film takes place over a day, with the narration mostly taking place in the morning–then there are flashbacks (featuring Tolan and Griffin) and daydreams. Director Yates plays with how the flashbacks and daydreams relate to the present action–he and Mortimer end up using them to generate confusion to cause suspense for the viewer, which is effective enough… only it’s a little cheap.

Despite excellent cinematography from Gayne Rescher and production design from John Robert Lloyd–most of the present action takes place in Hoffman’s apartment, with the flashbacks (and daydreams) expanding to New York City–Yates doesn’t have a tempo for any of it. Farrow’s more compelling than Hoffman, but not because of her writing or because of how Yates directs her; she’s sympathetic. From the start, Hoffman’s a jerk. And as the film peels back the onion, he gets jerkier as things progress.

Yates and Mortimer lean the film’s entire weight on the effectiveness of third act reveals, only all those reveals are with the time shift gimmicks. There aren’t any character development reveals. Sure, it’s only a day, but Hoffman and Farrow’s performances don’t gain anything from all the flashback exposition. That particular failing is more Mortimer’s fault than Yates’s, however.

Though if Yates had come up with better–read, any–integration of the film’s various moving parts, he’d probably have been able to compensate.

Instead, John and Mary gets by thanks to Farrow and Hoffman’s performances. She’s got a better character, turns in a better performance. He’s Dustin Hoffman, he’s got some inherent likability–even if the film does sledgehammer away at it, particularly in the first act. When he does get big moments in the script, no one really knows what to do with them. They’re all kind of trite; someone–Yates, Mortimer, or Hoffman–needs to have a handle on the character. None do. Yet Hoffman is still able to get through. He wouldn’t be able to without Farrow.

John and Mary’s not bad. It’s just not successful. Yates is way too blasé about the whole thing.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Yates; screenplay by John Mortimer, based on the novel by Mervyn Jones; director of photography, Gayne Rescher; edited by Frank P. Keller; music by Quincy Jones; production designer, John Robert Lloyd; produced by Ben Kadish; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (John), Mia Farrow (Mary), Michael Tolan (James), Sunny Griffin (Ruth), Stanley Beck (Ernest), and Tyne Daly (Hilary).


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Tootsie (1982, Sydney Pollack)

Tootsie opens with Dustin Hoffman giving acting classes. He’s a failed New York actor–but a well-employed waiter–who must be giving these classes on spec. It seems like Hoffman being a beloved acting teacher might end up having something to do with the plot of Tootsie, which has Hoffman pretending to be a female actor in order to get a part, but it doesn’t. Save a throwaway scene where he’s helping love interest Jessica Lange work on her part.

The film, with its two (credited) screenwriters and two story concocters (though Larry Gelbart is both), is a narrative mess. Teri Garr, as Hoffman’s student and good friend, disappears somewhere in the second act, once Lange gets more to do. Bill Murray (in an uncredited, main supporting role) at least provides some continuity, which not even director Pollack (who also acts as Hoffman’s agent) gets to do. The conclusion of the movie is this swirl of contrivances, all forcefully introduced earlier in the picture, and no one who should be there for it has a scene. Tootsie just ignores the previous couple hours to get the coda to work.

And it does. Tootsie does, despite all the narrative problems and missed opportunities and dropped characters, come through for the finish. It helps having Owen Roizman’s photography, it helps being shot in New York City, it needs stars Hoffman and Lange. No matter what story problems, Tootsie never fails its actors. Even with it’s Pollack–Tootsie, the film, never fails Pollack, the actor, even if Pollack, the director, doesn’t quite have the film under control. Pollack’s got a great rant towards the end.

I’ll start from the bottom of the cast and work up just because I’m not really sure what I’m going to say about Hoffman yet.

George Gaynes is hilarious as this lech actor on the soap opera where Hoffman gets his job (as a woman). Gaynes just has to be a believable buffoon, but he does it with such ease, he calms Tootsie a bit. It never seems too extreme just because Gaynes’s so sturdy. He tempers it, along with Dabney Coleman. Coleman’s the jerk director of the soap. He’s also dating Lange. He also doesn’t have a big enough part in the story during the second half. Coleman’s still good though. He’s got the right energy–and right buffoonery–to keep it going.

Charles Durning is about the only actor who doesn’t get anything to do overall. He gets a lot to do in the story, he’s just poorly written. He’s Lange’s dad, who gets a crush on Hoffman when Hoffman’s “in character” as the female actor. It’s a sitcom foil, which wastes Durning; there’s also some continuity issues regarding Durning’s supportive dad when Lange’s character is initially introduced as an alcoholic because of being an orphan? Maybe I missed some exposition, but I was paying attention.

Murray’s good. He’s dry, he’s funny, he’s Hoffman’s conscience if Hoffman had a somewhat disinterested, bemused conscience. He’s present through most of the film, though, which is important. Most other characters just evaporate when the story doesn’t need them. Tootsie keeps Murray around even when it doesn’t.

Now, Teri Garr. She’s great. She also gets one good scene and it’s after the movie’s been ignoring her for an hour. It’s not a great part, either. She’s such a function in the script, she and Hoffman’s subplot literally kicks off just because his particular lie to her. Any other lie and it would’ve been fine. But her great scene is great. It’s a shame she’s not around more.

The same sort of goes for Jessica Lange, who shares the same space in the film as Garr, at least until Garr leaves. Then Lange gets to be around and sometimes she gets stuff to do, sometimes she just gets to sit around. Lange’s best acting moments are far superior to the script’s moments for her as an actor. Pollack works on directing Lange more than anyone else in the film.

Including Hoffman, who Pollack sort of lets do his own thing, to great success. Hoffman’s performance, as an example of comedy Method acting, is outstanding. There’s not much of a role past the MacGuffin–Pollack relies way too heavily on montages after a certain point, including a completely nonsensical one–but it’s an outstanding performance. The film positions Hoffman front and center, then transforms him into his new role–an actor playing this female actor–on screen. It’s awesome. It also is nowhere near enough to fix the script problems because Tootsie’s a fairly shallow movie overall.

And it shouldn’t be. There’s so much potential, not just for Hoffman, but for everyone in the cast. Lange, Garr, Murray, Coleman… okay, not Durning, but everyone else and a lot with them. And maybe even Durning if the film remembered Lange’s alcoholism subplot instead of forgetting it immediately.

Tootsie’s all right. It should be better, it could’ve been a lot worse. It’s well made, has a nice pace, has a nice Dave Grusin score–and a nice original song from Stephen Bishop–and some phenomenal acting. Hoffman and Lange are excellent and Garr ought to be. She just doesn’t have enough material. Because Tootsie’s a tad thin.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sydney Pollack; screenplay by Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal, based on a story by Don McGuire and Gelbart; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Peter S. Larkin; produced by Pollack and Dick Richards; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (Michael Dorsey), Jessica Lange (Julie Nichols), Teri Garr (Sandy Lester), Bill Murray (Jeff Slater), Dabney Coleman (Ron Carlisle), Sydney Pollack (George Fields), George Gaynes (John Van Horn), Doris Belack (Rita Marshall), and Charles Durning (Les Nichols).


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Midnight Cowboy (1969, John Schlesinger)

Midnight Cowboy gets to be a character study, but doesn’t start as one, which is an interesting situation. About forty-five minutes into the film, which runs just shy of two hours, Midnight Cowboy chucks the narrative urgency. Maybe not chucks, maybe just shuts down, because it does take the film a while to lose that pressure. Until eventually leads Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman are sitting around starving to death and the film’s not treating it as problem to be solved; it’s a feature of the characters’ lives. Midnight Cowboy is never a wish fulfillment picture–even when it’s not absent hope, it’s not hopeful–but it goes from being a bad dream to a nightmare without reflecting on the change. And the nightmare runs a lot differently.

The nightmare also starts when Dustin Hoffman becomes the costar who’s taking top billing. When the film initially introduces Hoffman, it doesn’t hint at where the narrative’s going; it also doesn’t forecast what to expect from the actors. Voight and Hoffman have got a lot of character development with almost no expository assistance. Midnight Cowboy is a film with two exceptional performances, both independently ambitious and both agreeably codependent. Director Schlesinger keeps it together–Hoffman and Voight squat in a hovel, their domestic normality utterly shocking and utterly not because the actors and Schlesinger have done such a good job conveying the physicality’s of their performances. It’s like a stage play, those scenes in the apartment, perfectly choreographed, even more perfectly edited by Hugh A. Robertson. It’s an acting ballet, with these two actors playing their previously established caricatures with immediate depth.

The bad dream part of the film, which has Voight arriving in New York City to hustle his cowboy-attired bod out to the wealthy ladies of the Big Apple. Voight has a troubled past, which Schlesinger and screenwriter Waldo Salt introduce through flashbacks, usually as dream sequences. Both sleeping and napping dream sequences. Basically, Voight’s always flashing back to something to explain why he’s reacting the way he’s reacting. There’s some narrative efficiency to it, I suppose, but they’re not incorporated well. Voight actually does the best with them, intentionally or not.

It all changes, soon after the nightmare begins, when Hoffman gets his own daydream. It’s a gently done sequence, both actors silent to the audience; excellent editing from Robertson on it. Midnight Cowboy never glamorizes–until this daydream sequence–and it’s mind-blowingly effective in establishing the new angle on the characters. Oddly, Hoffman entirely downplays having the daydream–which is the opposite of Voight–and hits some of the same effectiveness notes for that inverse approach.

In the second half of the film, once Hoffman shares the narrative focus, Midnight Cowboy works more as truncated vignettes. The main plot line is still Voight trying to make it as a hustler, but it’s narratively reduced. Instead, it’s Voight and Hoffman’s bonding over this idea, usually unspoken in every way. It’s a lot of amazing acting from both of them. Hoffman’s loud, Voight’s quiet.

There are some excellent supporting performances–Brenda Vaccaro in particular, John McGiver, Sylvia Miles.

Fine photography from Adam Holender. Midnight Cowboy’s about the editing and Holender keeps up with where Schlesinger needs the camera to be for the cut. Schlesinger just seems impatient until Hoffman gets into the picture full-time. He rushes the first part of the film, then drags it down with the acceptable and pragmatic but way too obvious flashback sequences.

And it all kind of falls apart when Vaccaro’s vignette is over. It’s like the film’s running late, so Schlesinger is rushing again only now he’s got two actors instead of one to hurry along. But the film’s still quite good and the lead performances are phenomenal.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Schlesinger; screenplay by Waldo Salt, based on the novel by James Leo Herlihy; director of photography, Adam Holender; edited by Hugh A. Robertson; music by John Barry; production designer, John Robert Lloyd; produced by Jerome Hellman; released by United Artists.

Starring Jon Voight (Joe Buck), Dustin Hoffman (Enrico Salvatore Rizzo), Sylvia Miles (Cass), John McGiver (Mr. O’Daniel), Brenda Vaccaro (Shirley) and Barnard Hughes (Towny).


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The Program (2015, Stephen Frears)

The Program does not tell a particularly filmic story. It doesn’t have a rewarding dramatic arc. Telling the story of disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, with Ben Foster in the role–and as the film’s main character–does not offer many moments of joy. Foster’s spellbinding. He humanizes the sociopath enough to make him understandable in his cruelty. The Program is not a mystery, it starts with Foster figuring out how to cheat. At no moment is he playing the hero, not even when he does something heroic. It’s nearly a biopic, albeit an inspiring one, but it’s also a condemnation of character.

Rightly so too. But it does mean having an “anti-hero” in the lead position of the film and that situation holds The Program back. There’s a lot of historical footage used for the bike racing. While director Frears and cinematographer Danny Cohen do shoot some excellent cycling sequences, this film isn’t about the sport. It’s not about the thrill of it. It’s not even about the cost of fraud, if only because the subject isn’t capable of feeling guilt. Foster’s performance is phenomenal in the third act, when things come crashing down, because he’s got to collapse silently. It’s a tour de force performance (no pun) without a great defining scene. He never faces off with the people he’s tried to ruin. He’s a snake. He has a lawyer do it. And Foster’s perfect at it.

In the antagonist positions are Chris O’Dowd as the reporter who tries to figure out why Armstrong has to brake while going uphill. For a while, O’Dowd has a lot to do. Then he disappears. He’s excellent, but the film just doesn’t have enough for him to do. The same goes for Jesse Plemons as one of Foster’s teammates. He’s great, he has a complex arc (sort of), but he doesn’t have a lot to do. Again, history fails to provide the necessary melodrama.

Once things get legal, Cohen and Frears employ some odd spherical lenses to create claustrophobia in the Panavision frame. It’s not successful, but Frears is more about his actors, more about the way the film conveys its narrative than its visual sense. In many ways, The Program is just watching to see what Foster is going to do next, just like the viewer.

Good support from Guillaume Canet and Denis Ménochet. Cohen’s photography, spherical choices aside, is strong. The same goes for Valerio Bonelli’s editing. Except the historical footage. It might have made sense if it were a metaphor for O’Dowd waxing poetic about cycling turned into a fraud, but it isn’t. It’s mostly an expository shortcut, a budget requirement.

The film starts strong, but it’s obviously relying on its actors and on John Hodge’s sturdy, methodical, somewhat thankless script. Frears takes the time to set up expectations, then lets Foster surpass them all. The Program doesn’t want to answer all the questions its raises, it’s happy to just come up with some good questions. It might limit the film’s overall potential, but Foster, O’Dowd, Plemons, Cohen and Frears all do excellent work here.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Frears; screenplay by John Hodge, based on a book by David Walsh; director of photography, Danny Cohen; edited by Valerio Bonelli; music by Alex Heffes; production designer, Alan MacDonald; produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Tracey Seward and Kate Solomon; released by StudioCanal.

Starring Ben Foster (Lance Armstrong), Jesse Plemons (Floyd Landis), Chris O’Dowd (David Walsh), Guillaume Canet (Medecin Michele Ferrari), Denis Ménochet (Johan Bruyneel), Lee Pace (Bill Stapleton), Edward Hogg (Frankie Andreu), Elaine Cassidy (Betsy Andreu) and Dustin Hoffman (Bob Hamman).


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