Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film: ALL OF ME (1984) starring Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin

This should have been a hilarious film - think of its stars. Think of its insane premise. Think of its director: Carl Reiner.

Unfortunately Reiner has never really been able to channel his comedic genius into his directing efforts. He is such a funny man, but the films he's directed over the years have come off mostly as duds. Hard to figure out.

But ultimately the script of ALL OF ME does nobody any favors. It lets everyone down and we get maybe a half hour or so worth watching at the end and a cute dog who basically has no role. But let's not discount doggy cuteness - it's better than nothing.

So why am I writing about this rightly forgotten movie?

Well, perversely, I saw it again recently having remembered some scenes with affection. (I did specify perversity.) I guess this is one of Netflix's (and youtube's) prime directives - to make it easier to keep in touch with our movie pasts, the good, the bad and the ugly.

First I'll tell you what didn't work for me in the movie: 

1) Victoria Tennant. Victoria Tennant. Victoria Tennant. I think she was Steve Martin's girlfriend (she married him in '86) at the time but that shouldn't mean she needed to be forced on us - she wasn't MY girlfriend. Victoria Tennant was a rather stiff-necked screen presence and had zip, zero flare for comedy and zero charm. It's a thankless part anyway, badly conceived, badly written. Plus she sports a horrible hair-do.

2) Steve Martin's forced attempts at comedy in another thankless part badly conceived, badly written. He should have aced this role and instead - except for the last half hour or so (which I'll get to shortly) he seems to working under some sort of personal duress other than what's occurring in the script. Steve Martin (whom I used to adore before I saw him in 'It's Complicated' - but that's a story for another day) is the sort of actor/comedian who must NEVER be role pressured - does anyone know what I mean? His 'shtick' must SEEM TO BE NATURALLY OCCURRING otherwise he risks seeming self-conscious and posturing - the kiss of death for a comedy performance.

3) The waste of the wonderful character actor Richard Libertini in a thankless role as some sort of incoherent swami with obscure mumbo-jumbo power over life and death having to do with that bowl.

4) The waste of Selma Diamond in a small part as Martin's secretary. She might have stolen the movie, instead she's given nothing to do and not much to say. Remember her New York gravelly voice?? Her smart mouth antics on the television show, Night Court? Not in evidence here. But she passed away in the following year so maybe the non-part had something to do with her health? Still, it was nice to see her once again.

Okay, so now here's what did work for me:

1) Lily Tomlin. Lily Tomlin. Lily Tomlin. I need hardly say anymore. Even if in this clunker, she shines, perfectly cast as the dying millionairess bent on cheating fate. (But ultimately, even she can't overcome the weight of a deadly script.)

2) Dana Elcar as Martin's randy lawyer boss going through a divorce. He is wonderful. (But then when was he ever not wonderful?)

3) Jason Bernard as Tyrone Wattell, Martin's saxophone playing blind friend, who when not playing infrequent club gigs (with Martin on the guitar), apparently spends his time playing on street corners picking up spare change.

4) Steve Martin in the last half or so hour of the film.

The Plot:

Dying millionairess Edwina Cutwater (Lily Tomlin), a woman richer than Croesus who has been in excruciatingly frail health since she was a child (it's a miracle she's lasted this long) has decided that with all her money she ought to be able to cheat death.

She is a client at the law firm in which Roger Cobb (Steve Martin) toils lackadaisically on insignificant cases, undecided whether to devote his life completely to the law (and marry the boss's  daughter) or become a jazz musician. He seems a little old for this sort of career ambivalence, but that's a minor thing. He's supposed to be quirky because he brings his dog to the office every day.

Attempting to turn over a new leaf, Roger grabs at the chance offered by his boss (Dana Elcar) to visit Edwina's vast estate and handle the updating of her will.

Once there he finds out that Edwina has hatched a plan - with the help of Swami Prahka Lasa (Richard Libertini) - to have her soul transported from her body (at the moment of death) into the body of the daughter of the old horse groomer on her estate. The daughter, Terry Hoskins, is played by Victoria Tennant. Hoskins has apparently bought into the soul-transference mumbo-jumbo and seems okay with sharing her body with Edwina's soul. It's an upgrade in pay after all since Edwina is leaving everything to her. Get it?

Roger, naturally, assumes they're all crazy or it's some sort of joke or more probably, a scam. But Edwina is deadly serious and she boots unbelieving Roger off the case, placing him in danger of being fired - she is one of his firm's major clients after all. Though Roger's boss thinks Edwina has gone crackers as well and assures Roger that his job is in no jeopardy - for now.

Okay, fast-forward to the inevitable death scene which takes place at the law office. But due to some rather absurd clumsiness on the part of those around her (it obviously needed more rehearsal), Edwina's soul misses its mark and goes crashing (literally) out the window and into Roger's body coincidentally walking by down below.

Yup, you guessed it. Lots of chances for very physical humor as Edwina controls half of Roger's body which has him lurching about attempting to regain control. This should have been right up Steve Martin's alley, but for whatever reason the whole thing seems remarkably unfunny.

Edwina is awake and aware in Roger's consciousness and they have running conversations - also remarkably unfunny. When Roger looks in a mirror he sees Edwina which somehow makes little sense, but it's an amusing movie gimmick - so that's something that works.

But let's not talk about the scene at the urinal in the men's room in which....well, figure it out. Not funny. Not vulgar. Just...not anything. (Although bathroom humor is obviously thought well of by the boys in Hollywood then and now.)

The plot moves along as Roger discovers (after several unfunny attempts at seduction) that Terry Hoskins (the would-be soul host) is really a gold-digging horse-loving predator who wants Edwina's estate and to heck with sharing her soul which she never believed in anyway.

Now we get to the last half hour or so which saves the movie for me. Terry, playing the grand dame of the manor, gives a ball at Edwina's estate at which Roger has been forbidden entrance. But in a race against time to save Edwina's soul by transporting it back to its originally intended host, Roger and his dog and his blind friend Tyrone and the swami, pretend to be part of the orchestra and sneak onto the estate. (The pooch disguised as a seeing eye dog.)

These frenetic last few scenes in the movie, if not hilariously funny, are at least, amusing.

Then comes the best part:  the end credits which I could watch over and over. Edwina and Roger dancing together to 'All of Me' at their wonderfully uncoordinated goofy best.

If only the rest of the movie had been as good, we'd have had a comedy classic.

This post is naturally part of the Tuesday Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film meme hosted each week by Todd Mason at his blog, Sweet Freedom. Don't forget to check in to see what other films and/or other audio/visual material, other bloggers are chatting about today.


  1. I liked this one a little better than you did, but I think every single one of your cavils is fair, to say the least. There's something just a little too artificial in all of Reiner and Martin's work together...given the subject of this one, amusingly, not enough soul.

  2. You perfectly captured the good, the bad and the ugly here. Although all said, I didn't mind it.

  3. Sorry this didn't stand up for you Yvette - I've always thought it one of the best of the Reiner and Martin movies, but then I'm a big fan of MAN WITH TWO BRAINS too, so probably have a genuine propensity for silly!

  4. It's been many years but as I remember it, this is an accurate description. However, "How dare you say 'penis' to a dead person" is truly one of the funniest lines ever.

    Of Reiner & Martin, my favorite is DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID.

  5. Todd you got it: Not enough soul. Ha!

  6. Patti, I thought for sure you'd say 'never heard of this one' - :)

  7. I think the truth is that I've only ever liked three Steve Martin movies:

    ROXANNE and DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID and PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES. Though in DMDWP, the inserted clips very often overshadow the actual movie.

    There is so much more this talented guy could and should have done.

  8. Anders E: Amusing, yes. It all depends on how funny you find the word 'penis' to be, I suppose. For me, it has limited laugh value. Ha!

    No, you're right. It's pretty funny.


  9. And apologies, in my haste (as with too many mornings), for the use of the word "cavil," which not only has connotations but denotation of petty objection and worse, when of course I meant to suggest that all your criticisms struck me as utterly valid.

  10. This is one of those movies I saw a long time ago and have never had a desire to sit through it again. Now you have made me curious. I may have to give it a second view which means I will either thank you or curse you.

  11. Yvette, that line is funny because of how Lily delivers it. Damn, she's really good! And also because of the "...to a dead person" part which just creates such a weird scene in my mind. No willy humor there, honest. I think.

    Martin was very good in the highly underrated BOWFINGER. I also like him playing against character as a bad guy in THE SPANISH PRISONER. He sure can be creepy.

  12. I knew what you meant, Todd. No problem.

  13. Oh Mike, you made me laugh. Curse away if you like. :)

  14. Point taken, Anders. :)

    Oh yes, BOWFINGER - that's a movie I mean to write about. Very funny. I'd forgotten. Thanks for the reminder.

  15. Yvette, I don't recall seeing this film but Martin and Tomlin are two very fine actors and comedians whose films I love watching. I will always remember Tomlin for 9 TO 5 and BIG BUSINESS where she teams up with Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton in the first and the indefatigable Bette Midler in the second, all good actors too.

  16. Since no one else has mentioned it ...

    Jason Bernard was the actor.
    Tyrone was the character.

    Jason Bernard had a considerable career in movies and TV, usually as authority figures of one sort or another.

    Mr. Know-It-All strikes again (sorry about that ...).

  17. You might enjoy this, Prashant. Wouldn't hurt to try and find it. :)

    I loved 9 to 5 too.

  18. Thank you SO much for the update, Mike. I don't know how I came to make such a mistake. So sorry.

    I've since corrected sit on the post.

    Yegads, I try to be so careful too.


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