David Gordon Green, best known for directing comedies like Pineapple Express, Joe, and The Sitter, as well as HBO’s Eastbound and Down, will be at the Terrace Theater tomorrow for a Q&A following his not-so-funny film Manglehorn. Starring Al Pacino and Holly Hunter, Manglehorn (PG-13) is about A.J. Manglehorn, a lonely locksmith who still carries a torch (and, well, an entire shrine) for his long-lost love, Cara.
Narrated by Manglehorn, the movie is at times sad, often frustrating, and frequently pretty touching. The drama has all of the right elements: sad and angry old man, quirky love interest, distant son, and really cute cat. Seriously, the cat, Fannie, steals the show. Oftentimes, she’s the only like-able character.
Manglehorn works alone as a locksmith, copying keys in his shop and frequently traveling the streets of Texas to unlock cars and doors. He’s grumpy and the camera zooms into his face and lingers over his monologues. We’re supposed to like Manglehorn. We’re also supposed to resent him. And feel bad for him. And want to hit him over the head with his pathetic adoration of a long-gone woman. In this sense, Green has done a great job developing a complicated character.
[image-1] Green, struggles, though, with the development of some of the film’s other characters. Manglehorn’s son, Jacob (Chris Messina), a handsome, successful broker, hates him. Gary (Harmony Korine), who was on Jacob’s baseball team as a kid, remembers Manglehorn fondly as “coach.”
These younger guys are supposed to be a window into Manglehorn’s different souls: Gary idolizes him and Jacob resents him. Neither one, though, is fully explained. Why is Gary so obnoxious and how does Manglehorn make it into his late-night tanning salon for a happy endings massage? And why is Jacob a huge ass for most of the film and then suddenly a crying softie near the end? Are we supposed to fall for that?
The most like-able character comes in the form of the ever-charming Holly Hunter, who plays Dawn, Manglehorn’s bank clerk. Dawn and Manglehorn flirt every Friday, when he comes in to deposit a check. Their flirtation grows into an awkward and realistic sort of courtship, that Manglehorn may or may not ruin with his constant obsessing over Clara (you’ll have to watch it to see what happens.)
As for the mysterious Clara? Well, that’s about it: she’s a mystery. She is not the father of Jacob and we’re not really sure when she and Manglehorn carried on what must have been a torrid love affair. We don’t really care. Perhaps Green wanted it this way, or maybe he didn’t understand how devoted we would become to Fannie, utilizing almost all of our attention to watch her furry, white form scurry across the screen.
The film becomes surreal at some moments — watch for the watermelon truck car crash scene — leaving us feeling a little disengaged. What exactly is happening? What, exactly, is the point of this film? For the most part we hold our breaths, praying that Fannie doesn’t die. We also find ourselves rooting for kind of shitty characters, and we’re OK with that. I mean, come on, it’s Al Pacino. He’s good.
Manglehorn can be disjointed, strange, and sometimes slow. Ultimately, though, it’s a story of what it’s like to be in love after your great love has gone. It’s worth watching, and it’s definitely worth asking the director of Pineapple Express how he came to direct a heart-warming film like this.