Directed by: Herb Gardner (A Thousand Clowns)
Starring: Walter Matthau, Ossie Davis, Amy Irving, Martha Plimpton, Craig T. Nelson
I’m only familiar with two of playwright/filmmaker Herb Gardner’s works: this and A Thousand Clowns (a 1962 play which was filmed by Fred Coe in 1965). The tone of the two films is very similar. They’re both entertaining, but ultimately a good bit slighter than intended. Both reflect a view of New York City that seems to belong to a different world — especially I’m Not Rappaport (the title taken from an old vaudeville joke). That Rappaport took 12 years to make it from stage (1984) to screen (1996) makes it seem more like a bit of a relic — an often pleasantly entertaining relic, but a relic all the same. That, however, is only a minor problem. Though the film suffers from simply being too long for its own good, nearly everything that only involves its central characters — two old men (played by Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis — swapping stories, arguing and kvetching about the state of the world is worth having. These old duffers are worth listening to, despite the fact that they very much sound more like characters in a play than real people. Where the film errs is in insisting that it has something resembling a plot. Every time Rappaport shifts into trying to tell a story, it stumbles — not in the least because none of the subordinate characters seem quite real. Its last stretch — a segment in which the old men try to scare off a drug dealer (Craig T. Nelson) — is so preposterous that it feels like it belongs in another movie altogether. But if you can overlook these shortcomings, the central relationship between Matthau and Davis makes the film worth seeing.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show I’m Not Rappaport Sunday, May 10 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
In Brief: Playwright and sometimes filmmaker Herb Gardner brings his play I’m Not Rappaport to the screen with Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis in the leads. The first hour of its rather too expansive running time is very good indeed, if not especially great filmmaking. Matthau and Davis make an appealing pair of old men — not exactly friends, but who else is around? — whiling away their time in Central Park, each with his own problems. The dialogue — while sounding like dialogue — is good and penetrating. Then we get to what amounts to the second act and the film’s desire to evolve into a more elaborate drama bogs things down pretty fast. It remains easily watchable, but it turns into less by trying to be more.