The Way We Laughed


Since it’s a given that Adam Sandler movies are the skivvie skid marks of modern American cinema, and that reviewing them is akin to quantifying the fractal measurements of windshield gull crap, let’s cut to the consumer-advice bottom line: Stay home. Your entertainment-seeking efforts would be better expended perusing old phone books. The white pages.

It’s not overstating things to posit that Mr. Deeds is to the Sandlerian oeuvre what, say, 1955’s Bowery to Baghdad was to Huntz Hall’s—an atomic diaper tossed into an alley already filled with reeking trash. One would at least hope to a recalcitrant God that moviegoers who should know better will not be tempted by the movie’s interface with Frank Capra’s utopian schmaltz Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

Capra’s film was a popular daydream during the Depression; it remains insulting tosh, despite the era’s paradigmatic gang-press of performance charm (particularly Jean Arthur as the city girl gone soft). But the 1936 original is Spinoza compared to Sandler’s retooling, which proposes small-town good guy Deeds as the heir to a dead billionaire, whose media empire must be rescued from a sell-off because of “what my uncle built” and, of course, “all those people’s jobs.” There’s not an Eskimo Pie’s chance in hell that Sandler and his team believe a single crumb of this; the pandering is so naked you can count the hairs on its ass.

If you believe his movies, Capra was an anti-capitalist, desiring some sort of Christmas-morning socialism instead. Mr. Deeds‘s only conviction is in the vacuum of the audience’s skulls. The infrequent jokes are dead, the cameos (John McEnroe, Al Sharpton) arbitrary, the sentimentality cretinous. The check-cashing cast (Jared Harris, Peter Gallagher, Steve Buscemi) should be ashamed, but the presence of poor, repentant Winona Ryder as Sandler’s love interest, emoting her little heart out and being forced to utter dialogue a smart dog wouldn’t consider, gives the movie the torturous affect of an iron maiden. Are we having fun yet?

An old-fashioned art-house geezer, Luchino Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers (1960)—enjoying an occasionless revival after its 1991 reconstruction—is The Movies with a vengeance: gigantic, operatic, bustling with melodramatic formulations and cataclysms, beholden to old-country ideas of love, sex, honor, and family. Homaged by Amelio’s The Way We Laughed, Visconti’s film remains a Euro-culture touchstone, though not nearly as convincing or visually stunning as its reputation insists.

Visconti’s primary achievement is structural. Rocco‘s quintet of chapters leapfrog from one of five southern brothers to another as the family attempts to survive the hardships of post-war Milan, all the while maintaining a forward narrative flow. But the story itself is scattershot (often, the brothers don’t know what the others do for a living, though they all live together in one room), the extroverted Italian acting is unharnessed, and the characters inhabit predictable lives. Alain Delon’s Rocco is passive and self-sacrificing, Renato Salvatori’s Simone is meant to represent his ape-like antithesis, and Visconti (an aristocrat depicting peasants) left it at that. Likewise, within seconds of appearing, Annie Girardot informs us she’s a whore, and that’s all she remains. Neither neo-realist nor particularly artsy, Rocco might make for a fat, satisfying beach-read of a movie if only it weren’t so convinced of its own magnitude.