Mickey Blue Eyes


Mickey Blue Eyes

Til death do them part.

(1999) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Hugh Grant, James Caan, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Burt Young, James Fox, Joe Viterelli, Gerry Becker, Maddie Corman, Tony Darrow, Paul Lazar, Vincent Pastore, Frank Pellegrino, Scott Thompson, John Ventimiglia. Directed by Kelly Malkin

 

Hugh Grant was on a bit of a winning streak in 1999. First, the captivatingly charming (and box-office smash) Notting Hill which was followed by this low-key underrated romantic comedy.

Grant plays Michael Felgate, a dapper, suave man who auctions fine art in New York City. He’s got a successful business, and he’s about to propose to his gorgeous girlfriend Gina (Tripplehorn), with whom he is madly in love. It’s a sweet moment and of course that’s when things begin to go horribly wrong.

Gina turns down his proposal, initially, and runs off in tears. Mystified, a despondent Michael seeks out her restaurant-owning dad (Caan), whom he hadn’t met before, to see if he can locate the distraught Gina. The two hit it off immediately and Dad is eager as all get out to make Michael one of the family. Trouble is, what Caan and his Uncle Vito (Young) really have in mind is to make Michael one of The Family. Gina warns Michael about this, but Michael wins her over with a promise not to get sucked into their criminal activities.

Naturally, he immediately gets sucked into their criminal activities, and things go rapidly downhill from there. In order to cover up his broken promise, Michael is forced to lie to his fiancée, which leads to further complications. Eventually, Michael runs afoul of the wrong people and his family is chosen to whack their new son-in-law. At the wedding. This is not what you would consider For Better. For worse maybe…but taking til death us do part a little too seriously.

The movie is surprisingly funny as the ever-stammering Grant tries to take on the persona of a made man, trying not to sound like the sophisticated Brit he is. Grant is at his most endearing in these sorts of roles; he’s a bit stiff and a bit awkward but at his core is a good man caught up in a bad situation. The fish-out-of-water element is played up nicely as Grant stumbles over things as simple as keeping his gun in his belt. One of the running jokes here is that many of the mobsters have neuroses, in a sly jab at the HBO series “The Sopranos.” Finally, the ending is a swerve you can see a thousand miles off, but which is approached creatively and is appreciated all the more for it.

Mickey Blue Eyes is a bit of a satire of Scorsese’s mob movies, but never loses sight of its romantic agenda. Grant is a very appealing lead at the top of his game here, coming shortly after his apology tour, as Letterman put it. His charm was growing with every movie he made. This movie didn’t get a lot of acclaim at its release not did it get a whole lot of box office love; it deserved more.

These days the movie shows up on cable and broadcast regularly. It straddles the line between romantic comedy and caper comedy and doing it nicely. It remains one of Grant’s career disappointments in many ways which is sad because the movie is so much better than critics and the audience gave it credit for.

WHY RENT THIS: Grant at the top of his game. Straddles romantic and caper comedy lines nicely. Sweet and funny.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Predictable. Cliche. Too Hollywood.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s some bad language, a little bit of violence and some sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Several members of “The Sopranos” cast are here; in addition to Pastore, Aida Turturro, Tony Sirico, John Ventimiglia and Burt Young all had roles in the award-winning HBO series.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $54.3M on a $75M production budget; the movie was a box office bomb.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Married to the Mob

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Wreck-It Ralph

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Win Win


Win Win

This could be a poster for the generational gap

(2011) Dramedy (Fox Searchlight) Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Melanie Lynskey, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, Alex Shaffer, Burt Young, Margo Martindale, David Thompson, Mike Diliello, Nina Arianda, Marcia Haufrecht, Sharon Wilkins. Directed by Thomas McCarthy

 

We sometimes find ourselves at an ethical crossroads and find ourselves pushing the line out a little bit in order to make things work. Those kinds of boundary pushing have consequences, albeit sometimes unintended ones.

Mike Flaherty (Giamatti) is a genuinely good man who is enduring an especially rough patch. His elder law practice is crashing and burning and the financial fall-out from that is severe, leading to anxiety attacks while out jogging with his best friend Terry Delfino (Cannavale). Mike is the coach of the local high school wrestling team and a more woeful bunch of athletes you are unlikely to meet; their season is going down in flames and although Mike is a decent coach, the writing is most definitely on the wall. Of course, his assistants are Delfino and Stephen Vigman (Tambor) who is a CPA who shares the dilapidated office building with Mike which should tell you something about his good-guy-making-bad-decisions persona.

Mike is representing Leo Poplar (Young), who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. The state wants to put him in a care facility but Leo wants to stay home. Mike discovers that Leo’s living will allows for a guardian in the event that Leo becomes unable to make decisions on his own and that the guardianship will pay $1500 a month to cover expenses. Mike petitions the judge (Wilkins) to allow him to be Leo’s guardian since they’ve been unable to locate Leo’s daughter. The judge allows this and Mike then turns Leo over to the facility anyway so he can pocket the expense money which will keep him somewhat solvent.

Then Kyle (Shaffer) shows up. Kyle is Leo’s grandson and came to town hoping Leo could put him up. Mike, feeling a little guilty, takes Kyle in which Mike’s wife Jackie (Ryan) whole-heartedly supports. It turns out that Kyle’s mom, Leo’s daughter Cindy (Lynskey) is in rehab, a drug addict who has been an unreliable caregiver. This sets Jackie’s dander up, but what floats Mike’s boat is that Kyle is also an Ohio wrestling state champion. Mike arranges for Kyle to be enrolled in his high school and adds Kyle to his team, instantly turning the program around. Seems to be a win-win situation for everyone, right?

Wrong. Cindy shows up and she wants to take Kyle back to Ohio. Worse still, she wants guardianship of her father, not so much the responsibility (which she would be unlikely to be able to handle anyway) but the money that goes with it. Of course this turns everything upside-down; Kyle is happy being part of a stable family and he mistrusts and despises his mother but he also wants Leo out of the facility and back in his home where he belongs. Mike’s web is quickly unraveling.

McCarthy has previously directed The Station Agent and The Visitor which are both very fine films, and you can add this to his filmography of movies that will stay with you long after the final credits roll. The characters aren’t indie film archetypes who appear in movie after movie; they are people with their own unique set of characteristics and who behave realistically in realistic situations. Most of us will relate to Mike’s financial predicament because most of us have been there or are there now.

Giamatti is one of those actors who almost always gives a terrific performance and along with his work in Barney’s Version of late seems to be at the top of his game, impressive at every turn. He’s become one of my favorite actors, one who can get my butt into a theater seat just because he’s in the movie. He makes Mike not just an everyman, but a believable one; a basically decent man pushed to the wall to make decisions that aren’t necessarily good ones but expedient ones. I think we all have done that at least once in our lives.

Ryan is also wonderful, playing Jackie as equally good-hearted and supportive but strong – she takes no crap but at the same time her heart goes out to a boy who has had a rough go. She’s like a she-bear whose cubs are threatened when her family – which includes Kyle – is threatened and why Mike leaves her in the dark about what’s really going on is understandable in that he wants to spare her the anxiety he is feeling, but also not in that his wife would be a solid rock. Ryan makes you wish you had a wife like her if you don’t have one, and if you do have one, count your blessings.

Shaffer has been receiving a lot of attention with his performance and for good reason. He is a natural and has great screen presence. You’d never know this was his first feature film, so natural is he before the camera. Like any first-timer there are some rough patches but this kid has some amazing potential and if he chooses to go this road, he certainly is going to be someone to keep an eye on.

The ending was a bit sitcom-ish for my tastes but that’s really one of the few bumps in the road that this movie takes us on. There are some wonderful supporting performances, particularly from Tambor, Young and Cannavale as well as Lynskey who has a pretty thankless role but does it well.

McCarthy is developing an impressive library of movies with his name on them and is a director that is rapidly becoming one who I’ll go out of my way to see sight unseen. He certainly has made another film here that is one of those quiet gems that you don’t hear much about but turns out to be well worth checking out. This is one worth finding at your local video or streaming emporium.

WHY RENT THIS: Giamatti and Ryan are terrific with some good support performances. A sweet film that doesn’t sugarcoat the hard choices. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit formulaic in the ending.

FAMILY VALUES: The language gets pretty rough in places and there are some allusions to drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Shaffer’s feature film debut; he was a New Jersey State wrestling champion in 2010 as a sophomore in high school but his wrestling career came to a close when he broke an L-5 vertebra.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The DVD edition has a music video from The National for their closing credits song “Think You Can Wait.” The Blu-Ray edition adds a Sundance tour by actor David Thompson and a brief interview of McCarthy and Giamatti, also from Sundance.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $10.8M on an unreported production budget; it is likely that the movie made a good chunk of change relatively speaking.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer