Memories Of Me Review

Memories Of Me is directed by Henry Winkler, and if that isn’t an immediate red light warning then I don’t know what is. A likeable comic actor whose TV career was immensely successful, Winkler suddenly began to fancy himself as the obvious choice to follow in the directorial footsteps of his TV colleague Ron Howard. Anyone who doubts that this was a bad idea should be condemned to watch Cop And A Half for the rest of eternity. His work on Memories Of Me isn’t entirely lamentable but it’s mediocre in the extreme and the end result is the kind of film which might pass muster as a Channel 5 afternoon movie but is certainly not something you’d find anyone clamouring to watch.

The plot, which is basically a 100 minute excuse for as much – and more – sentiment as you can possibly handle. Billy Crystal, somewhat awkwardly playing straight man, is Abbie, a heart surgeon who suffers a heart attack while operating on a difficult patient. While he is recovering, he reveals to his girlfriend Lisa (Williams) that he has lied to her about his father being dead and she persuades him to try for a reconciliation with his estranged parent before it’s too late. Abbie’s father Abe (King) is a Hollywood extra and would-be movie star who is himself suffering from a terminal illness. To no-one’s surprise, the two learn to appreciate each other and grow closer in the time they have left.

There are only two possible reasons for anyone to watch this film. The first, and minor one, is that JoBeth Williams is a very appealing actress who seems to have unaccountably faded from view since her 1980s success in Poltergeist. She has enough emotional honesty to make her secondary part considerably more interesting than it could have been. The second reason is the great Alan King. Movies always had a problem trying to capture the magic of nightclub comics from the 1950s and 1960s, never quite knowing what to do with them. The great exception was, of course, Woody Allen but even he had a struggle finding his metier until he began writing and directing his own films. Alan King was a gloriously funny comedian who lit up the screen in the few movies he made but was only granted a big leading role in 1980, in Sidney Lumet’s very witty Just Tell Me What You Want. Fortunately, during the 1980s and 1990s as his career as a comic began to wind down, he began to make regular film appearances. He was the only great thing in Bonfire Of The Vanities, memorably menaced James Woods in Cat’s Eye and was outstanding in Enemies: A Love Story. Sadly, however, his part in Memories Of Me makes the worst possible use of him in the kind of role which could just as easily have been played by Richard Dreyfuss or Robert Loggia. Indeed, those of you with long memories for bad films might recall that Jackie Gleason played a virtually identical role in the Tom Hanks vehicle Nothing In Common. The part of Abe requires a shameless ability to exploit audience emotions without ever making the most of King’s sharp wit and comic rage, the qualities which saw him billed as “The Last Angry Man of the Suburbs”. Yet he’s such a powerful screen presence that just having in the film immediately gives it a class it doesn’t deserve.

Otherwise, Memories From Me is a dreary road to nowhere. The outcome is inevitable from the beginning and it takes such an exhaustingly long time to get to it that whatever good will the film generates in its mildly amusing first quarter has long been dissipated. Billy Crystal is misused and allowed to mug for sympathy from the start in the kind of mawkish performance which has since become patented by Robin Williams. Crystal can be uproariously funny in the right part and has livened up films as diverse as City Slickers and When Harry Met Sally but, like Williams, he needs to retain an edge of malice if he’s to remain likeable. In this film, the father/son arguments have all the edge of a broken pencil and every time Crystal goes sincere, the pace drops down to a crawl and I felt an urgent need to retreat behind the sofa. Worse still, there’s no sense in which he and King as believable as child and parent. There’s no connection evident and the shared history we have to believe in seems entirely manufactured.

Winkler’s direction is workmanlike but his staging is unimaginative and there’s no comic bounce to the supposedly funny sequences. The film looks exactly like a TV sitcom with flat lighting and a minimum of camera movement. Ultimately, Memories Of Me simply dies on the screen. Alan King, who died of cancer earlier this year, deserved a lot better.

The Disc

Why on earth would anyone, apart from obsessive Billy Crystal fans, want to buy this film? It’s bound to turn up on television again sooner or later and in the meantime you could do something more rewarding, like wondering when MGM might get round to releasing Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia in the UK.

Anyway, in the event that you’re interested, I can report that this is a solid DVD from MGM. The visual transfer is, surprisingly, quite excellent. The colours are strong, there’s no serious problem with excessive grain or artefacting and the image is detailed without the dreaded over-enhancement. The soundtrack is Dolby Stereo and perfectly acceptable, with the lachrymose soundtrack coming across particularly strongly.

There are no extras at all. The film is subtitled in English and several other languages and there are 16 chapter stops.

I was tempted to say that Memories Of Me is a missed opportunity but the truth is that there was no opportunity in the first place. This kind of hackneyed plot should have been retired back in the 1930s and the only possible way it could work would be if there was a hell of a lot of style and wit to the filmmaking. That not being the case here, you can safely pass Memories Of Me by. You won’t be missing anything.

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