SXSW 2015: David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn and Jamie Babbit’s Fresno

Manglehorn is too talky by half, especially when two or even three scenes are superimposed on one another.

Photo: IFC Films

In David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn, Al Pacino turns in his third performance of the last year as a man in the grips of a post-midlife crisis. This time he’s Angelo Manglehorn, a locksmith whose obsession with a lost love is preventing him from fully inhabiting his own life. Dreamily kind for the most part, but given to fits of furniture-hurling rage and truth-telling so blunt it borders on sadism, Manglehorn drifts through his own life, observing the often quirky people around him as if from a great, sad distance. In one emblematic scene, he happens upon a multiple-car pileup and strides down the line of automobiles as the slow-motion, blurred sound, and the bright red watermelon guts strewn over the cars (one of the vehicles was carrying a load of melons) give the whole thing a surrealistic vibe. His house looks depressed too: dimly lit and all dark, metallic colors, even the wood paneling tinted a faint, sickly green. His only hope of connection with another living being, aside from his beloved cat, appears to be Dawn (Holly Hunter), a demure bank teller with whom he plays out a painfully awkward, lurching courtship.

Manglehorn is too talky by half, especially when two or even three scenes are superimposed on one another, their soundtracks running simultaneously to create a largely incomprehensible wall of sound. The loosely structured, episodic narrative truncates the story of the man’s estranged son, Jacob (Chris Messina), and gives too much screen time to a petty operator played by Harmony Korine, who brings little more to the part than a jittery, motor-mouth energy, and the touches of magic realism feel out of place. But Pacino and Hunter’s sheer talent and charisma cut through much of the fog as they radiate a powerful sense of frustration and longing, Pacino in basset-hound hangdog mode for most of the film as Hunter movingly plays against type.

Brightly lit and cheerfully acted, Jamie Babbit’s Fresno pushes its not-so-funny premise almost to the breaking point, sacrificing character development on the altar of comedy along the way. Despite its initial declaration that it’s “about how sisters can sink each other—really sink each other,” the film is basically a Weekend at Bernie’s-style comedy centered around an inconvenient corpse. Sex addict Shannon (Judy Greer) is taking a break from her job as a hotel maid to fuck one of the guests when her sister, Martha (Natasha Lyonne), walks in on them. In the panic that ensues, Shannon accidentally kills the laughable loser, setting off a long chain of ridiculous events as the sisters attempt to get rid of the body.

Shannon’s crime is so heinous it’s hard to enjoy the extended cover-up as harmless slapstick, yet it’s not believable as a path to redemption. And no sooner do we get over the shock of seeing Lyonne in a good-girl part, accepting her character as compulsively helpful, than Martha starts lying, scheming, and ignoring other people’s feelings with as little apparent remorse as Shannon. Redeeming all this, to some extent, is a steady undertone of female solidarity that rises to the surface in scenes like the one where Shannon insists on releasing her sister’s hair from its scrunchie and brushing it out, only to create a mane so frizzy that she begs for Martha’s Cousin It impression, a goofy sight gag that cracks Shannon up. At times like that, Fresno really does have something to say about how sisters can sink—and lift—one another.

SXSW runs from March 13—22.

This article was originally published on The House Next Door.

Elise Nakhnikian

Elise Nakhnikian has written for Brooklyn Magazine and runs the blog Girls Can Play. She resides in Manhattan with her husband.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Previous Story

Review: Amour Fou

Next Story

Review: Rick Alverson’s Entertainment