All of Me
The films made by the Steve Martin/Carl Reiner team (The Jerk , Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid , The Man with Two Brains , The Lonely Guy ) continually raise two questions that bedevil the 1980s era of flip comedy.
First: can the film resist blowing up its own comic and narrative premise? And second: will it dare to be, at some level, human and serious, as most great comedies once were, in the era of Hawks, McCarey, Lubitsch, Wilder et al?
All of Me inches a little closer toward logical consistency and thematic coherence than the previous Martin/Reiner collaborations. Yet it is still too in love with the devices of the throwaway gag, the side remark and a general air of self-parody to ever be particularly involving or touching.
At the same time, it is still not brave enough to throw naturalistic constraints entirely out the window. The viewer ends up simply following the logical twists and turns of its premise – that of a rich, sick woman (Lily Tomlin, fabulous as ever) inhabiting the body of a reluctant lawyer (Martin), resulting initially in a great, dissociative tug-of-war, and eventually in cooperation and coordination.
The set-pieces are indeed funny, answering such mindboggling questions as: how does such a creature take a leak? Yet All of Me also often cheats on and short-changes the premise – pulling back from it, finding ways of evading its trickier and more delicious logical possibilities (a sex scene, for instance, is set-up but not paid-off).
That All of Me settles for merely this level of playfulness is a pity, because it has the potential to be a nice, warm film. The thematic dispositif is certainly there: a woman discovering the potentiality of life by taking on a man’s body – and he, too, coming to modify his outlook and behaviour in a positive way. It almost comes off, but the humour is always a touch too cruel and grotesque, weird and spectacular, just for the sake of being so.
Martin, an undoubtedly inspired, inventive performer, has yet to find his tone in film – as well as the right kind of fictional mode to accommodate his hard edges and strange, free-associational flights of comic logic. Jacques Rivette, Maurizio Nichetti, William Klein: are you listening?
MORE Reiner: That Old Feeling
© Adrian Martin July 1985