“The Humbling” (2014)
When we first meet Simon Axler (Al Pacino) he is talking to himself in the mirror. He is going over the odd Shakespeare line as he debates with himself on whether he is going to give his best with his performance that night. As he applies makeup, it is obvious that he is having trouble and is having some sort of crisis. He heads for the stage but gets lost / locked out and now is desperately trying to find a way to get to the stage. Just as he is about to have the panic attack of all time, he awakens and realizes that it has all been a bad dream. As he heads for the stage, he is still struggling with the panic attack that was in his dream, worried that he has missed his cue. He makes it in time to the stage and begins his performance.
We then see Axler near the end of the play, in the center front of the stage. He gives a speech and jumps head-first into the empty orchestra pit below. Having been taken to the hospital, there is something deeply wrong with Simon as he tries out moaning in pain, asking the nurse taking down the hallway if his performance is believable. After several dark weeks, home from the hospital, he thinks about suicide and then decides to check himself into a mental hospital. Having spent some time in the hospital, he tells his manager (Charles Grodin) that his acting career is over. That’s when Simon Axler’s life is changed as Pegeen Mike Stapleford (Greta Gerwig) knocks on his door and invites herself in. Pegeen knew Simon when she was a child, having a huge crush on him when she was younger. There is instant chemistry between the two and Simon knows he is now in big time trouble. How can he be attracted to a girl who is so much younger than him, and she is a lesbian to boot?
Based on a novel by Philip Roth, the film is an exploration of a very flawed man who feels that his art, his talent has left him. The screenplay, by Buck Henry and Michal Zebede, explores the loss of purpose, and if it’s enough to immerse yourself in someone else as an escape from confronting your own follies. The dialog moves at a quick pace though some of Simon’s monologues get a little longwinded. The film is at its best when the conversations are between Pegeen and Simon. They’re back and forth works as they seem to feed off each other’s thoughts and feelings.
This is Pacino’s movie and director Barry Levinson allows him be front and center, letting him dominate as Al Pacino can do. Very few actors could chew up scenery and still give a great performance. It is tough to know where Simon Axler leaves off, and Al Pacino begins. I think that is why Pacino took this role as Simon’s career seems to mirror Pacino, an incredible film actor who is known to give great performances on the stage as well. Greta Gerwig works incredibly well with Pacino on the screen, holding her own in her unique way. Gerwig has those qualities on screen, where no matter how quirky the role; we still fall in love with her. We just can’t help it.
Levinson lets the story steadily develop as we go on a journey of a man slowly losing his mind. While the film is overall very dark and sometimes hard to know if what is happening is real or in Simon’s mind. The film also can be funny at times, and Levinson exploits Pacino’s incredible timing to its full effect. The movie is an interesting character study, where Pacino, the actor, gets to explore the insecurities of an actor on the brink of a breakdown. It’s a role that Pacino was made for, and you won’t be disappointed in his performance. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
“The Humbling” is now playing in theatres nationwide, including the Plaza Theatre in Atlanta.