Reuben, Reuben (1983)

ROBERT ELLIS MILLER

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 1983. , . Screenplay by , based on the novel by and the play Spofford by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

delivers a marvelous performance as an irresistibly loveable miscreant in this late work by the great Julius Epstein (who wrote, among many other classics, Casablanca). He plays a once-lauded poet who now lives in a Connecticut town in a state of complete writers’ block, filling his time by giving inane lectures to bored housewives, most of whom he jumps into bed with as a passing amusement for them both. The emptiness of this existence becomes clear to him when he meets a gorgeous young woman () on the train home from New York and they strike up a friendship that turns into a love affair, possibly one that could lead to his pursuing something more than just careless indulgence.

Going in for something serious means facing the issues that have been getting in the way of his being able to work, however, and things start to get dire when his past peccadillos result in revenge scenarios from jealous husbands (one of them a dentist, the point at which Epstein really indulges himself in almost sitcom-level humour) and waiters who have had enough of his drunken, thieving behaviour.

McGillis’s dog provides the title of this movie, his significance arrives in conclusion that challenges this cowardly cynic to face his own self-indulgence and results in a darkly hilarious twist. Terrific performances by Conti, who earned an Oscar nomination for his Hollywood debut, and as McGillis’s mother turn what feels like a stagebound experience into a satisfying voyage into the world of dry intellectual humour, with the film’s only flaw being McGillis as the irresistible love interest. Luminously beautiful and certainly possessing a natural confidence, the actress’s newness on screen shows in a number of scenes, and her inability to keep up with her finely polished co-star only makes her look that much worse (though no matter, as she would make good on her promise very shortly with her performance in Witness).

The direction could use a little more imagination here, but there’s plenty to enjoy and cherish about this often odd, generally savage character study.

Academy Award Nominations: Best Actor (Tom Conti); Best Adapted Screenplay

Golden Globe Award Nominations: Best Picture-Drama; Best Actor-Drama (Tom Conti); Best Screenplay

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