- Movie Rating -

I Ought to Be in Pictures (1982)

| March 26, 1982

I really think that Neil Simon has a grasp on family drama, of people disconnected and reconnected with all of the messy emotional baggage that goes along with it.  He knows how to set it up, and his actors know how to play it to the bone.  And yet, why can’t Simon write dialogue that sounds like people talk?  It’s all cutsie-poo banter, the kind of stuff that feels better when someone is writing it then when an actor is saying it.

The story is solid: Libby Tucker (Dinah Minoff) is living in New York and tells her grandmother’s headstone that she’s off to Hollywood to find her father and to find a career in showbusiness.  Her father is Herbert (Walter Matthau), a once-respected screenwriter who dropped out of the business and walked out on Libby and her mother when she was an infant.

Okay, so right there is material ripe for a great dramedy.  The problem, again, is Simon’s dialogue.  Take this exchange when she talks to him about her grandmother:

Libby: You owe me a lot and Grandma said ‘You should go out to California and make sure he pays you’.
Herbert: “Oh really?!  That’s what your grandmother told you?”
Libby: “Yeah, this morning at the cemetery.
Herbert: “What were you doing at a cemetery?”
Libby: “That’s where Grandma lives.  I mean, she’s dead but that’s where she’s buried, next to Grampa”
Herbert: I didn’t know that.  When did she die?”
Libby: “Six years ago, March 17th”
Herbert: “So when did you talk to her?”
Libby: “Last week.”
Herbert: “Last week?”
Libby: “Last week. Last month. This morning.  It’s a little complicated.”
Herbert: “I imagine it would be.”

Human beings don’t talk like this, and the whole movie is peppered with that kind of snappy-cute banter pitched back and forth between the actors like they were reading from index cards.  It is the same problem that I had with his last movie Only When I Laugh and the movie that came before Chapter Two.  Simon can’t resist the joke, nor can he let his actors draw a breath without expelling some kind of witty little punchline.  At one point Libby and Herbert have a sweet moment over dinner that leads to tears until the moment is broken with a crack about paying the water bill.  Ulk.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1982) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy, Drama