- Movie Rating -

Max Dugan Returns (1983)

| March 25, 1983

Every time I see one of these films written by Neil Simon, I always wish he would just level with us.  He puts his characters into a situation that is emotionally grueling; James Caan lost his wife in Chapter Two; Marsha Mason was a recovering alcoholic in Only When I Laugh; and Dinah Minoff tried reconnecting with her long-lost father in I Ought to Be in Pictures.  The problem is that his deep dive into these issues are padded with cutie-poo dialogue and zingy one-liners that no human being on the face of the Earth would say.  It’s as if Tennessee Williams were writing a sitcom.

No less a problem befalls Max Dugan Returns, which feels like a sitcom pilot.  Marsha Mason plays Nora, a struggling single mother trying to raise her son alone.  Naturally, they scratch to get by but at least they have each other.  Then she has a very bad day when her car is stolen – one of those out-of-date sitcom cars that is always belching exhaust – and her father wanders back into her life after being gone for 30 years.  He is Max (Jason Robards) and he admits that he hasn’t lived an honest life, but he’s seeing things in perspective because, you guessed it, he has a short time to live.

Now, this is a serious issue.  We have a woman dealing with a father who has come back into her life and announces that his time is short.  The normal trajectory is for her to either throw him out or reconcile before he shuffles off this mortal coil.  But the movie gets gummed up with all kinds of cute plot developments.  Example: Max comes bearing a suitcase loaded with money and begins buying expensive gifts for his daughter and grandson.  Nora begins dating the detective (Donald Sutherland) who is investigating the theft of her car – naturally, he becomes suspicious.  Then Max’s criminal past is revealed.

Why?  Why was this necessary?  Great possibilities are wrought from the reconnection of a long-lost father and his daughter, even comic ones, but why did Simon have to gum up this story with a lot of sitcom non-sense?  He had something.  Robards and Mason have chemistry, very good chemistry.  I could believe that they were family, and I could believe that Matthew Broderick was her son, but again, the movie doesn’t level with us.  It takes place in a world that doesn’t exist with situations that would never happen to characters speaking dialogue that feels right off the page.  The story is here, why clutter it up with nonsense?

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1983) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy