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November 10, 1989 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1989-11-10

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Dad has




The Michigan Daily - Friday, November 10, 1989 - Page 9

Break out the Kleenex and make
sure your grandparents are waiting
by the phone when you come out of'
Dad, because if B-film guru Joe Bob
Briggs were to review this puppy,
instead of the usual dead body count,'
he'd compute a heart-wrenching
moments tally. My own estimate?
Lots. .
Dad is a movie about a family
forced to reassess their ties to each
other and to themselves in the face
of tragedy. At the beginning of the
film, mother Bette Tremont.
(Olympia Dukakis) has a heart at-
tack, bringing son, John (Ted Dan-
son), home from the East Coast to
care for the over-dependent father of
the family (Jack Lemmon).
You see very few films these
days that concentrate on characters
over 50 and their struggles with ag-
ing and impending death. The few,
such films that come to mind are
Cocoon, Wild Strawberries, and
Going in Style. Old age is some-
thing you like to forget about, to
gloss over as if you yourself won't
get old. In its attempt to articulate a
theme such as the difficult one of ag-
ing - without the salvation of a
happy ending - Dad is unique. De-
spite this innovation, the film's ex-.
amination of the aging issue is con-
voluted by its attempts to address ex-
traneous themes as well.
In addition to the general aging
motif, the film portrays the need to
come to terms with your parents as
they grow older. John also seeks re-
union with his own estranged son,
Billy (Ethan Hawke). Besides em-
phasizing the importance of family,

Dad addresses life's conversion into
a series of blind rituals and routines.
Because the movie undertakes the
examination of all these various is-
sues, it must create tragedy after
tragedy for the Tremonts so enough
circumstances will provoke all these
different self-explorations. Although
the film is touching and emotional,
one becomes conditioned like a
Pavlovian dog to tear at each word,
glance, and touch after the first few
good cries.
Lemmon's performance is by far
the strong point of Dad. He is able
You see very few films
these days that concen-
trate on characters over
50 and their struggles
with aging and impend-
ing death. The few such
films that come to mind
are Cocoon, Wild Straw-
berries, and Going in
Style. Old age is some-
thing you like to forget
about, to gloss over as if
you yourself won't get
old. In its attempt to ar-
ticulate a theme such as
the difficult one of aging
- without the salvation
of a happy ending -
Dad is unique.
to communicate the physicality of
aging through his painfully timid
body movements and jerky facial ex-
pressions. Assuming the role as
primary instigator of the other char-
acters' self-awareness, Lemmon's
portrayal is remarkable in that it

strikes the balance between the char-
acter's power to pull the family to-
gether and his simultaneous descent
into the fog of senility.
The nature of the subject matter,
however, is sentimental enough that
the film's soft-focus camera work
and sappy Spielberg-esque sound-
track come off as overkill. The rapid
succession from heart attack to
cancer to hallucinogenic coma-state
to gentle senility and then (finally?)
death challenges the film's realistic
integrity. Because the topics in ques-
tion carry enough of an emotional
wallop to lag even the crankiest of
heartstrings, Dad would have been
infinitely more successful had it ap-
proached the story in a minimalistic
fashion. Lemmon's excellent per-
formance coupled with those of
Olympia Dukakis and Ethan Hawke
(Todd in Dead Poet's Society)
would have stood well on their own
and it's a pity to see such fine acting
drowned in schmaltz. By often over-
playing his role, Ted Danson is
complicit in the overdone feel of the
If only to see Lemmon's perfor-
mance and an innovative attempt to
portray the once-taboo aging charac-
ter, Dad is a worthwhile film. Its
inconsistent pacing and oversenti-
mental appeal bring it dangerously
close to failure, but Dad preserves
its own integrity by allowing Jake
Tremont to die quietly. By the end of
the film, its minimalistic potential
is realized and concludes without the
necessity of a long and drawn-out
death scene to force us to feel very
deeply for the characters.

Jack Lemmon, as dad and grandad Jake Tremont, is the high point of the too-weepy Dad, the latest in a plague of
films that have one-word titles, just so they can fit on squashy multiplex marquees.

DAD is now showing at


E LASSIFIED ADSI Call 764-0557

Ordinary Time
by A. G. Mojtabai
Doubleday hardcover/$17.95
If George Herbert, the Renais-
sance poet, could have written Amer-
ican fiction in the latter half of this
century, it probably would read a lot
like Ordinary Time. A. G. Mojtabai
occupies herself with the daily chal-
lenges to faith, external and internal,
much like Herbert, who concluded
"The Collar" with the lines "But as I
raved and grew more fierce and wild/
at every word,/ Methought I heard
one calling, Child!/And I replied,
My Lord.."
The brand of Christianity in Mo-
jtabai's fifth novel - the evangeli-
cal Christianity of prayer meetings,
frenzied sermons, and public heal-
ings - has been so vilified lately in
the news about the Bakkers, Oral
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Roberts, and Jimmy Swaggart that
at first it is hard to believe that there
is no mockery in her portrayal of
this life. But nobody ever questions
the motives behind passing around
the collection plate; nobody drops
innuendos about the integrity of the
town's spiritual leaders.
We do get the local Catholic
priest's private musings, his frustra-
tion with the calling. We get his
touching struggle in coping with his
failing vision, his insecurities about
what he does for a living: "Father
Gilvary longs for the lofty spires and
high vaultings of the churches in his

youth; he misses that sense of
stretching, of reaching. Churches
nowadays look more like gyms or
social halls, which they mostly are."
It is such rich characterization,
and the accuracy of prose with which
it is rendered, that makes Ordinary
Time a wonderful novel. When Val,
the book's inpenetrable protagonist,
gets off a bus in the middle of Texas
and ends up in a sort of flop-
house/missionary, the ringing of a
faraway telephone speaks to him of
his rootlessness: "A thin sound, like
a cold ray. Val sees in its pitiless
light all he has lost: his car, his

beautiful things, his job, his girl,
his good name. His memory." For
lack of a clue to his past, and lack of
anything better to do, Val ends up
working at the Three Square Meals
(better known as "Henrietta's Ceme-
tery Restaurant," thanks to its loca-
tion) in the town of Durance. Here
begins his fruitful non-relationship
with the locals. In rural America,
where the weather dominates all
other topics of conversation, people
shed their mistrust and learn to relate
very slowly and in small increments.
"These days," we read about the
See BOOKS, page 10

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