Title: Nobody’s Fool
Director: Robert Benton
Writers: Benton, based on the novel by Richard Russo
Stars: Paul Newman, Bruce Willis (uncredited), Jessica Tandy, Melanie Griffith, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dylan Walsh, Gene Saks, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Margo Martindale
The Story: An aging ne’er-do-well handyman tries the patience of his friends and foes in a poky little snowbound town in upstate New York. When his college professor son moves in with him, he decides it’s time to finally get his ass in gear.
How it Came to be Underrated: This was a little-seen critic’s darling, but Newman was considered a shoe-in for best actor, until he got steamrolled over by Tom Hanks’s aw-shucks work in Forrest Gump. That’s a shame, because this is the sort of meaty, funny, heartbreaking role that every older actor dreams of, and Newman hits it out of the park. If he had won, this might have gotten the recognition it deserved.
Why It’s Great:
- This is a real “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore” kind of movie, starting with gentle classical music playing over poignant shots of the snowbound town, then easing us into an understated low-drama heartfelt character piece. Will Hollywood ever make movies like this again? If not, why can’t we get indie movies like this?
- In a great recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Brad Pitt, who is usually humorously humble and self-effacing, showed a bit of petulance when he complained that he had “the bitch role” in Interview with the Vampire. In other words: the role that’s always on the losing end and doesn’t come out on top. It’s a peek into how the star system works, or doesn’t work. Bruce Willis is wonderful here in a major role, but he’s bizarrely uncredited. Why? Because it’s a bitch role, and undignified for a big star. (But one that he found too good to pass up, as long as they didn’t advertise it)
- Is there any better expression of realism than shooting a whole movie in actual messy snow? I’ll always have a special spot in my heart for truly-committed movies like this and McCabe and Mrs. Miller. (It was certainly an appropriate movie for me and Betsy to watch yesterday as NYC got hit with an unseasonable snowstorm.) The abundant charm of the small town here reminded me of this song.
- Check out that cast! The talent pool in this ensemble runs deep and wide. Yes, that’s the same Gene Saks who was so great as Chuckles the Chipmunk in A Thousand Clowns, and he’s once again delightful. The best surprise is Pruitt Taylor Vince, who almost steals the movie from all those heavyweights as Newman’s sad-sack assistant.
If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Benton, Russo and Newman re-teamed after this for a good laid-back noir called Twilight. (Newman played a teen girl in love with two cursed hunks. That man could do anything.)
How Available Is It?: It’s on a bare-bones DVD with another Newman movie (Fat Man and Little Boy) on the flip side, but it’s a nice print.