Thursday, May 28, 2009

All of Me (1984)

Directed by Carl Reiner. Steve Martin's career really pulled together in this underrated movie. Martin seemed to learn a lesson in 1981 after spending two years developing an overly ambitious film musical, "Pennies From Heaven," that tanked. He teamed with Carl Reiner and began cranking out comedies that seemed to work consciously to please audiences while still exploiting his individual talents as a comedian and artist.

In '82 he cross-cut clips from classic film noir features into "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" to parody that genre; 1983's "The Man With Two Brains" was a mad scientist send-up from the Mel Brooks or Woody Allen playbook; and 1984's "The Lonely Guy" (directed by Arthur Hiller) surprised people that he could play lower-key comedy. "All of Me" showcased Martin's physical comedy.

Since his stand-up days were not yet ancient history, people were well aware of how outrageous Steve Martin could be, but the plot of "All of Me" added a significant to what he was doing on-screen. The story is a slight twist on those "Freaky Friday" body-switching plots that were pretty big at the time; briefly put, Lily Tomlin plays an insensitive, rich woman with no friends who is dying but wants to keep living. She pays some shaman to move her soul into the body of a young beautiful woman, who screws up and drops into Steve Martin's character, who now has two souls in his body. The bulk of the picture consists of Martin acting as if Tomlin's character, established in the first act, controls the right side of his body while he maintains control of the left side of his body.

Hilarity ensues.

Also, this movie -- alongside those others from that three-year stretch and 1979's "The Jerk" -- make you realize how much Jim Carrey's screen persona owes Steve Martin.

It must have been hard for Martin to work so hard on "Pennies From Heaven," looking forward to establishing himself as a deep, serious artist, only to have audiences either confused by it or indifferent to it. However, that's an important, career defining moment for someone in the entertainment business because it forces you to shake the Etch-a-Sketch and start over, and if you're really good at what you do and pay attention to what has worked and what has failed, you'll come back with something much better.

Steve Martin was very smart to just push out funny movies that capitalized on his talent. It's sort of a shame that now it seems like he's not very discriminating. Are "Burning Down the House" (2003), two "Cheaper by the Dozen" movies (2003, 2005), and two "The Pink Panther" movies (2006, 2009) really the best popcorn movies to come across his agent's desk? All the "Shopgirl"s in the world won't make up for those.

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