Paul Reiser: funny guy, sure. Makes us laugh. Liked him on that “Mad About You” program, with that Helen Hunt girl. But a screenwriter? This is what he is now? He writes for the screen? This, I don’t know about. This, I’ll have to see.
(That was my Paul Reiser impersonation. It loses something without the audio element, maybe.)
Reiser has written “The Thing About My Folks,” a film in which he stars with Peter Falk. They play father and son, which seems like perfect casting, and Reiser says the film is somewhat autobiographical, which means his real father was a lot like Columbo. I can imagine that.
Reiser’s character, Ben Kleinman, takes his dad, Sam, on an impromptu road trip after his mother (Olympia Dukakis) suddenly walks out on the old man. Why leave after 40 years of marriage? That’s the question on everyone’s minds. Ben thinks his dad could use some time sorting things out, though Sam doesn’t think anything was wrong in the first place.
The road trip occurs almost accidentally, and it involves a few father-son bonding experiences that the two missed out on before: fishing in a river, going to a baseball game, that sort of thing. More importantly, there is a good deal of conversation, sometimes in the form of witty old-Jewish-man banter, sometimes in the discussion of more serious subjects, often both simultaneously. Sam speaks in a stream-of-consciousness ramble, easily veering from the subject of his failing marriage to the sweetness of the peach he just bought at a roadside stand and back again.
Reiser’s persona is typical Reiser, and either you think he’s funny or you don’t. I do. He’s quick-witted and smart, able to analyze the absurdity of a situation while it’s happening. Before it’s even sunk in that something is silly, he’s on the case, dissecting it and pointing out what’s ridiculous about it.
As for Falk, I would say he steals the film from Reiser, but I think Reiser just opened the vault and let him come in and take what he wanted. Falk makes Sam a terrific character, a garrulous old coot with a good heart who thinks the same way he walks: with an easy-going shuffle. This is a very funny movie, and Falk is responsible for 75 percent of the laughs.
He’s a great actor, too, which Reiser, let’s face it, is not. (Paul Reiser is best at playing Paul Reiser.) When an old letter surfaces explaining what may have been wrong with his marriage, Sam launches into a monologue that is a combination of harangue and catharsis. He worked hard for his family. He loved his wife and children. What more do you want? You can see Sam asking himself that question — no longer merely rhetorical — as he vents and fumes about the indignity of being dumped at the age of 60-something. If you don’t love Peter Falk (and Sam) after that, you are dead inside.
A movie like this eventually finds its gooey center, but this one handles it without becoming too sappy. The director, Raymond De Felitta, last worked on “Two Family House,” a little-remembered gem from 2000 that was, like “The Thing About My Folks,” clearly a labor of love. He takes Reiser’s good screenplay, adds a veteran actor who nails his performance, and comes up with a perfectly charming comedy.
A- (1 hr., 35 min.; )