Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Short Cut Movie Review: Brighton Beach Memoirs
A Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.
Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical Brighton Beach Memoirs spoke to me in small ways as a pre-adolescent. It was hard not to identify in some small way with a Jewish kid struggling with puberty and curious about sex while dealing with a nagging mother. Okay, I was barely a Jewish kid and I’m not from Brooklyn and I didn’t grow up in a house where extended relatives lived and my older brother had to contribute his salary to support the family, but you get the point.
For the movie, Simon adapted his own play into a screenplay and Gene Saks directed (after also directing the original Broadway production). The movie hues too closely to the mannerisms of stage acting and blocking. I have to credit Saks a great deal with opening the story up and making it more cinematic than a stage play, at least enough that it’s difficult to imagine this as a play. I’ve never read nor seen the play so I can only guess that the majority of the action is set in the Jerome household. Saks takes us to the beach, a pool hall, the street, the grocer’s, a soda shop, and even the inside of an automobile. You get a real sense for Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, as a place and not just an idyll in Simon’s head.
As Eugene Jerome, Simon’s alter-ego, Jonathan Silverman at nineteen or twenty was far too old to play the part of a nearly 15 year old boy. He gets the breaking voice down pat, however. It’s the grownups in the cast that stand out to me most now: Blythe Danner as Eugene’s mother Kate and Bob Dishy as his beleaguered father Jack are just about the most marvelous pair of actors you could ask for in these roles.
The laughs roll in quickly and it can be hard to keep up. It’s a beautiful portrait of Jewish family life in New York pre-WWII, and a lovely little coming-of-age tale, but I continually felt throughout that I could ‘see’ the theatricality of every gesture and spoken word. Simon’s dialogue doesn’t come off the page quite enough in this adaptation.