Stephen Romei

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

Go­ing in Style (M) Na­tional re­lease Ta­ble 19 (M) Na­tional re­lease

Two cork­ing come­dies this week, each about peo­ple un­justly con­fined to the fringes: el­derly folk and un­wanted guests at a wed­ding re­cep­tion. Go­ing in Style is a re­make of Martin Brest’s 1979 ca­per flick, in which three old friends, Joe, Wil­lie and Al, de­cide to lift them­selves out of pen­sion penury by rob­bing a bank.

The orig­i­nal, star­ring comic greats Ge­orge Burns (Joe) and Art Car­ney (Al) along­side the god­fa­ther of method act­ing Lee Stras­berg (Wil­lie), is funny, grumpy and sad, full of dead­pan hu­mour and old-fash­ioned val­ues.

The new ver­sion is writ­ten and di­rected by Zach Braff, known for his role as the neu­rotic doc­tor JD in the TV com­edy se­ries Scrubs. His three stars are just about as good as any di­rec­tor could ask for: Michael Caine (Joe), Mor­gan Free­man (Wil­lie) and Alan Arkin (Al).

In­deed, watch­ing the two movies back to back I won­dered if there was an orig­i­nal­re­make com­bi­na­tion with more Os­cars to its credit. Ad­mit­tedly I cheated a bit by in­clud­ing Stras­berg, who as artis­tic di­rec­tor of the Ac­tors Stu­dio worked with just about ev­ery­one, from James Dean to Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, Paul New­man to Steve McQueen, Anne Ban­croft to Sally Field, Gene Hack­man to Gene Wilder. Jack Ni­chol­son had to au­di­tion five times be­fore he was ac­cepted, Dustin Hoff­man six.

Fun­nily enough Stras­berg is the only one of the six lead ac­tors, 40 years apart, with­out an Os­car. Caine has two (for Han­nah and Her Sis­ters and Cider House Rules) and the oth­ers one each. There’s some­thing about this that goes to the heart of Go­ing in Style, past and pre­sent: old peo­ple have life in them yet, and damn any­one who thinks oth­er­wise. Burns was almost 80 when he won his Os­car, for The Sun­shine Boys in 1975, and he lived to 100.

Braff, much younger than his stars, as was Brest, pays proper re­spect to the orig­i­nal. Some of the di­a­logue is iden­ti­cal, and for good reason: it was funny then and it’s funny now, not least be­cause it’s still true. When a su­per­mar­ket man­ager catches the an­te­dilu­vian ami­gos shoplift­ing, he hu­mours them and hands out dis­count coupons. Some bi­ases never change.

The story is mod­ernised in a thrilling way. There’s still droll hu­mour but also phys­i­cal com­edy, such as a chase in­volv­ing a mo­torised walk­ing frame shop­ping bas­ket. (The response of the old woman from whom it’s stolen is price­less.) There are im­por­tant changes be­tween the two films, too, as we move to­wards the end.

It’s set in New York and the ac­tion opens with a bank rob­bery. Joe is in the bank. The rob­bers, hid­den be­hind black ski masks, seem to have a so­cial agenda. “It’s a cul­ture’s duty to take care of its el­derly,’’ the leader de­clares. Joe couldn’t agree more. The bank is about to fore­close his mort­gage and evict him, his daugh­ter and grand­daugh­ter. Like Wil­lie and Al, he worked for decades at a steel mill. But it’s been sold and, in the sort of de­ci­sion that won votes for Don­ald Trump, is mov­ing its op­er­a­tions to Viet­nam and can­celling the pen­sions of for­mer work­ers. So Joe sug­gests a bank rob­bery. It’s a job that needs a lot of prepa­ra­tion, with the help of an an­i­mal-lov­ing From left, Michael Caine, Mor­gan Free­man and Alan Arkin in Go­ing in

above; Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robin­son, June Squibb, Stephen Merchant, Anna Ken­drick and Tony Revolori in

left crim­i­nal (John Or­tiz, who is great). Ann-Mar­gret brings her trade­mark sen­su­al­ity to the role of An­nie, who fan­cies Al, much to his sur­prise: “She likes me for who I am. I don’t even like me for who I am.” Matt Dil­lon is a mix of cer­tainty and un­cer­tainty as an FBI agent.

Free­man and Arkin are spot on, but it is Caine who stands out. Watch­ing him — look for the melan­cholic pre-heist mo­ment where he talks to his grand­daugh­ter — I had the thought that per­haps he is our great­est liv­ing ac­tor.

There are lots of laugh-out-loud set pieces, some with clever nods to the genre. “I don’t want to watch the end­ing,’’ Joe says as the friends watch Dog Day Af­ter­noon. Yet for me the movie that most popped into mind was Steven Soder­bergh’s Ocean’s Eleven. I hope that in their ma­ture years Ge­orge Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Da­mon and Don Chea­dle make Oceans Eighty. The re­sult would be the same as in Go­ing in Style, 1979 and 2017: class, class, class. Ta­ble 19 also re­minded me of an­other film, the su­perb 1958 drama Sep­a­rate Tables, for which David Niven won an Os­car, in per­haps his finest role. It came to mind be­cause I started think­ing about how few movies have a piece of fur­ni­ture in their ti­tle. There’s Ro­man Polan­ski’s early si­lent short Two Men and a Wardrobe ... and then I run out. Read­ers will sug­gest oth­ers, I am sure, though I don’t think Al­fred Hitch­cock’s Rear Win­dow counts.

Any­way, the tit­u­lar ta­ble in Jef­frey Blitz’s com­edy, set mainly in a grand ball­room, is the one re­motest from the just-mar­ried cou­ple. It may as well be in the toi­lets, as one of the oc­cu­pants sug­gests. That’s Jerry Kepp (Craig Robin­son), who runs a diner in Ohio with his wife Bina (Lisa Kudrow). They don’t seem happy.

Also at Ta­ble 19 are young, de­cent, naive Reznor (Tony Revolori), who is un­der or­ders from his mother to find a girl and have sex, and el­derly Jo (June Squibb), a for­mer nanny to the bride. The one per­son who would never have been as­signed there is Eloise (Anna Ken­drick) ... un­til she broke up with the bride’s brother.

There’s one more, who I’ve saved for last be­cause he’s the gem: Wal­ter (English ac­tor Stephen Merchant), a tall, gan­gly, awk­ward, shy man who is hid­ing some­thing. As we learn more about him, he is a riot. Wal­ter speaks with an ac­cent that may be Aus­tralian or Kiwi — he says “dick­head” — and there are sug­ges­tions of a seamy an­tipodean link to the fam­ily of the bride. Syd­ney ac­tor Thomas Coc­querel pops up as a mys­tery guest, and he’s good.

So Ta­ble 19 is a group of peo­ple who don’t know each other, and wouldn’t much care to. But as the re­cep­tion goes awry they have to look after each other. This is the hu­man mes­sage of this amus­ing film: ev­ery­one’s life gets messy at times. It’s im­por­tant to cut oth­ers some slack, even when it’s not de­served. “Ev­ery­one’s ridicu­lous,’’ Bina says to her judg­men­tal hus­band, “and you deal with it. That’s life.’’

Style, Ta­ble 19,

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