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I'm Not Rappaport

Released: 1996

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 2 hr 15 min

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Herb Gardner

Starring: Walter Matthau, Ossie Davis, Amy Irving, Craig T. Nelson, Martha Plimpton, Peter Friedman, Ron Rifkin.

Inspired by two elderly men Gardner met in New York City's Central Park,Nat Moyer, a feisty Jew, and Midge Carter, a cantankerous African-American, who spend their days sitting on a bench. They both mask the realities of aging, sharing tall tales that Nat spins. The play touches on several issues, including society’s treatment of the aging, the difficulties dealing with adult children who think they know what's best for their parents, and the dangers that lurk in urban areas.

Films take place on a much larger scale.

Review by: SteveRhodes

Added: 7 years ago

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

-Dylan Thomas

Herb Gardner is the Tony award winning author for the play "I'm Not Rappaport." Ten years after it appeared on Broadway, Gardner brings it to the theaters with total control. He is the producer, writer, and director of the film version. This is not necessarily good in that the major suffering of the film is that it has play stamped all over it. Plays are in-person experiences that happen in intimate settings. Films take place on a much larger scale.

Gardner does take his play outdoors, but the cinematography by Adam Holender (SMOKE) fixes the camera immovably on the talking heads for insufferably long periods. This causes the wit and humor of the play to come across all too often as the pedantic ramblings and sermons of a couple of old men. The beauty of the language does come through, but the net effect of the movie is to make the viewers wish they had gone to the play instead.

As the story opens, Ron Rifkin (LAST SUMMER IN THE HAMPTONS and the soon to be released THE SUBSTANCE OF FIRE) is speaking to the fur workers' union. The year is 1909, and thanks to some help from a woman in the audience, he calls for a general strike. After a quick cut to the present where the restaurant workers are on strike, we meet one of the two leads in the story, an 80 year old ex-Communist organizer named Nat (Walter Matthau). As the Communist Internationale plays in the background, Nat drones on with tired dogma about the proletariat, but no one takes him seriously.

When he goes to a grocery store and starts marking down food he deems overpriced, people look upon him as a savior more than a kook. Everybody that is except the owner who wants to throw him out when he begins to suspect that Nat is not from the Mayor's office of consumer affairs as he claims.

Every day Nat meets his acquaintance Midge (Ossie Davis) at a bench in Central Park. Midge views him as a pain and his incessant conversations and stories as little more than verbal harassment.

Being tired of hearing Nat has returned from the dead or that he is a deep undercover Cuban secret agent, Midge tells him to stop lying. "Lies, not lies -- alternatives. Sometimes the truth doesn't quite fit," argues Nat. "I was one person for the first eighty years. Why not a hundred for the next five?"

Most of the show is about old men raging against the dying of their light. When Midge stands up, he falls down. Nat takes this philosophically as it does with everything in his life, reflecting, "It's the system. Two years old, you stand up. Seventy years later, you fall down again."

There are some interesting images in the picture. The best is when they both sit on a bench with a bronze statue of a suit talking on a cell phone. With one on each side of the immovable man, they smoke dope and admire an attractive stranger, Laurie (Martha Plimpton). Each of them fantasizes her as being a woman from years ago in their past. Later in the film, they will come to Laurie's aid when she gets in trouble with a drug dealer named The Cowboy, played against type by Craig T. Nelson.

The long scenes of banter in the park undoubtedly worked well in the play. In the film, they are too long and preachy. More lively editing or camerawork would have helped.

Midge finds that Nat drives him crazy, complaining, "Lord, I asked for help, and you send me a weird Commie blind man." I find that Matthau's acting frequently annoys me, but in this film I loved his work and that Davis's. I empathized with them both. Two convincing performances.

Less effective is the supporting cast. There is nothing wrong with their performances, but they provide little more than window dressing in this two person play.

Boyd Gaines plays a jogging character named Danforth who does have a single good line: "Truth is I hate running. Being immortal takes too much time." Now, I know why I gave up jogging twenty years ago.

Nat puts everybody down. He warns Danforth, "One more word, and I'll make a citizen's arrest for crimes against the language."

If you like to watch for goofs, you can see the boom appear quite clearly twice in the famous "I'm Not Rappaport" joke sequence between Nat and Midge.

"Everybody else got a two wheeler when they turned ten, I got a paperback copy of Das Kapital," carps Nat's daughter Clara Gelber (Amy Irving). Most movie goers get entertainment, but I got a talky play masquerading as a movie. If you can get past the stilted filming, the film has a message worth hearing.

I'M NOT RAPPAPORT runs too long at 2:15 because the play was not effectively adapted into a movie. It is rated PG-13 for dope smoking among the geriatric set. There is a little profanity and some violence, but no sex or nudity. The film's attitude about drugs makes me suggest that the film be seen only by kids who are over twelve. I found the filming frustrating, but I liked most of what the movie had to say so I am recommending it and giving it ** 1/2.