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IN SHORT: Better than Average Arthouse Fare.
If Cranky were like his brother Cynic, he'd say to writer/director Eric Mendelsohn "Gee. It's too bad you couldn't stretch this flick to three hours plus. You would've made a zillion "best of" lists if you had."
But Eric kept his flick to a slim trim 96 minutes, which is fine by me. Judy Berlin is a perfect for-the-arthouse character piece where you learn all about the characters by watching the actors, fine actors all, do their best work. It doesn't need characters screaming at the audience, or special effects gimmicks (like frogs falling from the sky) or a three hour running to make its point. That point being: in the Long Island town of Babylon, there are people living ordinary lives who affect each other in intensely personal ways.
If you've reached the point where you've started having second thoughts about what you've done with your life, you'll probably connect with this flick. There is some very poignant, as well as some very funny, stuff here (sidesplitting stuff if you grew up on Long Island, as both Mendelsohn and Cranky did). Elsewise, Judy Berlin will bore the crap out of teens, or any adult without about 20 years of life experience under the belt.
Babylon, town of, is the terminus for one of the lines of the Long Island Railroad. Metaphorically, that makes it the end of the line for Judy Berlin (Edie Falco), a newbie actress with stars in her eyes who is moving to Los Angeles to follow those stars. The day we see is her last day in town. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The film focuses on 30 year old film director David Gold (Aaron Harnick), who has returned home to cry in the bathroom and stare out the window after years of miserable failure out on the Coast. His dad Arthur (Bob Dishy) is the principal at the local elementary school. His mom Alice, a bit flighty for the average housewife and played by a sparkling Madeline Kahn, boots him out of the house for a day, to clear his head. That walk will allow him to cross paths with grown kidlets he had gone to high school with, and avoided ever since, including Judy. Notable bit parts come from Julie Kavner and Anne Meara.
What Eric Mendelsohn has done is a perfectly plain movie about perfectly plain people in lives that are perfectly plain in a perfectly plain place. That doesn't mean that Judy Berlin is a perfectly plain movie. The life experience warning holds, and if you've met the standard you'll find much, much more to this flick than a boring tour of the suburbs. All material that you may see around you -- budding Alzheimer's; infidelity; ambition; job frustration; marriage frustration -- and it is all set against one of those wondrous events of nature, a total solar eclipse.
Said eclipse lasts about five hours in this film, which is an impossibility I'll overlook. As for the rest of the cast, you'll all recognize Edie Falco from HBO's The Sopranos, but there's an electric relationship playing out on screen by Bob Dishy and Barbara Barrie, and I've probably tipped too much about that. From the very first second of their very first scene together, without a word being spoken, you'll know. Darn great acting.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Judy Berlin, he would have paid...
If you do prefer the arthouse circuit, Judy Berlin is highly recommended. Add another pair of sawbacks, if that means you.
Kinda sad that Madeline Kahn isn't around to bask in the kudos she has rightfully earned for her performance. It really is that wonderful.
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