The first trailer for Barry Levinson's “The Humbling” teases so much that could – should? – go right. There's Levinson, whose never let his eclectic career hit an easy groove; There's star Al Pacino, a legend everyone's gunning for no matter how many “Righteous Kill”-like duds come along; There's the esteemed Philip Roth providing source material with Buck Henry adapting; And there's Greta Gerwig, one of the strongest young actresses in the business. Throwing Dianne Wiest, Charles Grodin, and Dan Hedaya on top is like a sundae with three cherries.
And yet “The Humbling” arrives tattered and scarred, patrons of the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals underwhelmed by the dramatic vehicle. But could a drop of glory from the once-great Pacino all it takes for a movie like “The Humbling” to transcend itself? Let's hope.
In “The Humbling,” Pacino plays Simon Axler, a Shakespearean thespian whose reality and stage life blur to the point of medical emergency. “Why don't you get me a deal writing my memoirs – isn't that what washed up actors do?” he tells his agent. When he meets the springy, idolizing daughter of a friend (Gerwig), he fills the void in his life with taboo romance.
Our own Catherine Bray, familiar with the novel, took Levinson's film to task for “watering down Roth's smut” and playing fast and loose with gender politics to the point of tonal imbalance “It should go without saying that there's nothing wrong with threesomes and dildos and so on — it's all part of God's rich tapestry. But when they're combined with beautiful young lesbians who can be turned straight by suicidal old men, most viewers will be wary that we're in the realms of fantasy.”
The negative reviews aren't keeping distributor Millennium Entertainment from pushing its 74-year-old star into the Best Actor race. “The Humbling” will have an Oscar-qualifying run before it formally bows on Jan. 23, 2015 in theaters and VOD.