In the late 1970s into the early 1980s, Burt Reynolds was the most famous person alive. Arguments can be made against this statement, but those arguments will lose. Though, the question is, how many people today realize this was once the case. Most of Burt Reynolds’ contemporaries achieved prolonged success. But by the early ‘90s, Reynolds was starring in movies like Cop and a Half. P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights secured Reynolds an Academy Award nomination, but through stubbornness or orneriness – or a combination of both – Reynolds’ “comeback” was squandered. For people who remember and enjoyed Reynolds at the top of his game, his career has been incredibly frustrating.
There’s a fascinating movie playing at the Tribeca Film Festival that not too many people are talking about called Dog Years. There’s really no other way to interpret it other than as “Burt Reynolds realizes he’s made bad choices and was a dick to a lot of people and now regrets that.” There’s literally a scene in which modern-day Burt Reynolds rides in a Trans-Am with his younger Bandit self. Current Burt tries to give younger Burt advice, but younger Burt just says things like, “Ha ha!” while driving his car faster and faster.
Reynolds doesn’t technically play himself, he’s playing an aging actor named Vic Edwards – who just happened to be the star in all of the same movies Burt Reynolds has starred in. Edwards is invited to accept a lifetime achievement award from a rinky-dink film festival in Tennessee – and the events that transpire at that festival lead to a wave of emotions and regret.
Honestly, I can’t believe Reynolds agreed to be in this movie.
“I had never met him,” Dog Years director Adam Rifkin tells Uproxx, “but I thought if I wrote him a role that was good enough, big enough, deep enough, had enough stuff for him to say – that I thought might resonate with him.”
That’s what’s so fascinating about Dog Years — it wasn’t written by Burt Reynolds himself as some sort of mea culpa about his career. This was a script written by Rifkin with only Burt Reynolds in mind. Rifkin is admittedly a huge Burt Reynolds fan, so I asked Rifkin if this film was basically, in Rifkin’s mind, what Reynolds should say before it’s too late.
“Well, you know what?,” asks Rifkin, “I never really thought of it in those terms, but that’s a really interesting way to look at it. I think maybe, subconsciously, that is the way I looked at it.”
What makes this remarkable is that Reynolds himself read this script, and by agreeing to be in the movie basically endorsed Rifkin’s interpretation of what Reynolds should say about his career. Rifkin remembers the day Reynolds called to say he’d do the movie.
“I get a call from Burt Reynolds, right? Which was mind-blowing unto itself,” remembers Rifkin. “He said, ‘I had just been telling a lady friend that I was hoping for one last great role before the end and then your script hit my desk.’ And he said, ‘If you had sent this script to me 10 years earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to do it because it deals with things I wouldn’t have been able to face. I wouldn’t have wanted to face them. Today, where I am in my life, I have to do this movie.’”