Joe Gould spends his days in Greenwich Village, making notes on the subject of humanity. He is compiling an oral history of mankind, a series of transcripts of conversations and essays on the nature of man. He does this by writing at every opportunity in composition books and by mooching off of rich Beatniks during the 50s in New York City. Amongst his supporters: painter Alice Neel (Susan Sarandon), E.E. Cummings, gallery owner Vivian Marquie (Patricia Clarkson) and publishing executive Charlie Duell (Steve Martin). These supporters frequently allow Joe Gould to stay at their homes, as well as contribute small sums of money to the Joe Gould fund.
One day, Gould catches the attention of a New Yorker writer from North Carolina, Joe Mitchell (Stanley Tucci), who writes an article about Mr. Gould in his magazine, and, by consequence, is forced into the role of being Gould's best friend.
Per one's expectations from such a bizarre plot, Joe Gould's Secret proves to be blessed by being funny, mildly touching, and highly in touch with the Beatnik atmosphere that was prevalent in New York during the 50s. The flip side to this coin is that Joe Gould's Secret is cursed by being somewhat corny, slightly melodramatic, and very pretentious (as most of the Beatniks were). Holm will launch into a hilarious speech one second and a soliloquy the next. Tucci will be a serious journalist one minute and a recovering hick the next.
The movie simply cannot make up its mind.
Holm (The Sweet Hereafter) acts up a storm, per his usual. Tucci, with his trench coat and newsman's hat, looks like he used his wardrobe from Winchell. Sarandon is bland, as is Martin, who appears briefly in this movie seemingly only to prove that The Spanish Prisoner was not a fluke. Tucci's own work behind the camera is decent, but, as is par for the film, is not noteworthy. Big Night it ain't.
Joe Gould's secret really isn't that hard to figure out, but the film is entertaining enough that it doesn't quite head down that road to being terrible. Thus figuring out Joe Gould's secret is like the crossword in the New York Post. You'll finish it, but its so easy that it's a sort of hollow victory. But hey, at least you had fun.
Who's got a secret?
Run time: 104 mins
In Theaters: Friday 26th May 2000
Distributed by: USA Films
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Fresh: 22 Rotten: 11
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Stanley Tucci
Screenwriter: Howard A. Rodman
Starring: Ian Holm as Joe Gould, Stanley Tucci as Joe Mitchell, Celia Weston as Sarah, Susan Sarandon as Alice Neel, Patricia Clarkson as Vivian Marquie, Hope Davis as Therese Mitchell, Alice Drummond as Helen