The Thing About My Folks Movie Review

The Thing About My Folks is a low-budget labor of love for star Paul Reiser, and both halves of that equation show: Its depiction of a late-in-life father-son relationship is prickly and heartfelt, and it looks terrible. Digital video probably enabled the film to be made at all, but cinematographers in this medium ought not to shoot, say, sunlight sparkling over a lake; it calls pixilated attention to the camera's limitations too readily. Folks is about a trip, but it feels strangely closed-off; it's one of those road movies where the characters seem to travel over the same 10-mile stretch for several days.

The reason for the long drive: Ben Kleinman (Reiser) is looking after his elderly father Sam (Peter Falk), who has just received a terse letter from his wife; she's fed up with him and he's leaving. Ben himself has read a second letter, far more generous with exposition (perhaps to a fault), which goes into greater detail about why this may have happened. Ben takes Sam on the road while his sisters and wife search for the errant Mrs. Kleinman; over the course of their misadventures, he tries to talk out some dysfunction with his father.

Falk digs into his crotchety role with vigor, but there's something a little off-putting about his willingness - even eagerness - to play doddering old men. The real problem with this Paul Reiser project, though, is Reiser himself, who displays little talent for anchoring a feature film. He has a bland affability, but his comedic style springs almost exclusively from reactions. I'm not talking about comic standards like reaction shots or snappy comebacks. I'm talking about dialogue that seems to consist mainly of: "What? What is this? What are you talking about? Why would you do that?"

Jerry Seinfeld, a close stylistic cousin of Reiser's, does similar shtick, but he (or the version of himself displayed on his TV show) has weird little obsessions - Superman, cereal, cleanliness - that fill out his comic personality. Reiser characters rarely have real interests or hang-ups, even of the self-directed variety; they just kvetch, like a skipping Woody Allen DVD. Because Reiser wrote the screenplay, most of the characters share this relentlessly empty analysis; they all dissect each other's dialogue, no matter how mundane, strenuously attempting to squeeze laughs from faux-confusion.

Beneath all of the yammering, Reiser's script actually contains some insight into a long, productive, and not always particularly happy marriage. The grievances aired between father and son, even in the long-speech format, have the ring of truthful ambiguity; the movie doesn't vilify unromantic and work-minded Sam, nor does it turn Ben into an ungrateful whippersnapper.

Nor, though, can anyone resist the urge to wrap up this family's factious relationships in sparkly paper. The best moments in Folks are often the roughest, both physically (father and son get into a slapsticky barroom brawl) and emotionally (father and son alienate new friends by having it out at the dinner table). In the end, Reiser and director Raymond De Felitta can't resist sanding off the edges; one final helping of exposition is heaped onto the audience's plate, and its eagerness to please (both the audience and the characters) leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.

The problems of the Kleinman family, while far from earth-shattering, are presented too realistically for what I guess is the film's ultimate goal. You'd think it would be difficult to employ a grainy video camera as rose-colored glasses, but that's exactly how The Thing About My Folks looks at its grown-up problems.

The thing is, they can't dance.

Cast & Crew

Producer : Robert F. Newmyer, ,


The Thing About My Folks Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, 2005


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