In the beginning, we see Rose and his family outside a hospital where his wife of 67 years has just died. We see him alone, wandering around their big old house, struggling with can openers. Then he finds a series of clues that lead him to believe his wife once had an affair, decades ago, and he begins to crumble at the thought of such a thing. He drives his son (Kevin Pollak) and granddaughter (Kerry Bishé) batty with his anger, and when he seems to be losing touch with reality, they ship him to an assisted living community. He amuses himself by making potholders and reading Sue Grafton novels, but the affair claws at him; through a series of unlikely circumstances, he’s able to meet the man who may have had a fling with his wife. But all ends well. Writer/director Daniel Noah wouldn’t send us away without making everyone happy.
We’ve seen this movie before in various forms, and we know it by heart. To Noah’s credit, he allows Lewis to walk the landscape of the story in his own sweet time, and as has been his case since the 1940s, Lewis’ timing is flawless. And though his clown’s face has aged, Lewis can still, with just a slight downturn of an eye, indicate a world of sorrow.
Lewis also manages to muscle his way through the flashback scenes, where we see him with his late wife (Claire Bloom); he even makes those scenes palatable. When she reads to him from a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, he looks at her with awe, with love; he conjures up feelings and shows them without saying a word. Actors of greater renown would fail at this very thing.
The rest of the cast, unfortunately, appear to be acting in a television sitcom.
An exception is Dean Stockwell as the man who tried to steal Rose’s wife. He gives his role hell, but even he’s a cliché; he’s an old Hollywood player, bedridden, surrounded by awards and mementoes, wearing himself out with epic coughing jags. A movie where Lewis and Stockwell went toe-to-toe for 90 minutes might’ve been interesting. Who knows what those two veterans would’ve pulled out?
The movie, apparently, has been kicking around for a few years; it appeared at Cannes in 2013 to an indifferent reception, and has been retooled for this 2016 release. Prior to that, it took Noah some time to finance the project. Lewis signed on early and stayed with it. Did he deserve better? Perhaps. But no one else has been willing to use Lewis in recent years, and this, perhaps, gives us one last glimpse of him.
He has several moments where he steals the movie and shoves it into his pocket for a second. My favorite was when he was at the seniors’ home, sitting through an agonizing Sunday afternoon with his son and granddaughter. Then, as if to break up the monotony, he reveals the potholders he’s made in a crafts class. “Look what I made,” he says, displaying them seemingly out of thin air. “They’re shaped like kidneys.” The moment is loaded: he’s playing the slightly addled grandpa who has given in to his surroundings, but he’s still Jerry Lewis; the timing, always the timing, is impeccable.