MAX ROSE – A Review By Susan Kandell Wilkofsky

max-rose-poster

 

Vaudeville entertainment is in Jerry Lewis’ blood. As the son of Russian immigrants, Joseph Levitch danced his way into the showbiz world, performing with his parents in the Catskills as a young lad and later alongside comedic partner and crooner Dean Martin. Only now he is known to all as the brilliant slapstick comedian Jerry Lewis.

But it was a long time before we saw the other side of Lewis; that of serious actor. Most notably in Martin Scorsese’s 1982 film The King of Comedy, in which he plays a late-night television host held hostage and more recently in the1995 film Funny Bones.

We’ve waited decades to see him return to the screen as Max Rose, a retired jazz musician in this bittersweet tale of life, love and reconciliation. The story opens with the passing of his wife of 60+ years, Eva (Claire Bloom seen in gauzy flashbacks). While nostalgically examining her possessions, he makes a disturbing discovery that sets the film in motion.

Director Daniel Noah wrote the screenplay as an homage to his grandfather, a jazz musician who had one hit song, but when fame eluded him, he shifted his attention to family. When Noah’s grandmother passed away, he stayed with his grandfather for a time, developing a deep bond and a story that begged to be told. “ I thought about what a common story that is, to hear about couples who are together all of their lives, and when one dies, the other goes into a state of spiritual decline. I began to wonder what that story would be like told from the inside,” said Noah.

As with any production, Noah went in search of an actor who could breathe life into the title character. The name Jerry Lewis emerged on more then one list. After great difficulty getting the script into Lewis’ hands, he had his answer. Yes! According to the press notes, one of the things Lewis loved about the script is that it, “values the elderly and makes a very strong statement that you don’t throw elderly people away.” It is a grown up love story that will resonate with everyone who is in a long term marriage, has grown children, who is a grandparent or grandchild and has dealt with family loss. That covers just about everyone.

That’s not to say that there are some slow stretches in Max Rose. There are. Lewis, dressed nattily in argyle sweaters, is in every scene in the film – indeed many scenes are fixated on his face alone. But it’s his expressions that speak louder then his words. And there’s one scene that balances the unevenness and is destined to be a film classic; a night of music and revelry among friends. So as to remind us (lest we forget), who is starring in this pensive drama, we’re delightfully surprised by some genuine belly laughs.

Noah was concerned that the films content would lean towards depressing, so he brilliantly cast comedians in supporting roles. Mort Sahl, one of the premiere satirists of our time, plays Max’s friend Jack and Kevin Pollack as his son proves he does comedy as well as he does drama. To make these characters even more realistic, he encouraged his cast to adlib. “These are real human beings having real conversations with each other that don’t sound scripted,” said Noah.

Jerry Lewis has knack for celebrating milestone birthdays in a prodigious manner. When he turned 80 in 2006, he received the Legion Commander award in France. Although a special tribute was held at the Cannes Film Festival of 2013, Max Rose  was screened for the first time in the United States at the Museum of Modern Art honoring his 90th birthday in 2016. Stick around folks, I can’t wait to see what awaits us in 2026 for his 100th birthday!

 

Runtime: 83 minutes

Opens Friday, September 16th at the Magnolia.

Reprinted with permission from the TJP

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