By Gary Murray

Starring Al Pacino, Greta Grewig and Kyra Sedgwick

Written by Buck Henry

Directed by Barry Levinson

Running time 113 min

MPAA Rating R

Selig Film Rating Cable


There are some films that defy basic description.  They never seem to fit into a succinct category and fall in the fringes of cinema.  Part comedy, part tragedy and all too weird is the new film by Barry Levinson (Man of the Year, Good Morning Vietnam, Diner).  It has one of the worst titles of the year—The Humbling.

Al Pacino is Simon, an acclaimed veteran actor who falls off a stage while performing Shakespeare.  It seems that our thespian has a bit of a tenuous grip on reality, with the stage and real worlds becoming melded into a serial reality.

His agent (Charles Grodin) gets Simon to go into a 30-day bit of rehabilitation in a mental health care facility.  There he befriends Sybil (Nina Arianda).  She has seen his film work and believes that he is the perfect man to kill her husband, a man who committed a horrible act with her daughter. Simon believes she is just crazy and tries to avoid her.

Back home, Simon is visited by Pegeen (Greta Grewig).  She is the grown lesbian daughter of two old acting colleagues and she has had a crush on Simon since she was eight.  Basically, she forces herself into his life and into his bed. 

This does not go over well with the parents and the lesbian lovers of Pegeen—one who keeps calling all hours of the day and night and the other who became a man for Pegeen.  They all believe that Pegeen is the devil but still want the woman in their lives.

All of these element twist to the realization that Simon is not totally ready for retirement, both mentally and financially.  A young woman in his life is an expensive proposition.  As he video chats with his mental doctor, Simon also may not have a solid grip on reality.

The thing is that none of this may be happening.  The way Barry Levinson delivers the Buck Henry screenplay; one is never sure whether anything happening on the screen is actual or just in the actors mind. 

In one scene, Simon is talking to Pegeen in a waiting room but the waiting room nurse sees him talking to an empty chair.  Scenes of Pegeen and another woman play in different ways, some of which may be just in his mind like an erotic adventure.

Al Pacino delivers one of the funniest performances of his career with The Humbling.  At times, he is vain, tortured, scared, feeble and incised all within the same beat.  He is a man who is at so many crossroads, he has no idea when and where to turn.   The problem is that is just the same role and idea that drives Michael Keaton in Birdman.

Greta Grewig has done some small roles in big films but this role should give her a larger audience.  She has to play different shades of the same character, depending on who is in front of her.  It is the kind of role that keeps the interest of casting directors. 

The Humbling is getting a very limited theatrical release with a VOD platform release.  I think that it is a shame because the film holds up on the big screen more than many major releases in the past few months.  By putting it out on video and theaters at the same time, it almost feels as if the producers have given up on the project. 

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