Funny About Love (1990, dir. Leonard Nimoy)
There was a kind of movie made in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s that grates on me. These films were usually set in New York City and focused on a wealthy white person experiencing some mid-life crisis or first world problem. The soundtracks were bouncy and goofy in the beginning and then when some maudlin moment occurred, they would switch to a mournful and grating harmonica to underscore the wistful turmoil. Of course, the films would ensure a happy ending for their already entitled protagonist leaving the audience with little to nothing to think about. These films have evolved over the years now star actors fishing for dollars apparently. They are films made by directors like Nancy Meyers (It’s Complicated) or Charles Shyer (Father of the Bride). They are not intentionally offensive movies, but their whitewashed landscapes and conflict based on economic lives that are living at the peak of Maslow’s Hierarchy ring incredibly false. Funny About Love is one of those films.
I can’t say what possessed Wilder to take this role. He has chemistry with Christine Lahti, but the material he is given to work with is horrendous. In comedy, it is important to establish the tone you are going for early on. Audiences want to know if this will be a light comedy, cerebral, dark, etc. Funny About Love veers back and forth through its interminable one hour and forty-seven minutes. There is the soft, playful banter between our co-stars which signals a light, romantic tone. Twenty minutes later a character is crushed by a falling stove, and this is played for laughs? The film is based on an article from Esquire titled “Convention for the Love Goddesses” where writer Bob Green gives a speech at a sorority convention. That does happen in the film, the third act for about 15 minutes. I strongly suspect we are dealing with a script that was butchered, reshaped, and revised by studio executives. The impetus of the plot revolves around having children and with the style of the film’s poster I suspect Look Who’s Talking had an influence on the film’s direction. While we remember Leonard Nimoy’s passing as the man who played Spock, we must also acknowledge the incredibly terrible films he made outside of the Star Trek franchise, this being chief among them.
There is no reason to dwell on this particular film; it does not merit much study or discussion. However, due to it being the second to last Wilder feature film, we can use it as a point of meditation. How did Gene Wilder go from being in the golden era of Mel Brooks and commanding a very charismatic leading man performance in films like Silver Streak to a procession of milquetoast WASP-y duds? There was a moment in the late 1970s/early 1980s where his career took this turn. Post-Silver Streak, his films had middling success, Stir Crazy was the one box office success in a sea of bombs. I suppose it could just be an instance where an artistic eye and mind change over time, influenced by the movie business, encouraged to make decisions because of the prodding of others.
Wilder’s final theatrical film, Another You which I reviewed here, is such a horrible period on the sentence of Wilder’s career. It was likely a good thing he began to fade from the spotlight at this time. He’d do a single-season run of an NBC sitcom in the 90s, Something Wilder, which I nostalgically remember with positive vibes but suspect I’d hate if revisited. When he passed, Wilder was talked about in the context of Willy Wonka and Young Frankenstein. We have a remarkable penchant to cling to the positive images of those film faces from our past. And that’s a good thing. The worst of Wilder’s career has been forgotten, the only drug out occasionally by people like me, but then to quickly fade from memory again. It is better that we hold with fondness our memories of Wonka and Dr. Frankenstein because that is the Gene we love.