As I wrote last night, Daniel Noah‘s Max Rose (Paladin, 9.2) is solemn, well honed and salutable. I love that Noah had the decency not to try to charm or tickle me into submission. It’s a melancholy film in some…okay, most respects, but not a downer because Lewis is so interesting to watch. His performance isn’t “performed” — he just divvies out a series of straight, no-bullshit, take-it-or-leave-it cards. These cards create a vibe, an aroma of hurt that doesn’t want to be sniffed or shared. But there it is nonetheless.
The trailers have told us that Max Rose is about the titular character, an elderly but mostly unbowed jazz pianist (Jerry Lewis), coping with a realization that his recently deceased wife Eva (Claire Bloom) had been unfaithful to him since the ’50s.
But Max has already digested this news before the film begins (thank God!), and so we’re spared the heartache scenes. Max, who’s been written as a riff on Lewis as well as The King of Comedy‘s Jerry Langford in his dotage, just sits there and more or less takes it like a man. He keeps to himself for the most part, meditating, scowling a bit. For me Lewis’s silences are a master stroke. He lets you sense what he’s thinking and feeling, and in so doing is spared the verbal effort, and the payoff is that much more than if Noah had written him pages and pages of dialogue.
As I watched I was muttering to myself to and particularly to Noah, “Thank you, thank you, thank you for not trying to make Max Rose into some irrepressible old codger with a cute little twinkle in his eye.”
Event-wise two things happen. Max’s frailty prompts his son (Kevin Pollak) and granddaughter (Kerry Bishe) to move him into a pricey assisted-living facility, and then sell his Los Angeles home to pay for this. But before moving out Max has found a gift (a snap-shut locket with a romantic inscription) that Eva’s boyfriend gave her in 1959. The guy’s name is Ben Tracey (Dean Stockwell), we’re eventually told. The climax comes when Max finds Tracey’s home and pays him a visit. I won’t spoil any further, but that’s what happens.