By Other Voices voices@moviecitynews.com

LETTERS FROM LARRY

DEAR DAVID:
Heading up at some ungodly hour to Sundance, tomorrow morning.

Have noticed that there are three films playing at the festival this year that I’ve seen already, and I thought all three of them happen to be utterly worth seeing.

Sympathy for Delicious is the directorial debut of Mark Ruffalo from a script by the film’s star Christopher Thornton. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked with Mark and think he’s a terrific guy but that is emphatically NOT why I like this film as much as I do.)

Starting off with a convincing depiction of the homeless community in downtown LA and focusing on one particularly bitter guy (Thornton) whose poverty is compounded by his being confined to a wheelchair. We’re also introduced to a compassionate priest (played by Ruffalo) who tries to make sure the community gets fed. The story seems to be a pretty worthwhile, if familiar, piece of social realism for awhile. Then it makes a dangerous and difficult swerve you don’t see coming:

SPOILER ALERT

‘Delicious’ Dean O’Dwyer displays healing powers. He fixes people, but not himself. The priest tries to get him to channel this gift in constructive ways, but O’Dwyer harbors a passion to make rock-and-roll music—and he’s not above using this new power in manipulative ways to advance his career.

SPOILER ALERT OVER
One of the many complicated ideas this film gets at is that having a gift doesn’t necessarily make it easier for you to be a better person.

The film makes a dizzying and largely successful turn toward social commentary and religious allegory, always done with a mixture of realism and dark humor worthy of some of the most interesting movies written by Paddy Chayefsky, like Networkand Altered States.

What’s mainly amazing is how skillfully Ruffalo is able to represent rise to glory and fall from grace of this character on a tiny budget.

What’s not amazing perhaps, given Ruffalo’s background, is the uniform excellence of the cast. Thornton is restrained and persuasive in what is clearly the role of his life…Juliette Lewis is spunky and sad as the rock chick who reaches out to help him,…. Laura Linney, Ruffalo’s acting partner from the much-loved You Can Count on Me, is both funny and scary as a rapacious showbiz attorney…

But the real revelation is Orlando Bloom as a rock-and-roller with the ego to be Mick Jagger but not quite the talent. Bloom is so utterly into this part that for a long time I couldn’t recognize him. The talent that seemed exclusively limited to and defined by the Pirates of the Caribbean andLord of the Rings movies flourishes again here in this completely fresh and unexpected setting and Ruffalo deserves great credit for seeing and believing that Bloom could do this.

The first step in Mark Ruffalo’s career as a movie director, and the artistic rebirth of Orlando Bloom’s acting career could make Sympathy for Delicious one of Sundance 2010’s upbeat stories.

The other two movies that I want to very much recommend are French films I saw last year at Cannes, A Prophet and Enter the Void. (New chief Cooper’s decision to show stuff from other festivals is worth some discussion… personally, I’m for it.) More on them a bit later. We have to pack.

Larry

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Larry Gross is a 25 year screenwriting veteran and Winner of Sundance’s Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for his most recent release, We Don’t Live Here Anymore.

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“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook

“Billy Wilder said to me, ‘Those of us who are hyphenates deserve a couple more beats,’ and I knew what he meant. As a director, you make sure a scene is not beat-heavy. You need just enough beats in the rhythm. Billy also used to say, ‘Whatever you do, is your mark. You don’t have to go out and impress someone. Let them look at your work.’”
~ Jerry Lewis