When you’re alone, who cares for starlit skies
When you’re alone, the magic moonlight dies
At break of dawn, there is no sunrise
When your lover has gone
Those lyrics come from the jazz standard, When Your Lover Has Gone, written by Einar Aaron Swan in 1931. From Billie Holliday to Frank Sinatra, and from Ray Charles to Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong, this song has attracted many well-known as well as unknown singers. You can generally expect to hear this song, in a smokey club, with a solo singer, with a big or small group of musicians laying down the tracks.
It is a song with a universal theme. Hearts are broken in all cultures and in all languages. And that very theme is the subject of the film Manglehorn. I caught this film on Day Eight of the 2015 Sarasota Film Festival.
Al Pacino is the lead. He plays Angelo Manglehorn, a forlorn locksmith, in a small town near Austin, Texas. He lives alone, or rather with a long-haired white cat called Fannie, and his memories. Truly, for him, even as his alarm clock goes off every morning at seven AM, there is no sunrise for Manglehorn.
Simply, he’s a man living in the present but one who is a prisoner of his past.
Despite the fact that he has a rather successful son, and a granddaughter that he loves, Manglehorn’s life, is as nondescript as can be. Opening locked cars to rescue a child, opening doors, or safes, along with duplicating keys is his day job – or at least the one that pays the bills – is all the same to him. Nothing in his line of work seems satisfying. He doesn’t turn away business, he’s just rather unenthused about it.
Things go on in the real world and almost all of them seem unremarkable to Manglehorn. Even a minor earthquake which results in a framed picture falling off the wall after a few seconds of the tremors leaves him unfazed. As does a deadly six car pileup on a nearby road.
Manglehorn is self-contained. He ventures into the real world to earn his living, but he’s really chosen to seal himself off from emotions – at least the kind that arrive through interacting with his grown son , played by Chris Messina, or his local bank teller, played by Holly Hunter, or even a now grown man who once played on a baseball team that Manglehorn coached.
The beauty of the film is contained in Pacino’s performance – though he plays a broken man, there’s still a bit of the lion in him. He values his independence, or should I say, his solitude, more than any thing. But Pacino the actor, gives Manglehorn a life without flourishes. This is not a performance that screams in huge letters, like the famed Hollywood sign, that this man is ACTING.
We know that Manglehorn’s life is dull because he wants it to be so. He spends hours pouring out his memories of a lost love. The verbs and nouns and adjectives of his feelings for Clara, the lost love, are what runs through his veins. His life blood is really nothing more than his old letters, returned to sender letters, and new letters which he composes out loud allowing us to share his misery, are what keep him going.
Pacino surely has done better films in his career – but just as surely, this film is more of an actor’s workshop for we viewers. This is what it is all about – that noble profession whose practitioners we call thespians.
Holly Hunter is great in a limited role as well. She’s Manglehorn’s local bank teller, and for reasons not fully clear – she’s a single woman who sees something of value in this regular guy who drops his deposits off at her station every Friday. We can see that she is attracted to him. She makes it obvious. Just as obvious is that he would prefer her to process his banking needs rather than any other teller.
But when she offers Manglehorn everything that is truly hers to offer, he dredges up the stories of Clara, his mythic lost love. Talking about the old to a woman who wants to become the new is a sure-fire way of failing.
And somewhere within that statement is your film. Directed by David Gordon Green and written by Paul Logan, this is less of a filmic entertainment than you’d expect given Pacino’s performance.
The film is in tone and in-depth much like the famous Edward Hopper 1942 painting Nighthawks. Pacino’s Manglehorn would be the solo diner.
He’s involved with his memories. His son states that he wishes his father would have spent more time being a Dad, rather than lavishing affection on an animal (the cat Fannie). The cards that Manglehorn deals to Holly Hunter’s bank teller named Dawn – are seemingly intentionally meant to put out any fires that she had kindled within her. But beneath it all, we can see that Manglehorn doesn’t plan ahead. As he puts it, I don’t always say the right things.
I’d say that this is not an upbeat movie. It is not really a puzzle that we must figure out. Not that the clues are like huge crumbs dropped along the trail into the forest – but rather that the script kinds of paints us into a corner. There is light to be found at the end of the tunnel, but it isn’t much of a surprise.
There are some sideline diversions – like with Manglehorn’s son, or a surgical procedure, or even a venture to a tanning salon/massage parlor – you know the kind – a rub and tug emporium. But these are just diversions and they don’t lift or add to the overall dynamics. What I mean to say is that they seem somewhat inorganic within the greenhouse that is Angelo Manglehorn.
I’ll recommend the film – for Pacino’s performance – and I’ll recommend the film to those who want to see a great actor take on a role which basically asks him for restraint. And by doing just that – we get all of the brilliant Pacino that we can handle.
The trailer –