This is the moment in David Gordon Green’s “Manglehorn” that convinced me to forgive anything else that might rankle from then on: A. J. Manglehorn is a locksmith whom people would call “eccentric” if they cared about him at all, and even then it would only be because they’re too polite to call him peculiar or weird.
You can find Manglehorn every Friday at his small neighborhood bank where his favorite teller is Dawn. He’s either making deposits or withdrawals but mostly he’s enjoying Dawn’s enchanting smile and their conversation about their pets – her dog, his cat (who, at the moment, is suffering because she can neither eat or do in the litter box what she should).
On a typical Friday for Manglehorn and Dawn (who are played, no less by, get this, Al Pacino and Holly Hunter), there’s a large man at the back of the otherwise deserted bank holding a bouquet of what appear to be wildflowers. Suddenly, the man begins to sing a passionate, romantic song. It goes on for a full verse.
It attracts the attention of the bank manager, who emerges from her opaque glassed-in office in brisk work suit and with a sullen expression that indicates here is yet another mess she’ll have to deal with today.
Not so, it turns out. After she looks at him in mid-aria – he seems to be the guard at the bank – she suddenly starts to sing passionately right back at him. They are immediately in some sort of cockamamie bank branch love duet that pleases the precious few other people at the bank considerably.
This is a movie, you see, about the sad and vulnerable secret selves people carry with them through a cold world when they don’t have a key to unlock them.
How metaphorical, then, that our hero is a suffering, locked up locksmith.
Nor is that the only surreal and gratuitously arresting moment in “Manglehorn.” Let’s just say that there’s a terrible, dreamlike five-car pileup on a road that leaves bodies strewn around Manglehorn and the pet cat he’s carrying.
Let me, right here, give three cheers for Pacino, who seems to have turned 75 by telling the world “these are the movies I want to make and I really don’t give a fig if they make any executives rich or not.”
So let me remind you of the last few, which have earned Pacino a fair amount of impatience and dispraise, except for David Mamet’s exceptional HBO portrait of Phil Spector.
There is this, just opening here this weekend. And there was “Danny Collins,” another little indie where he allowed himself to be charming and likable as a Neil Diamond-like soft rocker.
To be completely honest, the one I’d most really like to see is the one that hasn’t opened here yet – Barry Levinson’s adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel “The Humbling,” which co-stars Greta Gerwig, Diane Weist, Charles Grodin and Kyra Sedgwick.
Until that one makes its way here, “Manglehorn” will do nicely in Pacino’s senior-citizen flip-the-bird-to-the-moneyboys excursion into indieville.
His Manglehorn has long hair and a tense relationship with his bitter, buttoned up and well-off wheeler-dealer son. Manglehorn also has a lovely relationship with his granddaughter. Out of his earshot, people keep telling periodic weird, almost miraculous tales of things he’s done in the world – like removing thorns from the hooves of distressed animals.
But his life is mostly reduced to Fridays schmoozing with Dawn and pancake breakfasts down at the VFW where he usually comes back for seconds and requests “don’t be stingy with the bacon.”
That’s it, the whole movie sans details and grace notes. It’s Manglehorn’s relationships with the people in his life, sometimes temperamental, sometimes vulnerably gentle, sometimes vulnerably cruel.
And all of it is haunted by a long-ago affair with a woman named Clara he writes constantly even though she returns the letters unopened. No, Clara wasn’t his ex-wife, she was the love of his life, a woman so galvanizing that she obliterated forever everyone else. “People everywhere,” he writes to her. “But none of them mean a thing to me. None of them could distract me from you.”
The movie is an artfully askew pancake breakfast down at the VFW. It’s no big deal, for sure.
But it’s never “stingy with the bacon” either.
Let others manifest all possible knowing indifference to old Pacino, if they want, I like what he’s doing these days.
He’s not stingy with the bacon.
Starring: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine
Director: David Gordon Green
Running time: 97 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for language and sexual suggestiveness.
The Lowdown: An emotionally repressed locksmith has problems with his troubled son and the lovable bank teller who would like to see more of him.