Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine
Synopsis: Left heartbroken by the woman he loved and lost many years ago, Manglehorn, an eccentric small-town locksmith, tries to start his life over again with the help of a new friend.
WARNING! This review contains SPOILERS.
The pivotal scene in David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn occurs around the halfway mark. The title character (Al Pacino – Stand Up Guys, Danny Collins), an ageing locksmith nursing a morbid obsession with a lover from his distant past, is on a date with Dawn (Holly Hunter – Broadcast News), a still-attractive 50-something bank teller. When Dawn playfully asks him if he would like to share a bath with her, Manglehorn quietly rejects her by reminiscing about Clara, his lost love. It’s a painful scene to watch, and a compelling one that’s made all the more vivid by the performances of Pacino and Hunter. It’s also a welcome – but, sadly, momentary – reprieve from a soul-destroying litany of pretentious episodes which unsuccessfully attempt to apply some kind of significance to the lead character’s monotonous and insular existence. You think your life’s boring? Just get a load of Manglehorn’s…
The ironic thing about this dullest of movies is that Green coaxes a terrific performance out of Pacino, one that reminds us of just how great he was before he succumbed to boredom and self-parody. And you can see why he would be attracted to the role of Manglehorn; it’s the kind of character actors love to play, a ‘real’ person who’s examined by Paul Logan’s screenplay with the same kind of close attention a surgeon reserves for the patient under his scalpel. Manglehorn is a solitary man whose loneliness is the consequence of his obsession with Clara, whom he loved many years before the events of the picture. Quite how long before isn’t made clear, but the impression is that it was before his marriage to the mother of the 30-something son (Chris Messina – Devil) from whom he’s virtually estranged. Despite the passing of so many years, he still writes to Clara each day to express his regret at letting her slip away, but his letters always return unopened. That’s a lot of letters, a lot of kicks to the gut each time he finds an envelope marked ‘Return to Sender’ in his letter box (under which a hive of bees have made their home – figure that one out). A man would have to be in the grip of a very deep obsession to endeavour, over so many years, to reignite a love affair that any reasonable person can see is long dead.
The meandering plot – if one can call it that – goes nowhere for a long time, as Green immerses us in the minutiae of Manglehorn’s disenfranchised life. The old man frets over his cat, who requires surgery to retrieve the key which is plugging up its bowels; he tries his best to ignore the annoying former Little Leaguer (Harmony Korine) he once coached who has gone on to run a tanning salon-cum-brothel, he plays the slots, he mildly rebukes a Mexican housewife for driving a dirty car, he chats with a bunch of old guys; he watches TV, he listens to his alarm clock ringing, he changes a light bulb, and so on, and so forth, and ad nauseum, and Dear God almighty…
Green combines this stuffily realistic approach with moments of symbolic surrealism, much of which could be overly simplistic or just clumsily ambiguous, thus rendering it indecipherable. Is that multiple car wreck which Manglehorn serenely passes a simple reference to the state of his life, or does it have some deeper meaning? Is that beehive a straightforward comment on the barrier between him and the outside world? Can it really be that simplistic? Who knows? Not me, that’s for sure. There are other strange choices. Having slavishly followed its title character for most of its running time, the film briefly abandons him so that his estranged son can provide a load of clumsy expository back-story during a telephone conversation, and then again to observe, in some unnecessary detail, the veterinarian’s operation on the cat. Then – and this is perhaps the most infuriating thing about the film – after having painstakingly chronicled, through the minute detail of his daily grind, the apparently immutable state of Manglehorn’s mind, he performs a complete about-face that doesn’t ring true for a second.
(Reviewed 10th November 2015)