Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Nobody's Fool (1994)

There's a lot of big problems in this small town.

Sully (Paul Newman) is cheesed off at Tip Top Construction owner Carl Roebuck (Bruce Willis) for not paying compensation after he fell from scaffolding and wrecked his left knee.

Roebuck cheats on his wife, Toby (Melanie Griffith), with a string of bimbos who work in his office.

Going back a few years, Sully walked out on his wife and son , Peter (Dylan Walsh). His offspring is still hurting from his desertion when he comes back home with his family to spend time with his mother and stepfather for Thanksgiving. Peter's relationship with his better half isn't sparkling either, with tight finances putting a strain on their relationship.

Sully rents an apartment from Miss Beryl (Jessica Tandy), his Grade 8 teacher. She misses her late husband, expects the Grim Reaper is closing in on her and is embarrassed by her son, Clive, Jr. (Josef Summer). He's keen on making money, not much else. Sully calls him The Bank.

But the dysfunction doesn't end there.

When Peter's wife leaves him, Sully's son starts working odd jobs with the old man. That rubs Sully's usual partner, Rub (Pruitt Taylor Vince), the wrong way. He wants things to be the way they were before.

Sully still seethes at how his father treated his mother. He's let the home he inherited fall into disrepair and back taxes.

Sully isn't on good terms with Officer Raymer (Philip Seymour Hoffman) either. His glove compartment is stuffed with driving infractions.

With all these scenarios in play, Nobody's Fool is at times funny, touching and frustrating look at life in a small town. I could accept director Robert Benton's celebration of the community's eccentricities for about three-quarters of the film, but boy do things start to get a little weird around the 75-minute mark. Sully's reaction to Rub getting upset over work conditions, his clash with Raymer and strange behaviour at a strip poker game test my patience.

For great dialogue like this:

"You know what mom's worst fear is?" Peter asks his dad. "That your life has been fun."

Sully: "Tell her not to worry."

Peter: "Sometimes I think you did the smart thing just running away."

Sully: "I only got about five blocks."

Audiences have to put up with this:

Sully's often saccharine efforts to make a connection with his grandson, Will (Alexander Goodwin). A scene with Will carrying an artificial limb to its rightful owner just feels phony.

Carl, for all his philandering, still has some sharp insights into Sully's life. He's still fighting the memory of his father. The rundown condition of his home may very well mirror his physical, and mental condition, after skipping out on his family.

Newman is soft-spoken as Sully, a man approaching retirement age who gets a chance to turn his life around. Tandy waits patiently for Sully's rebirth, despite her son's pleas to have the ne'er do well turfed from her home.

Nobody's Fool is pleasant, but not essential Newman.

RATING: 7.5/10

FUN FACTS: Nobody's Fool is dedicated to Tandy's memory. She died several months before the film's release.

Hoffman was in five films in 1994 including When a Man Loves a Woman.

Josef Sommer made his debut in Dirty Hary.

Alexander Goodwin's film and TV career was brief with six credits between 1994 and 1998.

Other actors making their film debuts in Nobody's Fool are Catherine Dent, as Peter's wife, and Angelica Page, one of Carl's floozies.

Newman and Benton teamed up again for Twilight in 1998.

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