Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Raymond De Felitta
Peter Falk……….Sam Kleinman
Paul Reiser……….Ben Kleinman
Olympia Dukakis……….Muriel Kleinman
Elizabeth Perkins……….Rachel Kleinman
Paul Reiser used to be one of comedy’s bright stars once upon a time. He had a hit TV show that launched him into the stratosphere in Mad About You, a successful book and seemed poised to be the next big family-friendly comic. But then it all came crashing down; Mad About You went off the air, his co-star moved on to bigger success (albeit temporarily) and Reiser disappeared from the mainstream; replaced by a new wave of younger and funnier comics, Reiser was marginalized and left to fall into the same sort of rarified air that D-List celebrities like Kathy Griffin and William Hung occupy.
And out of this sort of marginalized comedy comes The Thing About My Folks; Reiser stars as Ben, who is a writer in New York City. One night his father Sam (Peter Falk) shows up unexpectedly at his door; Ben’s mother Muriel (Olympia Dukakis) has left him for parts unknown. Ben is going to go to upstate New York to buy a farm house, and his wife Rachel (Elizabeth Perkins) thinks it would be a good idea that the two of them go to see the house.
While Ben objects, Sam thinks it’s a wonderful idea and the two venture up to upstate New York to ostensibly visit the house. When the visit doesn’t go as well as Ben had hoped, it unleashes a floodgate of old feelings from son to father culminating in the two being stranded after a car accident. What is a minor setback in their return trek home turns into a bonding trip between the two, as Sam buys an antique car and they travel across the state while Ben’s sisters try to track their mother down. And what starts off as an uneven comedy turns into a rather entertaining comedy about a father and son coming to grips with each other and the choices they’ve made.
And for the last two acts, it’s a wonderfully written and engaging comedy. Reiser and Falk have a wonderful chemistry with one another and much of the comedy comes from their interactions. Ben has a long grudge against his father and a lot of sympathy towards his mother at first, but there comes a point where Sam just has had enough of everything and finally sets the record straight from his record. And it’s at this point, with Falk’s over the top hilarious rant inspired by something Ben has for him that marks the end of the first act and gets into the film on track.
For the first 30 minutes, the movie struggles with too many characters and not enough focus on the story. We are given an introduction to all sorts of minor characters from the family that ultimately goes nowhere. The focus of the bulk of the movie is on Ben and Sam as well as Ben’s family. Taking the time to introduce and involve the rest of the family in the situation in a meaningful way jars the narrative to the point where The Thing About My Folks loses a lot of focus early on.
But when it becomes a focused narrative with central characters the movie shines. The first half hour struggles disappear as the focus shifts to the dynamic of father and son. Falk is marvelous on screen, combining an off-beat delivery and “matter of fact” dialogue to compliment Reiser’s neurotic, off-beat character. Despite some early unfunny flatulence jokes, Reiser and Falk are a solid combination that provides plenty of quality comedic sequences.