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The Humbling Review: Meandering, Uneven VOD Release

The Humbling is an uneven, meandering affair that proves VOD is more dumping ground than viable alternative.

Review by Matt Cummings

In Director Barry Levinson's The Humbling, Al Pacino plays Simon Axler, a once famous stage actor who, after literally falling off stage, seeks to evaluate his life before father time takes it from him. He soon meets the daughter of his closest friend (Great Gerwig), a lesbian who's left a trail of pathetic exes in her wake, and the two strike up a relationship. Unfortunately, Simon isn't prepared for the chaos Pegeen will bring, as his dementia forces him to re-evaluate everything he knows.

Based on the Phillip Roth novel, The Humbling can't decide if its a stinging satire or skit comedy. It starts off self-assured with several comedic skits that keep our attention, including Nina Ariana, a fellow nuthouse resident who wants to kill her husband for molesting their daughter. But the tide turns when Gerwig enters the picture; she does her best Mary Elizabeth Winstead, but the mood is decidely second-rate. She's clearly not Winstead, and the script by Buck Henry doesn't help, portraying her as a spirit in some scenes and an unsympathetic home wrecker. I enjoyed her in Frances Ha, but here she moves ungraciously between former fangirl with both men and women desperate to have her back and gold digger, dragging any number of men and women with her through the mud.

The Humbling meanders between psychosis and boredom, making no distinction between them. That's also the fault of Editor Aaron Yanes, letting an argument near film's end go on for much longer than it should, or a monologue by Pacino that eventually focuses on Simon's feet because it has nowhere else to go. There's too little of Simon's agent Charles Grodin, and Dylan Baker is spent mostly looking into the camera to merely nod as Simon's shrink. Pacino is the only reason to watch, his struggle to maintain a hold on reality perhaps mirroring his current status, seeking worth and value before his light goes out. I hope this isn't the case, but it's clear he can do better. But even when good performances are turned in - like Diane Weist as Peteea's mother - we're left with utter confusion as she dumps a major plot twist that's never resolved. And it's perhaps the best part of the film. You can see where I'm going with this.

The Humbling misses a great opportunity to make a powerful point about age and self-worth. It demonstrates why VOD is given a bad rap with its mostly meandering script and performances that fail to go the extra mile, making it nearly impossible to earn even a modest release. Whether it or Pacino have any long term prospects is yet to be determined, but for now skip this one and hope the great actor still has something left for a bigger exit.

The Humbling is Rated R for sexual material, language and brief violence and has a runtime of 112 minutes.

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