Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mikey and Nicky

Mikey and Nickey, 1976
Dir: Elaine May

I don't know if it's me or the cinema world conspiring against most of them, but I'm not sure how many films (well, serious films) I have seen that have been directed by women. I think Sofia Coppola is talented, in her way, but who knows how that would have panned out had she not been from that family. Elaine May seems to be a strange anomaly. She started out in comedy, where she is probably best known, doing improvisational stand-up routines with her partner Mike Nichols (who would also start directing films). She did a comedy in the early 70s, and then she wrote and directed this.

And what is so strange about that is that this is one of the best movies about male friendship I have ever seen. It might be doing a disservice to May by saying that this is the best Cassavetes film that he never directed, but I don't think it's a coincidence that she went out of her way to get Cassavetes (Nicky)and Peter Falk (Mikey) to play the two titular characters. By that I mean she wrote the screenplay with Cassavetes and Falk in mind. I’d venture to guess, however, that a great deal of the film is improvised. If there is anything to say about the story, it's that both men are small time hoods involved with the mob, and Nicky seems to have finally crossed the line with his superiors and now has a contract on his head. Their decades-long friendship comes to a head when Mikey is called in for support and they have to examine what they mean to each other.

Like a Cassavetes film from the same time period, this film seems to have a limitless amount of small poignant and heartbreaking moments. There’s really too many to mention, and doing so would probably ruin some of the film for those that haven’t seen it. The whole thing is so intimate and believable that the rather pedestrian story is one that seems very real. There isn’t “urgency” or whatever, as Falk and Cassavetes both get fairly drunk before hand (as is their way), but there is this small sadness in everything they go through because of this "realness" (sometimes so real that you can barely watch it) and also because all signs point to tragedy and there is nothing that can be done. Definitely one of the greats.

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