A poignant story lies beneath the non-stop quips and quirks of the characters in NEIL SIMON'S LOST IN YONKERS. But the stick-figure personalities in this film about a dysfunctional family render inert Simon's trademark blend of comedy and pathos. It's 1942 and Jay (Brad Stoll) and his younger brother, Arty (Mike Damus) are taken to Yonkers to live with...read more
A poignant story lies beneath the non-stop quips and quirks of the characters in NEIL SIMON'S LOST IN YONKERS. But the stick-figure personalities in this film about a dysfunctional family render inert Simon's trademark blend of comedy and pathos.
It's 1942 and Jay (Brad Stoll) and his younger brother, Arty (Mike Damus) are taken to Yonkers to live with their icy grandmother (Irene Worth) and her mildly retarded 36-year-old daughter, Bella (Mercedes Ruehl), until their father clears up a debt. It's not a welcoming atmosphere; Grandma only
lets them stay after Bella, a classic dimwit with a heart of gold, threatens to leave her mother. Although Grandma rules with an iron fist, the boys get respite with the arrival of their uncle Louie (Richard Dreyfuss), a mobster on the lam from two rival thugs. As the boys learn about poker and
moxie from Louie, their Aunt Bella experiences an awakening of her own. She falls in love with Johnny (David Strathairn), an usher at the local movie house, and, though clearly jumping the gun, starts making plans to marry and open a restaurant. Her dilemma is how to tell her mother. Just before
Louie leaves the house--enlisting Jay to help him escape his rival hoods--Bella finally makes her annoucement and promptly gets the silent treatment from Grandma.
After a few days away from home, Bella realizes the marriage won't happen. She returns to deliver a biting analysis of her mother. Her insightful speech breaks through Grandma's stony persona, and the old woman opens up, admitting that the deaths of her two other children caused her to close up
because she "couldn't stand losing any more." Soon, the boys' father reclaims his slightly older, much more worldly sons, and Bella sets off to live on her own.
Filled with cliched portraits--the autocratic grandmother; the fast-talking, cash-flashing gangster; the disabled woman who proves smarter and tougher than everyone else--LOST IN YONKERS seems familiar and flat.
Other than hurt feelings, there is little danger of anything going wrong here. Only Bella, played at times with a little too much gusto by Ruehl, seems vulnerable, and that's because she's the only one Simon equips with dangerous emotions like love.
But Simon and director Martha Coolidge don't even get Bella quite right. She's too good to be true. She can't remember where she lives, but, in the finale, she can spew out pop psychology with the speed of a TV talk show host. Her sudden transformation to womanhood is either a breakthough for
psychotherapy or the result of shoddy filmmaking.
As for the others, while Worth is solid as the brutal grandmother, Dreyfuss seems miscast as tough Uncle Louie. To his credit, he's loud and brash, but he sure doesn't look very dangerous. Youngsters Stoll and Damus are actually saddled with the toughest roles. They sit at the center of the
storm, but serve the story like props. We should feel for them, but the film fails to make us care.