Friday, January 13, 2012

Pennies from Heaven (1981)

"I want live in a world where the songs come true. There must be someplace where those songs are for real." -- Arthur

One of the last movies I watched in 2011 was Lars Von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark," I had seen it before, but decided to revisit it because I was too happy. Tonight when I sat down to watch Steve Martin's first venture into the realm of drama, "Pennies from Heaven," I would have never thought that I would be comparing it to Von Trier's sobering slab of depression. Strangely the two films have more than a few things in common.

--Both are period pieces.

--Both involve a blind girl.

--Both involve a main character wrongfully accused of murder.

--Most of all, the musical conceit in both films is that the characters are escaping their depressing lives by imagining that they're living in a Hollywood musical.

It's an interesting movie, re-teaming Martin with the beautiful Bernadette Peters, but "The Jerk 2" this is not. It's funny how when comedic actors try their hand at drama the audience is usually so conditioned to laugh at them that their characters can get away with a lot of horribleness and still flip a switch and make the audience laugh. That happens often in "Pennies from Heaven," since Martin's character, Arthur, is such a terrible person.

There are times in the film that Arthur might pass as sympathetic despite his adulterous ways since he is so obviously in a loveless marriage, but the tactlessness of his behavior with his wife, not to mention his sexual aggressiveness with Bernadette Peters character, Eileen, make it nearly impossible. There is a pivotal scene in the middle of the film where Arthur returns home after threatening to leave his wife. She has been desperately awaiting his return and humiliates herself to please him sexually. The scene is tough to watch and seems out of place in the film, but in reality, the darkness of it reveals the true nature of "Pennies from Heaven."

Steve Martin is really good this, the redeeming aspects of his character lie in his inherent charisma, Arthur's desire to "be good," and his romanticizing of what reality should be. Christopher Walken is in the movie for about 5 minutes, and it's a total showstopper. It apparently took 2 months of rehearsal.

Bernadette Peters is also very very good, but rather than post a picture of her from the movie, I'm just going to leave this here:

The last act of the movie is particularly good, pretty much from the scene in which Arthur find Eileen prostituting herself. There's a sequence where to two of them go see a movie and are complete immersed in the lavishness and joy of the musical. When they walk out of the theater, the rain is pouring down and Arthur remarks "Always the same, Come out of the movies and the whole goddamned world has changed." That scene really spoke to me, I feel like that all the time.


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