To my knowledge, Al Pacino has not moved his face once during his entire film career. His facial bone structure showed nary a twitch in such cinematic dogs as Bobby Deerfield, Cruising, and Revolution, and it certainly didn’t magically start getting active in his blockbusters, either. The man is a breathing statue, but obviously he has used this stoic quality to great effect. In Author! Author!, another of Pacino’s lesser known titles, he tried to apply his usual brand of lifeless method acting to the family drama genre. The result? A decidedly mixed bag of a movie, with some good ideas buried underneath a suffocating layer of schmaltz.
The movie follows Ivan Travalian (Pacino), a playwright struggling to get his latest show on its legs while dealing with Gloria, a wife who is slowly but surely leaving for another life, and an octet of energetic children. A lot of ground is covered in the film’s two hour length, as Travalian goes from being dumped to dating the lead actress in his play and ultimately fighting for the custody of the kids. It’s an interesting premise, especially the overarching subplot regarding the play and how Travalian’s hectic life leads to it almost caving in on itself.
While the marketing for this film would have you believe it’s mainly about the relationship between Travalian and his kids, for the most part it’s really about him and how he deals with the world in general. I appreciated the well-fleshed out story, which doesn’t sacrifice truth for simplicity when dealing with Gloria and Ivan’s rocky romance. Gloria, played very well by Dyan Cannon, is a woman who feels she is destined to leave any man she gets involved with, even if it means abandoning him and the literal dozens of children in her wake. Is she a horrible woman? Crazy? Blind? Is Ivan a fool for trying to keep his family intact? The movie raises a lot of interesting questions.
Then it hits you like a speeding truck: the cute factor. The screenplay is filled to the brim with witty one-liners, quips, jibes, and cracks, so much so I could easily see the writer, Israel Horovitz, giggling to himself at the typewriter. Ivan’s kids are so precocious it made me think they were bred in the corn fields of science-fiction lore, spouting out pearls of wisdom at every possible opportunity. The phrase “From the mouths of babes” must have been invented specifically after this movie was released. Granted, it is kind of refreshing to see smart kids on film instead of the usual howling idiots, but come on, no seven-year-old gives relationship advice to his father.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on the music. Don’t do it, because I’ll probably go on all day. Alright, you asked for it, people. The movie begins with the opening credits and a tracking shot of this really quaint cityscape painting, all set to a song called “Come Home to You.” All I have to say is, screw you Alan and Marilyn Bergman for writing this tripe, and another screw to Michael Franks for actually recording it for future use. This song will make you vomit. It will make you vomit candy canes and sugar plums and pictures from your childhood where you’re smearing birthday cake on your little rosy-cheeked baby face. It is That Ridiculously Cute.
Putting my intense hatred for the music aside, and the script’s bloated self-awareness, this really isn’t a bad little movie. There are some genuinely compelling scenes to watch out for, but you simply have to wade through the fuzziness to reach them.