The Humbling

Directed by Barry Levinson
Starring Al Pacino and Greta Gerwig
In US Cinemas January 23rd, 2015

by Ruth Thomson

The Humbling, written and directed by Barry Levinson of Good Morning Vietnam/Rain Man fame, stars Al Pacino as aging thespian Simon Axler: a man whose career has hit the skids after concluding an illustrious Shakespearean stage performance with an ineffective suicide attempt – launching himself face first into the orchestra pit. After a spell of rest in a rehabilitation facility where he meets Sybil, a disturbed woman who wants him to kill her child abusing husband, he returns to his cavernous country home to contemplate his future. Enter the strangely named Pegeen (Greta Gerwig), the daughter of old friends who is now an attractive young lesbian but, as she’s had a crush on Simon since childhood, is here to offer herself up to him. It’s not a massive shock to discover that this charmingly masochistic scenario is based on the novel by a 76 year old Philip Roth.

The film opens promisingly with Simon backstage preparing for his entrance by reciting lines to his reflection before cutting to an amusing dream sequence in which he is accidentally locked out of the theatre – failing to recognise him as the star of the show, the security staff refuse to let him back in. But despite another compelling if slightly camp performance from Pacino (given his more nuanced title role in David Gordon Green’s Manghlehorn it seems Al at 74 is having a late resurgence), the scenario disintegrates from this point onwards largely due to the assortment of unsympathetic characters throughout – not even a cameo from Dianne Wiest as Pegeen’s mother can save the whole thing from tasting weirdly bitter and soulless.




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