Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Micki & Maude

(PG-13, Columbia Pictures, 118 mins., theatrical release date: Dec. 21, 1984)

To paraphrase Peter Gabriel from the "Willow Farm" chapter of the Book of Genesis, MICKI & MAUDE transmogrifies from Dud to Bad to Mad to Dad.

Reuniting with Blake Edwards ("10"), the dashingly middle-aged Dudley Moore plays Rob Salinger, a chronically dissatisfied telejournalist for a puff program called "America, Hey!" He is introduced covering the inedible buffet spread at the election night victory of a California governor, yet this is by no means the most debasing or ridiculous story he's been tasked with (in his portfolio are such exposes as "Are Plants Seducible?" and "Lingerie for Animals"). It's actually quite beneficial to his lawyer wife, Micki (Ann Reinking), whom Governor Lanford is set on appointing to Superior Court judge. For Rob, it's another wrench in his now seven-year itch towards starting a family, as Micki's ruthless schedule won't even allow for a dinner date with her hubby.

And then Rob inadvertently goes bad, his next assignment introducing him to an unlikely replacement in the Cambodian String Quartet, cellist Maude Guillory (Amy Irving). Drunken sparks ignite and send the two of them into a passionate love affair which causes Rob to question his loyalty to Micki, especially after Maude announces she's pregnant. He's reluctantly ready to declare his divorce, until Micki confesses a reconciliatory epiphany in the wake of her own fertility. Rob marries Maude, anyway, and thus is forced to darting back and forth between two child-bearing wives, convinced he can handle it without either of his brides getting more the wiser ("As long as I don't get bedsores and the San Diego Freeway doesn't collapse..."). The madness is what happens when Micki and Maude go into labor simultaneously, and it all culminates in a deliciously ironic realization of Rob's sincere dreams of paternity.

If this synopsis makes Micki & Maude seem astoundingly wrong-headed for a farcical comedy, then I only thought about it when others brought up the touchiness of it all. Blake Edwards, first-time screenwriter Jonathan Reynolds and the three leads walk the thinnest line between guileless adult screwball and an inadvertent celebration of bigamy. What Rob does causes him guilt, as well it should, but the human element never goes astray in either of these relationships. Rob is hardly a creep, and though, as one colleague puts it, Rob's "value judgments are right up there with Carter and Nixon," you can't help but squirm along with Dudley Moore as he tries to put on a brave face.

Thank Edwards for warming up a little more towards Moore's impulsive cad, as well as matching him this time with two delightful personalities in Ann Reinking and Amy Irving. Irving, the De Palma fave from Carrie and The Fury, must have inherited the gene which allows her to excel at verbal comedy. For all her divine sex appeal, she imbues Maude with a sharp wit and towering affability. I believed she is the kind of woman who can have fun watching bad monster movies, especially when Maude and Rob scare off a suspicious, doped-up Micki. Statuesque Tony-winner Ann Reinking (best known for 1982's film adaptation of Annie) is endearingly frosty at the onset but with moments of vulnerability that can be either uproarious or touching ("What if the baby turns out to be manic-depressive? What if she grows up to be the first successful female assassin?").

A lot of this character-rooted charity might also be Off Broadway playwright Reynolds' own credit, as he alternates equally tender domestic scenarios in which Rob cares for the women in his life. In the case of Maude, there's also a gorilla in his midst, Mr. Guillory (H.B. Haggerty), a trained Jesuit priest cum professional wrestler (he even shares a locker room with Andre the Giant) who wants to pursue interior decorating when he retires. Most protective dads aren't built enough to body slam a bad boyfriend, and these two are thrust into express matrimony. When Micki's parents spot Rob outside the church, he and his boss/confidante Leo (Richard Mulligan, of Edwards' scabrous S.O.B.) improvise their way out of a tight spot by claiming they're attending a gangster's ceremony. As future complications drive Rob to even wilder desperation, the slapstick is framed within a delirious context and several welcome supporting roles, especially Wallace Shawn's OB-GYN and Lu Leonard's skeptical nurse, offer a droll relief from Rob's frantic façade.

This is Dudley Moore's best romantic comedy role mostly because it is so tethered to the need for engagement, the deceptions his Rob concocts in his own head and towards his paramours forcing him to react in the moment as well as turn up the charm. Should Rob slip, he takes the premise along with him and overcasts the light-heartedness Reynolds' script and Edwards' camera endeavor to sustain. Luckily, Moore finds expert subtleties in moments that lesser mortals would convey with eyes too bugged out or pathetically misty. He plays it so naturally that he can fight over an egg roll with Maude's pet cat and elicit a hearty laugh without shifting into overdrive.

Moore previously anchored a remake of Unfaithfully Yours which was a pox on the Rex Harrison black comedy classic of 1948. With Micki & Maude, he finally gets a movie worthy of Preston Sturges. It's the details Reynolds works into his script, even in Rob's wardrobe choices, one key instance involving a green sweater Maude presents him with during her second trimester. It's the ways in which an energetic, generous Moore plays off of Irving, Reinking and Richard Mulligan, who also benefits enormously from witty dialogue whenever he tries to make Rob see some sense: "You're about to get a plate of sautéed brains thrown in your face...and you're correcting my grammar?" It's Edwards' orchestration of those moments where Rob is in the same building with his wives, often inches away from each other, using long takes to his advantage.

So brisk and well-crafted Micki & Maude is that the only real letdown is the final stretch, in which faulty fire extinguishers and burglar garb allow for easy outs when the fallout should have been more sobering, or at least as giddily insane as Victor/Victoria. The compromise Rob has to accept does pay off considering how the film begins, with Rob entertaining Lanford's children with his camera and discussing the afterlife. But the three central characters, well-defined and sympathetic as they are, share a complicity which Rob, whose strained attachment with Micki and refreshing initial honesty with Maude provide him a human cushion, is solely burdened by. Reynolds' warm approach to dialogue escapes him almost entirely, and Edwards suffers a similar flatness.

Micki & Maude's reputation might have been unjustly tarnished in the Internet age, with misguided nitpicking robbing it of its surprising affability. And if this must be, allow me to relate what happened to much of the main personnel afterwards. Blake Edwards fell upon self-imitation so hard (including such lesser lights as Sunset, Skin Deep and Switch) that when he returned to the Pink Panther franchise in the early 1990s, it was the Mirriam-Webster example of "too little, too late." Hollywood lured Jonathan Reynolds into frivolity full-time, forsaking the maturity of Micki & Maude for the tedious silliness of Leonard Part 6 and My Stepmother Is an Alien. Dudley Moore revisited his star-epitomizing role of Arthur Bach to his own diminishing returns, Ann Reinking retired and Amy Irving became arguably more known for her brief marriage to Spielberg than any performance she gave post-1984.

Keep that in mind the next revisionist reviewer appoints a one-star rating to Micki & Maude, seek the movie out for yourself and prepare for two delightful hours in the company of various talents who united at their prime to make what may have been their last real winner. Should big mosquitoes come out of your ears when it's over, then maybe I'll consider it a stinker.

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