By “Cinema” Dave
As a child, I used to bust a gut laughing at Jerry Lewis movies, and, in particular, the climatic scenes in Who’s Minding the Store and The Disorderly Orderly. One Labor Day weekend, I discovered his telethon for muscular dystrophy. I was impressed that this funny guy could raise millions of dollars for such a serious cause. I always wanted to do something like that when I grew up.
As I entered high school, the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon began to age and eventually became an unintentional parody of itself. This was something Martin Scorsese sensed as he cast Jerry Lewis against type in The King of Comedy, starring Robert DeNiro. While he will always be associated with comedy, Jerry Lewis revealed a dark soul as Richard Belzer’s uncle on the television program, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Max Rose is cumulative swan song to Jerry Lewis’s film career. The film opens with a sense of nostalgia. As the credits roll, we see young Max (Lewis) and his wife Eva (Claire Bloom) through pictures and photographs. The film loses and regains focus as we watch Max learn that he is now a widow and he signs off on his spouse’s last medical forms. He returns home with his granddaughter, Annie Rose (Kerry Bishe) to contemplate the silence of loneliness.
“Our marriage was a lie and I failed myself,” Max says at his wife’s funeral, shocking those in attendance, including his estranged son, Chris (Kevin Pollak).
The source of Max’s consternation revolves around a locket he found in Eva’s personal items, dated on a special day in 1959. All Max remembers about that day was that he was out of town recording a Jazz album that made him a “one hit wonder.”
As a narrative, Max Rose does plod along. Some scenes could have been shortened and the abrupt use of flashbacks did become confusing at first. However, there is a life-affirming resolution that does pay off.
Due to the actor’s physical limitations, most of Jerry Lewis’ performance is told through the lines on his face. From heartache to contempt, to childlike joy, Lewis delivers a haunting performance. The script allows him to reprise one of his most memorable comic moments.
While staying at an assisted-living center, Lewis, Mort Sahl, Rance Howard and Lee Weaver listen to Jazz music and improvise playing instruments. The scene is infectious with its warmth and humor and is a fine scene that fits into his film persona.
By the way, for those who have not seen it yet, check out Sully or Pete’s Dragon while they are still on the big screen.