Picks and Pans Review: I Ought to Be in Pictures

updated 04/12/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/12/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

Like good wine, Neil Simon doesn't always travel well. On Broadway, I Ought to Be in Pictures, though second-rate Simon, was at least amiable fun. Somewhere on its way to the screen, the play lost most of its bounce. The plot centers on Dinah Manoff, repeating her stage role as a budding Barbra Streisand of 19 who leaves Brooklyn for Hollywood to look up her screenwriter father (Walter Matthau). He's the rat who deserted her, Mom and little brother 16 years before to make his mark in Tinseltown. Daughter hopes Dad will help get her into pictures. Actually, Matthau is barely scraping by himself, the brightest spot in his drab life being an affair with studio hairdresser Ann-Margret, a divorcée with two kids. A-M, by virtue of some lovely underplaying in an atypical part (she is hardly your standard drudge), is herself the brightest spot in the movie. She seems to be living her role, not projecting it. Matthau indulges in less mugging than usual, but his basset hound face has already crossed over into permanent caricature. Manoff, the daughter of Lee Grant and a ringer for Mom, displays the same dynamism that won her a Tony on Broadway, but director Herbert (Pennies From Heaven) Ross either hasn't encouraged or hasn't permitted her to modulate. The wisecracks and whimsy that worked onstage seem forced at close camera range. A climactic telephone scene in which a reluctant Matthau calls his ex-wife while Manoff and Ann-Margret listen in is both funny and touching. It's the right combination, one Simon clearly has been striving for, but when it comes it's too little and way too late. (PG)

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