Picks and Pans Review: This Is My Life

updated 03/02/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/02/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

Julie Kavner, Dan Aykroyd

This movie includes a character, a comedian's agent named Arnold Moss, who, unaccountably, eats paper—tissues, napkins, you name it. Too bad he didn't eat the script.

Dottie Ingels (Kavner) is a single mother and aspiring comic who, while waiting for her big break, works at Macy's makeup counter and plays the crowd. ("Ah," she says, examining a new customer, "a single woman with married skin.") But Dottie's most appreciative audience consists of her daughters, Erica (Samantha Mathis), an alienated 16-year-old who chews her hair, and 10-year-old Opal (charmingly played by Gaby Hoffman), who tries to remember her long-absent father. When an aunt dies, leaving Ingels her house in Queens, she sells the property, moves the family to Manhattan, gets a gimmick (all her clothes have dots) and begins working the comedy clubs. And before you can say, "A funny thing happened..." Dottie has an influential if paper-chomping agent (based on the legendary superagent Sam Cohn and played by an uncomfortable-looking Aykroyd), and she's off to fame and fortune.

Viewers will have a problem buying Dottie's success: Her stand-up act is poorly performed and wretchedly unfunny. Worse, there is an utter speciousness to the movie's central conflict—daughterly anger at a mother's abandonment. Dottie, even in the first flush of success, is portrayed as a demonstrably loving, concerned mother who dispenses cheery bromides and deep hugs and tries to limit her absences. Consequently her daughters' rage seems unmotivated and silly. It doesn't help that first-time director Nora Ephron (she wrote When Harry Met Sally...) brings a literal mindedness to the endeavor, and that the script, cowritten with her sister Delia (author of How to Eat Like a Child) has a metallic, desperate quality.

Kavner, though an expert comic actress, is less convincing as a comic. Not that she's given much to work with. When her daughters complain about her romance with Moss, here's the comeback: "Oh, he grows on you." If this sounds funny, I must not be telling it right. (PG-13)

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