Picks and Pans Review: The Marrying Man
The boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl cliché is overwrought exponentially in this Neil Simon story of a man and woman who marry each other four times. By the end, Simon appears to have grown desperate for reasons for the couple to argue. You're ready to see Baldwin and Basinger break up again over an issue like whether the toilet seat should be left up or down.
Simon's storied gift for at least glibly funny dialogue is only working part-time too. At one point, a narrator (comic Paul Reiser) says that after meeting Basinger, as mobster Bugsy Siegel's girlfriend, the womanizing Baldwin "was about to break the two golden rules: (1) Never fool around with a gangster's girl, and (2) Never fool around with a gangster's girl." In addition to going lame, Simon also lapses into a particularly heartless bit of bad taste, making jokes about an old man who has had a stroke: "He had a very nice face. So gentle." "Well, he was in a coma."
There are occasional brighter moments. Trying to win Basinger over after he meets her while she's singing in a Vegas lounge in 1948, the playboy Baldwin tells her, "You're good at singing. I'm good at inheriting money. I may be the best in my field."
Simon and first-time feature director Jerry Rees also get comedy mileage out of the four actors playing Baldwin's lifelong best friends—Reiser, Fisher Stevens, Peter Dobson and Steve Hytner. Robert Loggia, as the movie-producer father of the woman Baldwin jilts for Basinger, and especially Armand Assante, in a subtle turn as Siegel, lend character to the movie too.
Whatever their off-camera behavior (see page 38), Baldwin and Basinger do a professional job onscreen, given what they have to work with. Basinger moves in a clunky, arrhythmic way, and her lip-syncing is badly coordinated with the sound track. But she does her own singing and handles such standards as "Let's Do It" and "Why Can't You Behave" more than creditably. (The swinging, first-rate orchestrations are by David Newman; tenor sax star Stan Getz is among the musicians.)
Simon, however, lost track of a major requisite of the boy-meets-girl movie business: The audience has to like the romantic acquaintances enough to root for them to overcome their obstacles. Here, Baldwin and Basinger are so given to foolish tantrums and self-indulgent whining, you don't want them to live happily ever after; you want them to get a life. (R)
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