Tuesday, December 30, 2008

cinema obscura: Nora Ephron's "Mixed Nuts" (1994)

I know, I know. "Mixed Nuts" isn't exactly a lost film. I mean, it's available on DVD but, for 15 years, this nimble comedy has been willfully ignored.

I don't know why it was so handily dismissed but my guess is that critics had tired of Nora Ephron and used "Mixed Nuts" for a bit of hero(ine) reduction. Well, they picked the wrong movie. I swear, if Christopher Guest's name was on this film as director, instead of Ephron's, it would have been viewed from a different, more receptive perspective. The alert "Mixed Nuts" would fit very snugly into Guest's cockeyed oeuvre.

I should add that I was a sucker for anything that the film's star, Steve Martin, made during this period, which emcompassed six or seven years - "L.A. Story," "HouseSitter," "Roxanne," "The Spanish Prisoner," "Leap of Faith," "Parenthood" and "My Blue Heaven." Enjoyed them all.

A very faithful remake of Jean-Marie Poiré's 1982 French farce, "La Père Noël est une ordure," Ephron's movie is set in Venice, Ca. at Christmastime and, right there, has earned a valid smile. More specifically, it is set within the cozy confines of a suicide crisis hotline in Venice, Ca., overseen by Steve Martin (with brown hair), a very pleasing (and subtly neurotic) Rita Wilson and the inimitable Madeline Kahn in one of her last screen roles as a flighty dame named Mrs. Munchnik.

Among the assorted fruits and nuts who dash in and out, looking for help and making trouble, are Juliette Lewis and Anthony LaPaglia as a deadpan (and very pregnant) couple straight out of New Yawk; Adam Sandler (in his first legitimate screen role) doing his singing man-child bit which proves most apt here; Liev Schreiber as a cross-dresser interested in Martin, and Robert Klein, Rob Reiner, Jon Stewart, Joely Fisher, Michael Badalucco, Parker Posey, Garry Shandling, Steven Wright, plus the voices of Caroline Aaron, Mary Gross and Victor Garber as comically desperate people, and a very, very young Haley Joel Osment.

A daisy chain of fractured relationships make up the film, giving it a breezy reason for being, even though a serial strangler is on the loose and the hotline gang face eviction. It's absolutely loopy and I love it.

Ephron's best movie, period.

Hands-down.

Note in Passing: Among the writers on Poiré's original film were actors Josiane Balasko and Thierry Lhermitte, who also appear in the film - which was also an all-star to-do.

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: The talented cast of Nora Ephron's "Mixed Nuts" - Adam Sandler, Liev Schreiber, Madeline Kahn, Steve Martin, Rita Wilson, Juliette Lewis and Anthony LaPaglia; a brown-haired Martin)