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article imageReview: ‘The Humbling’ is a quirky comedy that embraces its insanity Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jan 22, 2015 in Entertainment
Al Pacino stars in Barry Levinson’s ‘The Humbling,’ a film about an aging stage actor who’s lost his mojo and is simultaneously losing touch with reality. A plot that sounds familiar, but not quite.
It seems the lives of delusional, washed up actors is a popular subject in cinema these days. It’s unfortunate for Al Pacino that Michael Keaton’s Birdman was released first because the comparisons are inevitable and they’re not going to be in favour of his picture. Nevertheless, they are very different types of films. The Humbling is subtler in its character’s hallucinations, confusing reality and fantasy to the point that even the central character and audience don’t know what’s real at all times.
Simon Axler (Pacino) was a star of the stage, selling seats on Broadway just by having his name on the marquee. But one night he suddenly plunges off the edge of the stage during a performance. Declaring he no longer feels comfortable acting, he checks into a mental health facility soon after to deal with his anxieties. But things only seem to be worse once Simon checks out. He begins to date Pegeen (Greta Gerwig), the daughter of an actress friend who is a lesbian that’s nurtured an unhealthy obsession with him since childhood. A patient (Nina Arianda) Simon met during his recognisance stalks him, trying to convince him to kill her husband. Pegeen’s ex-girlfriend (Billy Porter) continues to express a desire for reconciliation, while another of her former lovers (Kyra Sedgwick) harasses Simon regularly. Through all of this, Simon is describing various incidences to his therapist (Dylan Baker) who repeatedly questions the accuracy of his recollections.
The plot gets progressively weirder as it goes on, which can be confusing and intriguing. Though Simon is at the centre of the narrative, the revolving door of supplementary characters that cross his path is part of what makes his character captivating. Simon’s doctor often stands in for the audience as the actor recounts the latest bout of strange to occur, asking questions to try to clarify what’s being relayed on screen. In the film’s last act, Simon’s fantasies become more identifiable but only after he snaps out of his illusion and back to reality.
Director Barry Levinson reunites with Pacino for a much less serious picture, merging the actor’s Shakespearean experience with his more flamboyant side. Pacino’s portrayal of Simon ranges from depressed to manic. As he becomes closer to slipping off the metaphorical edge this time, his character grips more firmly to the fictional version of his life. Gerwig matches his performance, spending most of her screen time opposite the veteran actor. She knows when to sit back and let the scene happen, and when to take command of the room.
The story is not very cohesive, but neither is Simon’s experience in it. The timeline is blurred, which almost embellishes the importance of the events that take place since their proximity to each other is unknown. As agents (Charles Grodin) are wont to do, Simon’s encourages his delusions of regaining his name to the very end. The conclusion is perfectly in line with the rest of the narrative and Simon’s personality, though it is somewhat predictable and foreshadowed in an earlier scene.
Director: Barry Levinson
Starring: Al Pacino, Greta Gerwig and Kyra Sedgwick
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