Manglehorn ***1/2

by Andres Solar

Holly Hunter shines alongside Al Pacino in this insightful drama

Is it worth $10? Yes

"Manglehorn" slaps you across the face and bites you first and only then do you earn its warmth and dizzy intoxication. It's the "Tequila," if you were to call director David Gordon Green's three most recent films the "Liquor Trilogy." His compact, easy masterpiece "Prince Avalanche" (2013) would be "Moonshine" madness, and "Joe" (2014) rotgut "Vodka" straight from the plastic jug. Like the Mexican delicacy, his latest possesses psychoactive properties, facilitates personality shifts, and brings on double vision.

Indeed, Green (along with his go-to, highly talented cinematographer Tim Orr) layers moving images of  A.J. Manglehorn (Al Pacino) talking to himself. He also uses multiple audio tracks, mirroring the lock-and-key man's confusions. Green and Orr, confidently playful, filter light coming through a storefront or vehicle window, adding subtle, otherworldly orange and yellow tints to portions of compositions.

Manglehorn is a man obsessed. He's got something stuck in his craw and someone lodged in his heart. Admitting his regrets, and they are several, he's an unambitious neurotic with poor social skills. "I had a pretty stressful night... socially," he tells a masseuse. In the hands of the veteran artist Pacino, Manglehorn tries intermittently to solve the complicated riddle of his brain. On occasion, it leaves him uttering urgent words in streams of consciousness and subconsciousness.

Through first-time feature writer Paul Logan's daring script, Green relishes rule-breaking of all kinds. A mime? Really? Al Pacino carrying a stuffed animal into his grown son's executive office suite? "Yes, a mime and a stuffed lion. Can you deal with that?" seems to be the reply, and you are indeed rewarded for hanging with it.

The movie never feels like a high-wire act, though. A scene featuring Manglehorn and his granddaughter Kylie (played perfectly by seven year-old Skylar Gasper) at the playground, complete with ice cream cones, balloons and, yes, a mime (who provides the slight discomfort and strangeness valued by Green and Logan), is jarringly beautiful and tender.

Holly Hunter's performance as the locksmith's bank teller and (something of a) love interest deserves consideration for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Her acting, especially in non-verbal portions, is exceptional. Her character is a person who clearly has been hurt yet remains ever sweet and charming. "I wake up excited every day that I'm alive! I love everything," says her Dawn.

Together, Pacino and Hunter make the romantic intrigue of most burgeoning couples in the movies seem like utter bullshit. Anyone who dates or has dated ought to experience the dynamics of these two and receive confirmation of what's real. It's really one for the ages, especially as it includes Hunter's best-of-the-best scene in the picture. What a date!

Acclaimed director Harmony Korine ("Spring Breakers" [2012]) makes a cameo appearance as an enjoyably patent fool. But Green seems incapable of throwing any characters under the bus, despite every one of them (except Kylie) behaving reprehensibly at one point or another. There is no blame.

The director does seem to reproach with a gentle scorn the current American obsession with physical form and function. WE CARE SO MUCH about the ass of a Kardashian. WE CARE SO MUCH about Decathlon Jenner and now Debutante Caitlyn--both American HEROES because of their mastery over their bodies. "BattleBots," the television show that merges physics with pro wrestling, is a hit. In a way, this film feels like a spiritual victory over the physical.

Yet, Green does not eschew physics, physicality, or nature. But these are held in the context of their underlying spirituality and deeper meaning. The keys, the locks, the inner works of deadbolts, and the innards of an ill cat tended to by a caring surgeon.

Patient juxtapositions allow you to question the relative importance of each element in on screen. Further, through a camera that tends to wander, the filmmakers suggest that a man singing in a bank lobby should take precedence over the teller's transactions.

Green is interested in hearts and minds in dreamland; the intoxicated soul; love that's just as content in one body as in another. At times, emotions are disembodied. ("Look at my love! It's over there across the room, coming out of that woman who I don't even know.") In the 2010s, making powerful motion pictures about things invisible is uncommon. Green's gifts are uncommon.

Though the film isn't perfect, in its unpredictability it comes close--all the way up until the last shot. Meanwhile, the ride is more fun for not knowing where you're being taken.

"Manglehorn," slightly tangled, is no less clearly a dedicated and inspired work lovingly crafted. Like "Prince Avalanche" and "Joe" before it, this David Gordon Green film puts symbolism front and center. (Note the recurring beehive under the mailbox and, of course, the thousands of keys.) Green's wheelhouse is surrealism and a particularly thrilling brand at that. It is a genuine surrealism that goes, as the term suggests, above realism. Not simply dreamlike, it shows that art is more real than "reality."

The answers to what all those keys unlock are endless, and that's the real magic here. There are moments when Green indulges in flighty whims, and interior scenes sometimes lack the breezy, pensive lightness of the exteriors. It's relatively little to complain of, especially when the whims come courtesy of, arguably, one of the most interesting contemporary directors in the world and certainly the most intriguing American director today.

Andres Solar reviews new fare with an emphasis on art house and indie for Punch Drunk Movies. He would love to see Burt Reynolds in another Paul Thomas Anderson movie but understands that it probably “Ain’t gonna happen.”

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