I think I have to come to the conclusion that, for whatever reason, David Gordon Green is just not making movies for me. While I haven’t seen Prince Avalanche, my favorite film of his has been Your Highness, and that’s mostly due to fun some friends and I had with the trailer. Last year at SXSW he brought Joe, a movie I had serious problems with; this year he brings Manglehorn, a movie about a lonely locksmith starring Al Pacino.
Whatever he’s doing, it’s working for a lot of folks. After Manglehorn today, there were plenty of people who were singing its praises; the same was true of Joe. Manglehorn has a slightly comic bent, with humor that’s better described as medium brown than dark, but it certainly garnered laughs from most of the audience. There were a few moments I found funny, too; there’s a bit with a mime and a key that’s pretty good. But most of the “humor” fell really flat for me, and that left a movie that wasn’t about very much. Which isn’t the same as not having a theme at all. Manglehorn is very much about the pain of loneliness, but it’s really only the ending that – a little heavy handedly – makes this feel somewhat complete because it gives some meaning to otherwise meaningless symbols.
According to Green, who did a short Q&A after the screening, the movie is something of an homage to Al Pacino himself, containing nods to a number of his most iconic roles. Pacino was also a driving force in the script’s inception, and Green said the actor was so excited because he saw it as an avenue to express a side of himself the public has rarely seen.
That’s all well and good, but in the process of making a Pacino-centric movie, Green and writer Paul Logan seem to have forgotten to finish their characters. While none of the characters are one-dimensional (Chris Messina, Holly Hunter, and Harmony Korine are along for the ride as well), neither is there an understanding of their motivation. Manglehorn is lonely because he chooses to be alone, but why? The pretty bank clerk Dawn (Hunter) is more than ready to offer her body to Manglehorn, but it sounds silly (and not in a good way) when she asks him if he’d like to take a bath with her. Not knowing the characters’ motivation, and therefore not having a complex understanding of the arc they’ve just been pushed through, robs the movie of significance. As the old adage goes, it’s the journey where we find the most importance, not the destination.