Mangelhorn – Film Review by C.K. MacNamara
Director: David Gordon Green
Writer: Paul Logan
Starring: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine
The coupling of Al Pacino and Holly Hunter in a slow paced melancholic indie hit seems like a fool-proof formula, requiring only a competent enough script to act as enabler for the veteran cast to launch from. How tragic then that this apparent golden child must be consigned to the dustbin as a bloated example of how myopic writing and tacky symbolism can undermine even a top tier performance.
The strong core concept of Pacino’s portrayal of the ageing misanthrope Mangelhorn becomes anaemic in the absence of other elements, and though the script nails a few character traits and themes there is little substance or overall cohesion between the stories characters.
Without drifting too far into armchair psychology, the crux of Manglehorn revolves around the inner workings of the broken and ageing romantic, as he shrinks his overall self-worth down to the singularity of his lost love ‘Clara’, and hangs his day to day existence on his decrepit cat Fanny, an exuberant granddaughter, and visits to the bank to chat with the lonely but cheery bank teller (played by Hunter). A sluggish romance is cobbled together over the course of the film between the two lost souls, with little attempt made to justify the relationship between any of the characters other than the demand that there be an arc.
Much of the threadbare central story is supplemented with dreary monologues and canned metaphors of ‘escaped balloons’ and ‘sailing into the sunset’ to hide the glaring lack of narrative substance. Characters seem half formed and unfinished, a fact made all too apparent by the films obscene levels of repetition in both in the story itself and the actors performances, having little to work with other than dredging up the same tired ground.
The shades of competence lurking behind the gimmicky themes hint at what the film might have been, but the contrived sum of its parts ultimately undermines what both the performances and characters seek to convey. Substituted with a veteran writer to go with the equally veteran cast, this might have the golden child it appears to be at first sight. Sadly though that is not the case, and with too little substance stretched over too much screen time Mangelhorn’s overall lesson is one of a lack of awareness – a cautionary tale in the dangers of indulging in contrived pathos and cheap symbolism.