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A New York City teenager named Eugene Jerome enlists in the US Army during the last year of World War II in 1945. Eugene is sent to basic training at Biloxi, Mississippi where he must live with a variety of fellow soldiers from all walks of life while also enduring the whims of a mentally unstable drill sergeant. Written by
Anthony Hughes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Once you start compromising your thoughts, you're a candidate for mediocrity.
Biloxi Blues is directed by Mike Nichols and written by Neil Simon. It is based on Simon's semi-autobiographical 1985 play of the same name. It stars Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken, Penelope Ann Miller, Corey Parker and Matt Mulhern. Music is by Georges Delerue and Bill Butler is the cinematographer.
The second part of Neil Simon's Eugene Morris Jerome trilogy, the plot centres around Eugene's (Broderick) draft into the United States Army during the last year of World War II. Sent to training camp at Biloxi, Mississippi, Eugene is thrust in amongst people from all walks of life. Here he will not only learn about life, but also have it changed for him.
Straight from the off I have to say that this has become one of my favourite films of all time. From the moment I first caught it back on release, where I only went to see it because it was written by the guy who wrote The Odd Couple, I have been humoured and charmed every year since without fail. On synopsis it seems to be yet another run of the mill coming of age picture, or just another tales from the boot camp time filler, but with Simon holding the pen and Nichols painting the narrative with careful nostalgic splendour, Biloxi Blues is much better than it's often given credit for. A film that is that rare old beast that strikes the right balance between laughter and sentiment.
"It was hard to believe these guys had mothers and fathers who were worried about them"
Although this is primarily Eugene's story, film is propelled by the bubbling concoction of a group dynamic. At training camp Eugene and the other lads have to face up to a number of challenges, not just growing up into men, but learning about bigots, bullies, homosexuals and intellectuals, all while under the borderline crazy command of Sergeant Merwin J. Toomey (Walken). They may all be different, from different backgrounds, but one thing binds them together, none of them want to be there! In other hands this group would have consisted of annoying stereotypes, but Simon and Nichols, courtesy of the writing and the garnering of acting performances, ensure this isn't the case. The audience isn't short changed with these characterisations because they are stripped down to being survivors by way of humour and naive honour. Thus it never feels false.
"I wasn't in on that Pearl Harbour thing"
One of America's most celebrated film critics said Biloxi Blues contains limp dialogue! That's something which I certainly can't begin to comprehend. For the film is an advertisement for witty retorts, where often responses are used as a survivalist tool, to de-heat a flare up or to hide nervousness. In this respect Biloxi Blues pays big on revisits, each time another little one-line gem registers where previously it had been missed, maybe because we are too focused on the airy sound track first time around? Or most likely because we are too lost in a "Eugene" or "Toomey" facial moment. One of the best passages in the story concerns a last week on Earth game the lads play, the writing is sharp, yet tender, funny, yet telling, it really is a case of laugh whilst being drawn into the frightening reality that these boys are a long way from home, and possibly soon to be fighting for their lives in some muddy trench.
The cast are uniformly strong. Walken delivers one of his quintessential mania turns, marking Toomey out as being one click away from either sane or insane. Broderick holds court and narrates with earnest style, while Corey Parker is a revelation as intellectual Arnold Epstein, a guy who no matter how much he is persecuted by Toomey and the other rookies, refuses to be shaken and lose his principles. Miller and Park Overall get the two female roles of note, both memorable in short appearances, with the latter deliciously dry as a hooker with a heart. In the support there's macho mirth from Mulhern (stomach of a goat) and Markus Flanagan (he calls his mother Louise), homespun mystery from an excellent Michael Dolan, and wistful tunings from Casey Siemaszko as Don Carney (can anyone count on him?).
The ending doesn't quite have the dramatic impact that many would expect, and there is indeed some mellow periods of tinted nostalgia that will have some viewers urging the pace to go faster. But these are mere fly specks on a mound of horse droppings. Biloxi Blues, a wonderfully rich comedy drama, and to my mind the best thing Simon has written. 10/10
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