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This is a delightful little movie by Andrew Bergman, the director of "The In-Laws". It features among other things Marlon Brando doing an incredibly funny take-off on his own performance in "The Godfather". Brando and Broderick play off each other beautifully and Penelope Anne Miller is equally wonderful as Brando's sexy daughter. Despite the fact that this movie is largely farce, the direction and acting give the characters a depth that you wouldn't expect. Full of surprises and off-beat touches. The one minor flaw is the performance of a Komodo dragon that looks suspiciously like a Monitor lizard - OK, is a Monitor Lizard.
How anyone can say this is not a great film except for Marlon Brando's performance is beyond me. His performance is great, of course. But the whole movie is phenomenal, not just Brando. It is perfect -- a 10-plus -- from start to finish. The entire cast stands out -- not just Brando. How a reviewer can focus on Brando's piece of business with walnuts is beyond me -- his business with the espresso is even more effective. But why zoom in on one relatively insignificant piece of Brando schtick when you have his whole performance to salivate over, and the equally outstanding performances of the entire cast. There is not one false note or faltering moment in this fabulously clever and eminently watchable film. Yes, Bert Parks does stand out in his cameo performance, as does B.D. Wong, as does Bruno Kirby, and on and on and on. This underrated comedy made the American Film Institute's list of 100 funniest comedies -- I could hardly believe it. Despite that, it is one of the best American movies, certainly best American comedies, ever made.
What a wacky plot. Broderick is hired to convey illegally imported
endangered species by Brando, playing Carmine ("Jimmy the Toucan")
Sabatini, in order to provide million-dollar-a-plate dinners for a
bunch of international degenerates who revel in eating forbidden fruit,
or in this instance lizards. It's the kind of plot you dream up while
sitting around all night half-gassed with a couple of buddies who have
a good sense of the absurd.
Broderick is Clark Kellog (whom Sabatini calls "Kent"), a naif just in from Vermont to attend film school at NYU. Sabatini is the "importer" he works for and a ringer for "The Godfather." (The original was almost a self parody.) Those are the principal roles and Broderick handles the role of straight man, being sucked into a Mafia-like existence, competently. Brando is unforgettable. He tried one or two comedies before and they tanked, but he's a winner here, cracking walnuts in his fist, weeping with emotion as he embraces his new employee.
But it's not just the relationship between Clark and Sabatini that's amusing. It's also just about everything in between, including what we see of the film school, where the professor assigns seven hundred dollars worth of his own books as required reading, and is working on a paper that will combine -- what was it? -- Plato, Marx, and semiotics in a deconstruction of "The Godfather", or something equally insane? Maximilian Schell is a much under-rated or unnoticed actor. He consistently turns in riveting performances but has never achieved major stardom. It doesn't matter whether it's drama ("Judgment at Nurenberg"), comedy thrillers ("Topkapi"), or, as in this case, comedy. He never fails to bring something extra to the role. His first entrance here knocks the whole situation askew. Clark has enlisted a fellow student to help him carry this giant lizard (Varanus komodoensis -- they pronounce the specific name wrong) and a bearded sunglassed Schell ambles into the scene during the delivery, fondling a ferret, looks up with a big smile, and says, "Sabatini said one boy.... Here are two!" Clark runs through his explanation while Schell listens politely before replying, "Sabatini said one boy.... Here are two!" He says it a third time before ambling off. That's ALL he says.
I've seen this about three times since I first commented on it and, although this is anything but a "deep" movie, I've continually found things, mostly jokes, that I'd missed earlier. I must give a few examples.
Never before had I noticed some particular details in the scene in which Brando cracks the walnuts. I had just seen him cracking walnuts. More recently I've noticed that in this scene Brando, apparently dead serious, tells Broderick that he wants him to accept the job offer. "I don't want to hear 'no', I want to hear 'yes.'" And that, immediately after these lines, while Broderick is pondering an answer, Brando picks up TWO walnuts, rolls them in his palm, and slowly but noisily CRACKS them.
And another of the many allusions to "The Godfather" finally registered on my interpretive apparatus. As the end credits begin to roll, Broderick and Brando are taking the monitor for a walk through the cornfields in long shot. And we can hear Brando's voice offering Broderick some career assistance. "Y'know, Clark, when you get out to Hollywood, maybe I can help you." "No, please." "It wouldn't take much. Just a few phone calls." "NO!" "I could kick open a few doors for you." The penny finally dropped and I could see Brando arranging to have a lopped-off horse head planted in some producer's bed.
Just a few other points. One is that the score owes something to "The Stunt Man." Another is that Brando seems so perfectly comfortable in this self parody. He seems to be genuinely enjoying himself. His body language is exquisite. He lolls around in his chair, sticks his tongue in his cheek (literally), waves his hands, shrugs, and does everything else flawlessly. Sometimes his whiskery voice gets away from the Don Corleone model. I don't think Vito Corleone would be so indignant when talking about Polaroid and IBM on the phone. "I told you before, Charlie, I don't LIKE it when they go DOWN. Listen. I had another stock broker once and he only called me with bad news. It got very UNPLEASANT, Charlie, y'unnerstand me?"
And anyone who thinks of the later Brando as a bloated hypocrite who has lost whatever acting chops he once had should take another look at the scene in which he visits Broderick in the college dorm room. Broderick, at Brando's own request, recites a poem written by his father, a rather elliptical one, and Brando's character picks it up immediately -- "Ah, the cat." And the discussion about Curious George. And Brando's momentary melancholy as he looks around the college dorm, an environment as alien to him as the planet Neptune, shrugs and comments, "Well, I didn't miss nuthin'." It isn't funny. It's touching.
I thought this movie was very funny and quite original, considering the stale material it was sending up, and I still think so. Two years' worth of additional viewings hasn't changed things. You must see it, if only to hear Bert Parks sing "I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more."
This is a very funny movie that casts Matthew Broderick as a new-to-the-city
college kid who gets mixed up with a shady character named Vic right after
he arrives. Through a series of events, he becomes involved with Vic's
family, which include Uncle Carmine and his daughter Tina.
Everyone is perfectly suited to his role and even Brando appears to be having a lot of fun with his own image. The supporting cast is worth mentioning - especially Paul Benedict as an obnoxious college professor, and Maximillian Shell as a business associate of Carmine Sabatini.
This is ultimately a touching movie about loyalty and family, and it sure is fun.
You even get to see the Mona Lisa if you watch this movie!
Word has it that Brando wasn't happy with the movie, but it's hard to
see why. Bergman's ham-fisted humor hits the mark a lot more of the
time than usual, the ensemble cast is fine (Matthew Broderick is always
best in these kinds of settings, at least when it comes to movies), and
the one major anachronistic gaffe (no mafia boss would have a photo of
Mussolini in a place of honor on the wall - he locked 'em up and they
hated him) is harmless in context.
But Brando is what makes the movie special: like a sprinkling of something heavenly on an otherwise earthbound enterprise. He's done far more brilliant work elsewhere, of course, but I can't think of another movie that caught just what a uniquely odd presence he was.
I'll say it again: As graceful and charming a performance as he ever gave. RIP, big man.
This is one of my favorite movies, one I can watch and enjoy on repeated
viewing. All the actors really bought into the tone of the movie, which
tells me that the director had a clear vision and was able to communicate
to the cast. Brando is brilliant, as usual, and I find his performance to
be highly entertaining in that he spoofed his Godfather persona so
effectively. I always enjoy seeing (and hearing--love his voice) Bruno
Kirby, and I especially like that he was cast in a movie about the
Godfather, given the fact that he had played the young Clemenza in the
Godfather II. Penelope Miller also played her part well--I especially
her character's behavior toward Matthew Broderick's character as she
he was going to marry her and be part of the family. Her exasperation
Broderick ("This isn't the Clark I know") was great.
Then there's Matthew Broderick. This is the last movie he made that I truly enjoyed. He is absolutely perfect in this part. His part calls for him to portray his earnest and trusting personality, his loyalty to Brando's character and to the job he agreed to perform, his growing fondness and respect for Brando's character, and his confusion about perhaps having given his respect to such a disreputable character. Broderick carries off all these aspects of his role, yet shows the strength of character to be able to help solve all his problems by the movie's end.
Or, he could have ended up as Rodolfo Lasparri of Palermo, Sicily.
How many actors could have parodied their most classic roles without
falling into the caricature? Think about it: while it takes a certain
talent to make a performance that elevates a character to a legendary
status, overplaying enough to make it comical but never over the top is
the ultimate proof of acting genius. And only Marlon Brando could have
got away with playing his most iconic character, the Godfather, and
make it so damn believable. And it's this very seriousness in his
performance, that makes "The Freshman" so delightful and naturally,
Although not a revolutionary, what makes "The Freshman" such a classic on its own is that it accomplishes a real miracle by resuscitating Vito Corleone, his name is Carmine Sabatini, but the movie can't fool us, the guy IS Vito Corleone. As explained in the film, Sabatini's the one who inspired Vito's character, in other words, "The Freshman" is so confident over its comical premise, and rightfully so, that it doesn't even hesitate to insert several references to "The Godfather". And these are not just gratuitous 'Godfather' references thrown away for the sake of it, it's important to know that it's not a parallel world where the movie isn't supposed to exist. On the contrary, not only it does, but whoever sees Carmine Sabatini, has the most natural reaction by immediately thinking of Vito Corleone. The movie, in a way, asks the question, how any of us would react in front of a movie character. How would I if I met my favorite character? I guess, probably like Clark Kellog, Matthew Broderick as a film college student, the titular "Freshman".
And the deserved praises on Brando's performance shouldn't diminish Broderick's talent at all. With his awkward youngish look, Broderick is the perfect straight-man for a comical duo with Brando. Indeed, the comedic power of "The Freshman" relies on the extraordinary ability of Brando to play his character seriously in a non-serious film. Consequently, we don't laugh at Brando because he's too believable (we'd never treat him so disrespectfully), but at Broderick's disbelief. There's one part where Carmine offers a job to Clark, and gives him the hand of friendship as a solemn promise that no harm would happen to him. 'How can I say no?' replies Clark, to which Carmine dryly retorts 'that's not a yes, I want to hear yes', he takes a walnut from a prop and break it with his own hand, making a threatening sound. This improvisation, proving that Brando didn't lose his acting instinct and trademark use of props in movie scenes, provoked an even more genuine reaction from Broderick, who didn't know the walnut had already been broken before the shooting.
Clark had no choice but say yes, after all, isn't Vito Corleone, the man who makes offers we can't refuse? The film's funniest moments are driven by Sabantini's aura and Clark's incapability to control the situation or to say 'no'. The script finds the perfect tone to show a guy screwed but in a way that inspires our sympathy without feeling antipathy toward Sabatini. And another triumph on the writing department is the way everything seems believable despite all the zany material it employs. Whether it's a picture of Mussolini in an Italian Social club, an espresso that takes three spoons of sugar, the Mona Lisa painting in Carmine's house, and a weird traffic involving a Komodo dragon, I wonder why I wanted to believe that, the first time I saw it. Maybe I was just a 10-year old kid who just laughed at the gags without looking too much deeper into it. The irony is that after watching 'The Godfather' so many times, I believed in Sabatini even more.
That's not to say that it takes to be a 'Godfather' fan to enjoy the film, but it sure helps and not just for laughs. There is a heart in this film, and there is something very nostalgic, almost poignant to see Sabatini interacting with Clark. Sabatini is so sweet you'd forget he's a dangerous person. Brando finds the perfect note because he makes Sabatini lovable, while Vito was feared and respected, the way he treats Clark like the son he never had, his unexpected outburst of joy or sadness, his tender kisses or slaps in the face are all expression of a sincere love. Yes, we laugh when he never remembers Clark's hometown ("You're from Connecticut" he joyfully says, as if it meant something), when he calls him "Kent" instead of "Clark", or casually tells him that he'll marry his beautiful daughter Tina (Penelop Ann Mirren), but we still take him seriously because we never see when he's acting and when he's serious. And it doesn't really matter since in both cases, it's funny.
But I make the film sound like the 'Brando' show, while it features a great cast of supporting characters, notably, Bruno Kirby as Vic the streetwise nephew who emphasizes the importance of every word said by his Carmine. Maximilan Schells steals the show as a demented German chef. You would probably notice Frank Whaley, the 'what?' man from "Pulp Fiction" as Clark's slick roommate. The film makes many references to "The Godfather" series, an apparent favorite of as Clark's teacher, the goofy monomaniacal Pr. Fleeber (Paul Benedict). Interestingly, the film was released the same year than the last opus of the trilogy, but I see it more as a coincidence, since the film is much more a reminder of how iconic the first two were.
"The Freshman" is still a delightful comedy, cleverly written, with the perfect dosage of verbal humor and slapstick, the journey featuring the Komodo dragon would be seen as an oddity considering the film's context, but it totally makes sense at the end. Eveyrthing brilliantly tie up at the end, even the weird affection between Sabatini and Kellon, the little spice that gives this film, its unique flavor ... with basil cream sauce.
In "The Freshman", Marlon Brando gets to spoof his most famous role as
godfather Carmine "Jimmy the Toucan" Sabatini, who hires college
freshman Clark Kellogg (Matthew Broderick) to start running errands.
The movie's a great romp every step of the way, avoiding cheap gags in
favor of a more complex plot. Every cast member gets time to develop
his/her character, with a really neat conclusion. This is definitely
one comedy that will not sleep with the fishes. Also starring Bruno
Kirby, Penelope Ann Miller, Frank Whaley, B.D. Wong, Maximilian Schell
and Bert Parks.
And the Mona Lisa...now THAT's a Da Vinci Code!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I must have seen this film twenty times. It's one of my absolute
favourites. It's gentle, heartfelt, funny, subtle and delicate. It's
also, of course, an absolute delight for movie buffs. I know it's an
absurd thing to say, but in many ways this is my favourite Brando
performance: he's having such a good time sending himself up. He does
it with such obvious relish but, at the same time, he IS Marlon Brando,
the greatest actor Hollywood ever produced, and his character has all
the regal gravitas that he brought to bear so effectively in "The
Godfather". For those of us who thought that the only thing wrong with
"The Godfather" was that there wasn't enough of the old man, this film
is an unheard of feast.
Of course the story is daft, so what? I LOVE the scenes with the giant lizard - especially the end with Brando walking it and talking to it. There are so many great lines - I suggest that your reviewer who couldn't understand a word Brando said throughout the film cleans his ears out so he can hear gems such as: "So this is college. I didn't miss nothing'", and, "When you get to Hollywood I want you to gimme a call. I could kick a few doors open for ya." And Maximilion Schell: superb as the mad chef. "Carmine said one boy, here are two." There are so few gentle Hollywood comedies, with genuine poignancy, where the "feelgood" factor isn't tacked on, where's there's no sentimental slop, just humanity and warmth. Cherish this beautiful little film and marvel that it even ever came to be made.
A small, delightful film, which let's Brando playfully deconstruct his Vito Corleone. Full of laughs and surprises, it accomplishes its goal of being a small, funny coming of age story as admirably as Godfather accomplishes its grander goals. The coincidences build on each other as in a Pynchon novel. And the scattered references to the Curious George books turn out to have a funny payoff as well.
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