User ReviewsReview this title
Jack Lemmon is a New York middle executive who is retrenched. We watch as he slides into depression. Their is some fine humour in this film, which, incidentally was not well received critically, but it is really the underlying drama that makes this such a great film. It is an intensely personal film for me and, apart from some overacting, there is little I can criticise. It is an incisive and briskly paced comedy drama which I never tire of viewing.
By the way, watch out for cameos by pre-fame Sylvester Stallone and F. Murray Abraham.
No one loves urban blight like Neil Simon, and no one depicts it as well. "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" goes much further than "The Out of Towners" because now, the leads (Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft) are actually living in a New York apartment, sleeping in 12 degree air conditioning in their bedroom during a heat wave and sweating everywhere else. Simon leaves nothing out: not having the right change for the bus, the elevator being out, no water, noisy neighbors, mean neighbors, a cheaply put together building, robberies in broad daylight, etc. Lemmon plays a 22-year veteran of a business who is fired, suffers a nervous breakdown, and goes into psychiatric care. His problems go beyond the loss of his job - he has to cope with his country dwelling brother Harry (Gene Saks) and his two sisters (Elizabeth Wilson and Florence Stanley) who want to help but only succeed in being aggravating. Also, his wife has gone back to work as a production assistant and is never home.
This is really a comedy-drama that shows the enormous range of both actors. The beautiful Bancroft is great as an empty nester who tries to be supportive of her husband, who is losing it, as she goes toward the same territory; Lemmon is alternatively a riot, as annoying as Felix Unger, and as sad as his character in "Save the Tiger" while he attempts to work through his issues and find out who he is.
With a high rise at Second Avenue and E. 88th St. as a backdrop, "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" is timely today because it takes place during a recession. Suddenly, a lifestyle that wasn't so outrageous to begin with is hard to keep up, and nerves fray.
City dwellers won't find it difficult to relate to this film, and today, with jobs cuts and loss of income, nobody will. Lots of fun.
But Prisoner of Second Avenue is an exception. Maybe it's because I am indeed in Silicon Valley, where layoffs are something we all get to experience. But this movie captured so aptly the craziness of being laid off, staying home all day - seeing only the one you love (but starting to hate him/her too as an extension of your own self-hatred). Making petty grievances huge, and trying to pretend the truly huge issues no longer exist. And worrying about the bills, and the clothes, and how silly the family behaves when money gets involved. And how the bad luck seems to snowball. And how "therapy" sessions seem so futile.
The acting is superb - but I don't know of a movie where Jack Lemmon and Anne Bancroft have ever given us any less. Bancroft, in particular, when she makes the transition to anger, is perfect. Thankfully we're not handed any sop at the end either.
The subject is so realistic that I don't find it funny at all - but that's a failing of the times we live in, not the movie. A great flick.
Sounds like a drama but it's not. It's an adaptation of a Neil Simon play (adapted by Simon himself) and it's more or less a comedy with a very serious edge. The script itself manages to switch gears from comedy to drama pretty effortlessly and great acting by Lemmon and Bancroft keeps it going. There are quite a few people who hate Simons plays. They say the one liners are old and the characters are stale but I'm not one of those people. I happen to think his jokes are quite funny and finds he writes three-dimensional, believable characters. But, if you don't like Simon, this movie won't change your mind. Some people might accuse this of being dated--there was a huge recession going on in the mid 1970s and that is worked in to the plot. But, seeing as we're in another one at the moment, this is very timely. My only complaint is the ending is way too pat to be believable but that's minor. I give it a 7. Look for F. Murray Abraham as a cab driver and Sylvester Stallone.
That's the way the Broadway play started. The lights went out before the curtain opened and all you heard was a radio announcer delivering one crazy incident after another on the local news. That was the prologue to what you knew was about to follow. Then the curtains parted and the play began.
JACK LEMMON and ANNE BANCROFT play off each other brilliantly, but when all is said and done, there's just something missing in this Neil Simon comedy. The payoff that you should feel when the movie ends, just isn't there.
And yet, when you hear some of the news, it's almost quaint. Just think what was supposed to get a laugh: a news flash that a Polish freighter had just run into the Statue of Liberty. How tame!! Imagine what kind of news flash there would have been if this were written after 9/11.
Good supporting roles from Gene Saks, as Lemmon's brother, and Elizabeth Wilson and Florence Stanley as his sisters.
It may be lesser Simon, but it's still worth seeing, especially for New Yorkers.
Do yourself a favour, on the next rainy day go to the rental shop get this movie, take the phone off the hook, shut the curtains ( drapes)don't answer the door and watch this movie and savour every word, and i dare you not to laugh, and if you don't then ring up the undertakers because boy are you dead !!!!
P.S. Pay close attention to the one-liners disguised as news reports in the voice-overs by Gary Owens.
Anyone aware of what Manhattan was like in the 1970s will know this movie really nailed it; it terms of location shots, attitudes, Jewish stereotypes, and so on. This was a pre-Koch time in New York (May he rest in peace- he just passed a couple days ago. Great mayor, great person) and city was at the beginning stages of becoming an open sewer.
Street scenes will surprise all modern-day Manhattanites; I watched this movie several times, and there's not a single store or shop around then that survives today. (Near 87th & 2nd Ave.) So sad.
Jack Lemmon's character was funny, from start to finish, without TRYING to be funny. Always a treat- watch for Sly Stallone as a "mugger."
Lemmon's character, Mel, is a Manhattan businessman who's going through a bit of a midlife crisis. We've seen this sort of thing before in the movies - Lord knows we have!! - but the problem is, we've seen it much better. There's a fine line to be walked here between maudlin and funny/touching, and sadly that line is crossed early on in the movie and never recrossed.
Mel suffers through a lot of problems in this movie, and your closeness to NYC life will dictate just how much sympathy you have for his plight. But be warned: Simon doesn't combat these problems with wit and wisdom; to me, Mel just yells and screams and basically is thoroughly obnoxious - only Anne Bancroft as his suffering wife gives an appealing performance.
Bottom line is that unless you're a diehard Simon or Lemmon fan, you might want to avoid this collection of angst, agita, and aneurysms waiting to happen.
It has been my observation that spiraling into madness is always funnier than madness itself. The movie is after all based on "a serious play that's very funny" to quote the playwright and adapter Neil Simon. Although it soars as a comedy and certainly does not go awry as a drama, I give it nine stars instead of ten because it is considerably more amusing to me than it is emotive. It is great comedy and good drama, as apparently intended.
Sylvester Stallone's memorable cameo is a much appreciated bonus!
Prisoner of Second Avenue tells the tale of a man coming totally unglued under the pressures of the modern world. Jack Lemmon plays a modern Job, suffering every trial a sadistic - but very up-to-date - God could imagine. Neil Simon brilliantly weaves in a gleam of underlying humor, which Lemmon brings out with his usual skill. But it's never more than a gleam; you have to be sensitive to it, or this film will seem like a dreary ordeal.
In fact, far from being dreary, this is a remarkably joyous, uplifting film. It shows us that hope is always just inches away, if we can only see it. Our crushing problems are largely internal: what matters is how we meet them. Seeing that lesson, of course, is the challenge. Like the song says, when you've been down so long, it starts to look like up to you.
Aside from its clever writing and fine performances, Prisoner of Second Avenue features some great New York ambiance, and a real feel for its time. This is a more personal, less-theatrical, less-contrived film than most of Simon's works.
The Prisoner of Second Avenue is not just entertaining; it's therapeutic. Open yourself to the slightly masochistic pleasure of wallowing in it, and feel your own aches and neuroses burn away!
It's not Jack Lemmon's fault. His acting is downright perfect. And let's face it, there was and remains no actor who could play frustration better than Jack Lemmon. But in "TOOT", Lemmon's character was likable...you were rooting for him in his quest to overcome the forces against him. Here, however, Lemmon's character wallows in his troubles.
A problem I have with this film is that it is often listed as a comedy-drama. I don't eve think it's a black comedy. There's nothing funny about a man going through a nervous breakdown. Yes, there is humor here and there, but this is not a funny film. That's a general gripe I have -- too many review entities think that any film that has some humor in it is a comedy. That's wrong.
The best acting here, however, is that of Anne Bancroft as the wife. Gene Daks is good as the brother.
I think what's sad here is that as Lemmon begins to recover, the pressure that has been on his wife begins to destroy her life.
Maybe I'm also just a little tired of Neil Simon. Did he ever do anything really different? Bottom line: Okay, I watched it once, I would not want to watch it again. And I don't usually say that about films with Jack Lemmon.
The Prisoner Of Second Avenue is a lot of fun, I really enjoyed it.
Plot In A Paragraph: Executive Mel Edison has a nervous breakdown when he suddenly finds himself unemployed.
I'm a Jack Lemmon fan anyway, so I enjoy most things that he stars in, and I always enjoy seeing him on screen. It's also fun to see a young pre-Rocky Sly Stallone in another of his early roles. Sly only has the one scene (Available on YouTube) as he attempts to pickpocket Jack Lemmon and a fed up Lemmon snaps, before he turns the tables on him and pursues him through Central Park.
Is there a Neil Simon film I dislike? Yes. I didn't care for "Plaza Suite" or "Chapter Two". But "Prisoner" is another riveting, amusing, touching opus about middle-aged people going bananas in a big city. Their alienation is appealing because it is a search for human dignity. Nervous breakdown, unemployment, burglary are not funny subjects, but then which subject is? Simon wants us to laugh, and laugh we do, inwardly. SOMEONE understands us!
I guess we're supposed to feel sorry for Mel Edison & his wife. But, instead I find him to over-react at every little thing. He's a weak little man who probably deserves a lot more than he got. You feel more sorry for his wife for having to put up with him. Then later on, when the roles are reversed, you could care less about either character. The funniest parts of the movie have to do with the radio announcements made throughout the film. But 5 or 6 of these cannot hold this film together as a comedy.
It's not a bad film, & it was somewhat enjoyable to watch. The acting by Lemmon & Bancroft are top notch. But it's just not funny enough.
Both of these actors were capable of far better efforts, but I'll give it a four just so I don't get lynched. :~)