Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino shines in darkly comic ‘The Humbling’
[dropcap]“T[/dropcap]HE Humbling” is Al Pacino’s best film in years — he has a field day as a suicidal actor who becomes romantically involved with the lesbian daughter of two old friends. Or does he? Director Barry Levinson’s darkly witty movie repeatedly suggests situations (which were criticized as sexist and homophobic in Philip Roth’s source novel) may exist partially or wholly in the troubled psyche of Pacino’s Simon Axler.
Simon is a once-famous actor who is obliged to retire at 65 after abruptly leaping facedown off a Broadway stage during a performance and then botching a suicide attempt with a rifle.
Even in group therapy — he may also be very well addressing himself — Simon is always giving a performance. When a psychotic patient (Nina Arianda) asks Simon to kill her husband because she’s seen Simon do it so well in the movies, he gives her a lecture that wouldn’t be out of place on “Inside the Actors Studio.’’
Upon his return to his Connecticut home, Simon gets to live out, at least in his mind, a classic male fantasy. Pegeen (Greta Gerwig), the wacky lesbian daughter of two actors (Dianne Wiest, Dan Hedaya) he worked with around the time of her birth, decides to give up her “16-year mistake’’ (i.e., her homosexuality) and seduce Simon, whom she’s idolized since she was 8.
The shrink (Dylan Baker), with whom Simon has daily Skype sessions, remarks at one point that our hero “certainly has a lot of visitors.’’ They include not only the woman who wants Simon to kill her husband, but Pegeen’s most recent lover (Kyra Sedgwick) and Pegeen’s former lesbian partner (Billy Porter), who pleads with Pegeen to accept him as a man after sex-reassignment surgery.
That, Pegeen’s penchant for sex toys and threesomes, and her sudden decision to have a child with Simon overwhelm our hero, who’s forced to reconsider his retirement. His agent (Charles Grodin) says audiences can’t wait to see an actor who’s been dubbed “Shakespeare’s Spider-Man’’ in a New York Post headline.
Pacino demonstrates considerable comic chops in “The Humbling’’ — which has some interesting similarities to “Birdman.’’ It loses some momentum in its third act, but provides plenty of juicy material for a terrific cast.