Simon Axler is a famed stage actor who becomes depressed and then suicidal when he suddenly and inexplicably loses his gift. In an attempt to get his mojo back, he has an affair with a lesbian woman half his age. Before long, the relationship causes chaos as people from the romantic duo's pasts resurface in their lives. Based on a screenplay by Buck Henry and Michal Zebede from the novel by Philip Roth.
It's a wonder this film was ever made. The iconic and prolific author Philip Roth wrote the novel of the same name, 'The Humbling' this movie is based on. It was his 30th book and was met with a lot of negative reviews, most of which said that it was a lazy and terrible piece of work from a writer who goes for quantity over quality. But the film has its merits and becomes quite a good, if not funny film in the second half. It just takes a little bit to get there.
'The Humbling' is eerily similar to the recent 'Birdman' film that starred Michael Keaton. Both movies center around an aging beloved actor who is trying to make their comeback on stage at the theatre. Each central character may or may not be going crazy. There are even similar scenes where the central character from both films are locked out of the theatre while their play is going on, and a few scenes where they're having conversations with versions of themselves in front of mirrors.
But what 'The Humbling' has that 'Birdman' doesn't is a heavy emphasis on the sexual comedy of an older man (Al Pacino) and a twenty-something lesbian woman (Greta Gerwig). It plays out like some sort of Woody Allen film from the early 90s in with each of these wacky characters trying to interact with each other. And director Barry Levinson ('Good Morning Vietnam', 'Rain Man') proves at age 72 that he still has a stylistic eye and hasn't lost his step. Pacino plays Simon Axler, an award winning and wealthy actor who has been in numerous films, but is mostly known for his Shakespearean work on stage. The first scene shows that he is completely drunk before he is supposed to go perform, where he hurls himself off stage in to the orchestra pit.
After that unfortunate business and a mismanaged suicide attempt, Simon ends up in a nice rehab center, where he discusses his career and acting with the other patients. Soon enough, Simon is released from rehab, but on the condition that he interacts via Skype with his psychiatrist (Dylan Baker), which plays to a hilarious effect. Simon moves back into his luxurious estate by himself and is visited by a young woman named Pegeen (Greta Gerwig), whom he last saw when she was only 10 years old. Pegeen's mother (Dianne Wiest) and Simon were old theatre buddies and actors in their younger days. Pegeen is a fun girl-next-door type of beautiful, and let's everyone know she is a lesbian, but for some reason she throws herself at Simon, saying the lesbian thing was a 16-year long mistake.
This new relationship with many years in between the two now lovers have angered a few of Pegeen's previous lovers including her boss (Kyra Sedgwick) and former post-op ex-girlfriend who goes by Prince (Billy Porter). From here, the film becomes increasingly better as more kooky characters show up at Simon's doorstep, as he talks incessantly to anyone who will listen about his new relationship and acting abilities. It's quite funny with probably the best and funniest scene involving Simon and Pegeen's parents at a veterinary clinic where Simon is under the heavy influence of heavy duty tranquilizers. You've never seen Al Pacino this funny.
Gerwig is wonderful in this role. She pulls you in with her charm and wit and you still root for her when she makes bad choices. And of course, Pacino is brilliant in each scene. There is no over-the-top yelling from him, but rather an inconsistent, rambling narration about his life. His struggle to figure out what his new relationship means with a possible onset of some rather debilitating diseases that effect the elderly is perfectly crafted by Pacino. And again, despite his age, he's still on top of his game. 'The Humbling' is the budget 'Birdman', but without all of the symbolism, imagery, and magical realism. It's a slow burn film that works best when Pacino is around his co-stars.
'The Humbling' comes with a great 1080p HD transfer presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. This twisted dark comedy looks quite impressive and realistic. The detail is stunning, razor sharp, and vivid. Closeups reveal every wrinkle, individual hair, bead of sweat, and makeup blemish with crystal clear clarity. Simon's big wool coats and theatre costumes show the fine and intimate stitching as well. This is not an overly bright film in the way of the color spectrum, but when the few reds or pinks show up, they pop quite well.
The browns, greens, tan colors look full and rich, and are always well-balanced and saturated. The skin tones are very natural, even with Pacino's heavy makeup and the black levels are always deep and inky. There are no instances of any aliasing, banding, or heavy video noise to speak of either. There is also not a filmic quality to the film, but rather a sleek, clear look to the picture. Nothing ever looks cold or harsh ever. Instead everything looks warm and inviting without the softness that usually creeps up in these scenarios. Overall, this is a solid video presentation.
This release comes with a great Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio mix and while this is a front heavy track and full of mostly dialogue only, there are some surround elements that creep in. The track as a whole is soft, because there is a lot of soft spoken dialogue, which might have you turning up the volume here and there. But other than that, this audio mix is very good. The dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow, even when Pacino seems to ramble incoherently.
Sound effects realistic and full when they are used. The bigger moments where the surrounds are used, such as in the theatre or a group of paparazzi sounds great, and immerses you in the moment. The LFE is great and the dynamic range is fairly wide. This audio track won't knock down walls or rumble your bones, but it does the job well enough.
Making of Featurette (HD, 4 Mins.) - Here is an all-too brief and standard promo piece for the making of the film. It mostly consists of clips from the film with a few interviews with Pacino, Levinson, and Gerwig mixed in as they discuss what the film and their characters are about.
Trailers (HD, 12 Mins.) - The trailer for the film along with four other previews for other movies.
While 'The Humbling' has striking similarities to 'Birdman' and is more or less the same story, it can stand on its own through its use of sexual comedy. However, when Pacino is on his own, the film slows down to a crawl, leaving the pace of the film less than thrilling. But, Gerwig and Pacino give excellent performances that should be noted and seen. The video and audio presentations are quite good, but the lack of extras is unsatisfying. If you're curious and want to see Pacino like you've never seen him before, give this a rent before making the final decision.