NOBODY'S FOOL. Directed and written by Robert Benton; produced by Scott Rudin and Arlene Donovan for Paramount. Starring Paul Newman, Dylan Walsh, Melanie Griffith and Bruce Willis. Rated R.
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In spite of the undeniable appeal of its excellent ensemble cast, Nobody's Fool isn't just anybody's movie. It's just quirky enough to put some moviegoers off.
And for those viewers who like a lot of action, well, there's not much of that here. What there is, though, is an assortment of luminous slices-of-life from a small, depressed New York village in the dead of winter. The people we meet there are so real, in spite of their quirks, that the end of the movie seems to come at an arbitrary time; it could just as well have gone on and shown us more of these life stories.
Newman's performance has gotten the largest share of the publicity, and rightly so, since his character, Sully the handyman, is the focus of the story's attention. His performance is extraordinary, even for him. It actually convinces us of Sully's failures and unlikeableness—quite an accomplishment for this most likeable of actors—while at the same time making him a totally sympathetic character.
But this movie is by no means a one man show. Sully's interactions with his neighbors are what's important. They generate the humor that undercuts the basic sadness and injustice of life, and in the process make Nobody's Fool the special movie that it is.
Griffith, Willis and Jessica Tandy are worth special mention, but even the characters with the smallest parts make wonderful contributions.
One thing that Willis can do really well is play guys-you-love-to-hate. And he adds another such portrayal to his portfolio here. In every rational sense, he and Sully are enemies, but they're friends, too, in a curious, quirky way. One of the reasons we hate the Willis character is that he runs around on his wife, whom Griffith plays to perfection as a sadly vulnerable coquette. Her scenes with Newman are priceless.
Tandy, as was usual in her long career, makes much more of her character—Sully's landlady and former teacher—than anyone else could have. It's a relatively small part but would have made a big impact even if this hadn't been her last picture.
If you're in the market for some unusual, and unusually fine, entertainment, don't miss Nobody's Fool, quirks and all.
February 8, 1995