Thursday, December 1, 2022

Garbo Talks (1984)

Estelle is a thrifty and opinionated woman, middle aged, and unafraid to speak her mind or get sent to jail for defying an unjust law (even if it only applies to a dishonest discount on cucumbers). She has been a diehard fan of Greta Garbo all her life. When she gets the news that she has a terminal brain tumour, she only has one request-For her son Gilbert to find Garbo for her. Gilbert, an unhappy accountant, has great difficulty fulfilling it, but he is increasingly determined to find Garbo before it's too late...

Garbo Talks is a comedy-drama about idols, death, and life. It's a pretty decent movie, and exactly what you expect going in. The film is reminiscent of Picasso Summer. Both movies involve the search for a reclusive artist, and spend more time chatting with random people on the ground. And both also lack any real life involvement from said artist.

This lack of real involvement from Garbo does harm the film a little. One might make excuses about how the film 'isn't really about Garbo, but what performers can mean for the common man, and how we perceive each-other'. No, the film's called Garbo Talks. It's about Greta friggin' Garbo, yet we spend more time with a random ferry tourist!

Another area I feel the movie fails in is actually showing to us what's so special about Greta Garbo. I'm a film buff, but I've never actually seen any of her movies (shame on me, I know!). This film taught me nothing about her beyond the fact that she's pretty, and could act. Well I knew that! It could be about Audrey Hepburn and would have the same effect. Maybe this was made to preach to the choir, but it won't really teach newbies much. Better to just go out and watch Garbo's movies.

Garbo Talks is a very character driven film. Estelle is a pretty cool old dame. Her principled stance can get a bit stubborn at times, and it isn't exactly endearing when we hear tales of her missing her son's wedding because she refused to pay a toll or something. Like, lady, I get that you hate these little injustices, but there are times when you should suck it up for others. Instead she's the kinda lady who'd miss her kid's birthday if it meant taking a taxi at full rates.

That aside, she's a fun presence, so it's a shame she gets laid up in a hospital bed for the last two thirds, and barely appears. Instead her son Gilbert takes the spotlight.

Gilbert is a pretty browbeaten fella, and his journey to find Garbo not only consumes his life, but also leads to his own self discovery. It also somehow completely drains his bank account, making me question his intelligence, and wonder what the hell he was doing to blitz through so much money! At that stage just find an easier celeb for your mum to meet!

With a shrew of a wife, his marriage is definitely worse for the wear, and it's inevitable for the break-up to come, especially when Gilbert meets another woman. I like that he doesn't just shack up with her, even though his marriage has become loveless. I also appreciate that the movie didn't make the wife one-dimensionally evil, even if she wasn't exactly sympathetic.

The main love interest is a flighty girl who's only in accounting for the money, and has dreams of becoming a star. The film goes a bit overboard trying to make her quirky, and the end result is she's actually kinda annoying. Despite this she's not terrible...until Gilbert finally makes an advance, and she tries stressing she's not out for a relationship (succumbing anyway). So she yearns for him the whole movie, acting like the 'rare young soul who still believes in love', then the second he actually shows interest she's suddenly like 'Yeah, I'm not in it for the long term'. Her likeability instantly plummeted there for me.

There are a few strong supporting characters Gilbert meets on his journey. The first is a photographer. He seems a pretty cheap guy, but after a certain point he stops taking Gilbert's money, and bids him farewell. It's nice seeing him so honourable, and he gets a nice introspective moment. Then there's a gay guy Gilbert meets on a ferry, who is presented positively, and never as a joke. This is 1984 too, during the early AIDS crisis! For a movie of the time to present a character so openly gay in such a normal and casual way, with no fear or jeering, is refreshing.

The climax is a bit weak. There are a few too many avenues for Gilbert to explore, and its gets confusing. The scene with the old actress was unnecessarily short (and contains the most ridiculously specific voicemail imagineable). It's all over so quickly and has such basic information. He coulda just heard from a random source that Garbo likes going to this market and that'd be enough.

After his quest is over, a stronger Gilbert quits his job. But in a strange passive-aggressive way, always absolving his boss of blame, who just sits looking pretty smug about everything. I'm not asking for a grand put-down, but a little revenge would be nice!

Much of the ending of made up of Estelle's meeting with Garbo, who has her back to the audience and never speaks. Because of this it feels like an artificial conversation, not to mention rude. Who just waltzes in without saying Hello and lets another the other person gab on for 10 minutes? Besides that, Estelle's monologue is nice. The film then ends on a nice enough note.

The acting in Garbo Talks is quite good. Anne Bancroft does a fine job. It was a shame to see her kinda get sidelined, but she eventually returns with a very good monologue at the end. Gene Wilder lookalike Ron Silver does well, and carries the bulk of the film reasonably well. Though in his big scene with 'Garbo' he has the intensity of a serial killer. I would have second thoughts before going with this strange man! Carrie Fisher is alright, but doesn't get a lot of time, while Catherine Hicks is a bit annoying, albeit pretty.

The direction here is by Sidney Lumet of all people! Surprisingly prestigious for such a film. It all looks good. We also have a nice animated intro, that gives us Estelle's life story and fascination with Garbo.

Overall, Garbo Talks is a pretty good movie. I'd say my own thoughts were more positive than any of the critics back in the 80s, but I do still have some issues with it. It's not great, and it's not exactly the most informative of films, but it gets the basic job done, and is inoffensive...

No comments:

Post a Comment