Monday, July 27, 2009

The Empty Nest Blues

On December 5, 1966, an intimate new musical starring two of Broadway's most beloved stars opened at the 46th Street Theatre. Based on Jan de Hartog's popular play, The Fourposter, I Do! I Do! was a perfect vehicle for the talents of Mary Martin and Robert Preston. With book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt, the show became an instant hit.

Although there are only two characters onstage, the show follows the course of a 50-year marriage between Agnes and Michael. The second act showstopper is a number called "When The Kids Get Married" in which the couple dream of all the things they've wanted to do but have had to postpone while raising children.

Like many couples, Agnes and Michael discover that their dreams have become a bit ragged as the years have passed by. What once seemed so appealing has become maudlin and embarrassing. To make matters worse, they're both a bit tired and have become stuck in their ways. If there is any chance of surviving, their marriage will have to go through some changes.

That's easier said than done.

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Written by Michael Lellouche and directed by Graham Guit, Hello Goodbye (which is being shown as part of the 2009 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival) focuses on a well-to-do Parisian couple whose empty nest sends them hurtling toward a series of misadventures which severely strain their marriage. Alain Gaash (Gerard Depardieu) is a burly 50-year-old gynecologist leading a very comfortable life. His wife Gisele (Fanny Ardant) converted to Judaism when they were married and has, over the years, become more interested in Jewish culture than her husband. Born in Romania, Alain wasn't even circumcised and could care less about his heritage.

When their son decides to marry a Catholic girl and have the wedding ceremony in a church, his departure from the home sets off a restless spark in Gisele, who has had her fill of the in-laws. When Alain tries to pacify her with a new car, she deliberately wrecks it. informs her shocked husband that they need to do something different with their lives, and suggests a trip to Israel so that she can get in touch with her Jewish "roots."

Fanny Ardant and Gerard Depardieu

Although Alain has a long list of destinations he'd love to visit, Israel is far from the top. But to accommodate his wife, he books a trip to Israel where one misfortune after another awaits them.

  • Because they are not Israeli citizens, they cannot clear customs until the next morning and must sleep in the airport.
  • They quickly get suckered into buying a condominium that is under development, only to find out that the proper permits have not been issued and it may take years for the building to be completed.
  • In her attempt to learn about Hebrew culture, Gisele develops a crush on a handsome young pot-smoking rabbi (Lior Ashkenazi) and informs her husband that she won't have sex with Alain until he gets circumcised.
  • A job offer to come on board as a star gynecologist at an Israeli hospital evaporates into thin air after the gynecologist who was supposed to move to Philadelphia discovers that his wife is pregnant and wants to give birth to their child in Israel.
  • The shipping container that held 25 years of belongings was damaged en route from Paris to Tel Aviv and thrown overboard.
  • Without a job as a physician, Alain is forced to take a job washing and cleaning automobiles at a car rental agency.
After a series of humiliations, Alain decides to return to Paris and buys a pair of airline tickets. Gisele, however, wants to stay in Israel where she has found a new sense of meaning in her life.

Were it not for the fact that this film has two beloved actors as its stars, I doubt it would get much attention. Despite the contributions of Jean Benguigui as a man who befriends Alain at the airport (and spells his name Gash instead of Gaash) and Sasson Gabbai as a sympathetic chief of police who is also having problems with his wife, the indecision and serial misfortunes which haunt Mr. and Mrs. Gaash in Hello Goodbye don't really make for a very satisfying film.

Does it capture the dysfunctional behavior of a long-married couple who have been keeping secrets from each other and have trouble communicating with each other? Yes.

Is Hello Goodbye a movie that audiences will take to their hearts? I sincerely doubt it. Here's the trailer:

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Things aren't going too well for Judith Rosenfeld (Miou-Miou), either. The protagonist of another film about French Jews confronted with empty nest syndrome that is being screened at the 2009 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the middle-aged Judith is caught in the cross-current of her family's crises.

Judith's 75-year-old mother, Frida (Shulamit Adar), has been demonstrating increasing signs of confusion. Frida keeps showing up at the apartment where she lived with Judith's long-gone father, expecting to find him there waiting for her.

Judith's youngest son is finally moving out of the house and into an apartment he will share with friends. With his youthful energy gone from her home, Judith (who quit her career so she could stay home and raise her children) is at a bit of a loss. When her son makes a prank call to one of Judith's high school boyfriends, she is at first mortified but then curious to see what kind of man he has become.

Meanwhile, Judith's brother Simon (Charles Berling), is a political journalist who has always been the apple of his mother's eye. As far as Frida is concerned, Simon can do no wrong. Although he's happy to show up for lunch and take his mother boating, Simon cannot (or will not) accept the fact that Frida's confused and distracted behavior is a sign of advancing Alzheimer's disease. When Simon meets the attractive young lawyer (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) who has been renting the family's old apartment, an unexpected romance quickly starts to brew.

Charles Berling and Giovanna Mezzogiorno

While Simon has no problem getting involved with a younger woman, his ego can't handle the fact that his teenage daughter (Anais Demoustier) has ostensibly planned a weekend getaway with her father so that she can meet up with her boyfriend and spend most of her spare time in his arms. Struggling to accept Judith's counsel that his daughter is becoming a woman, Simon throws a self-centered temper tantrum which only serves to further alienate his daughter.

Written and directed by Cyril Gelblat, Cycles (Les Murs Porteurs) captures the anguish and loneliness of a divorced woman whose children no longer need her, who has little sense of self and who is becoming trapped by the demands of being a caretaker for her elderly senile mother. Even after Frida is moved into a mental health facility, it is Judith who visits regularly, combs her mother's hair, and deals with the medical staff.

Shulamit Adar and Miou-Miou

The film progresses quite slowly. As Frida's mental acuity deteriorates, Simon finds a new love in his old apartment and Judith must figure out what kind of future awaits her. Here's the trailer:

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Over at The Marsh, comedian Rick Reynolds is busy explaining what empty nest syndrome feels like for the the single father of two teenage boys. Among the many ways he has been described during his lifetime, the word "father" lies nearest and dearest to his heart. Perhaps that's because his own childhood was so horrible.

Rick's biological father died when Reynolds was three years old. His first stepfather turned the family home into a nightmare of alcoholism and domestic violence. His second stepfather seemed like the nicest guy in the world -- and was well on his way to becoming the perfect role model for Rick and his brother Mike -- until the man started robbing banks.

Reynolds begins his monologue (entitled Only The Truth is Funny: Midlife at the Oasis) by apologizing for certain personal quirks. He readily admits to being "anal, obsessive, vain, quick to temper, overly introspective, lazy, judgmental, insecure, and self-righteous" and, in the program notes, insists that "if you can find a more thought provoking and inspirational show you've seen about a middle-aged, self-obsessed, therapy-hating, crybaby from Petaluma, I'll refund the price of your ticket."

Cutting to the chase, Reynolds starts the show by explaining that the world is made up of two kinds of people -- creeps and assholes -- and then gives the audience a handy way to figure out which group they belong to. His act is quite entertaining and Reynolds shares many of his tales with the kind of intensity that befits a tortured comedic narcissist. One of his best stories can be experienced in this clip from one of Rick's previous one-man shows.

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