September 9, 2014


In my review of Joe, I mentioned how I liked David Gordon Green’s return to smaller, character driven stories.  His newest film, Manglehorn, is another character piece, and while I stand by my appreciation for his decision to make this kind of movie, it also failed to hook me.  It’s an interesting film in how it tries to handle a character who is an intriguing collection of contradictions with regards to how he interacts with others, but eventually his navel-gazing and obsession with a lost love becomes tedious.

A.J. Manglehorn (Al Pacino) is a tired, lonely locksmith who continues to write letters to a woman named Clara even though the letters always returned unopened.  He passes his days being cordial during his errands, tending to his cat, flirting with a bank teller (Holly Hunter), and other events to pass the time like playing slot machines or having lunch with acquaintances.  He’s not a recluse, but he’s not outgoing.  He’s a good grandfather but his son (Chris Messina) considers Manglehorn to be a bad father.  There’s no easy description for Manglehorn, but we know he can’t get over Clara.


Manglehorn lives in moments so small that they’re almost insignificant.  On the one hand, I can appreciate Green taking the time to just spend time with his main character doing nothing of great importance.  It’s almost like Green saw a person in a restaurant or on a street and worked backwards.  He imagined a story and inner life around a total stranger.  Green didn’t turn him into some extravagant, colorful figure.  He made him ordinary, and ordinary can be interesting for a while because these characters are rare in cinema.  “I’m just a person,” Manglehorn says at one point.

But the movie is always tempting us with just a little bit more.  In one of his letters to Clara, Manglehorn says people don’t mean anything to him, but he’s not a hermit or even particularly antisocial.  He’s guarded.  At some points, the movie will take leave of reality and Green will send us on a trippy moment like Manglehorn walking in slow motion past a six-car pileup or having his mumbling play over a dizzying walk through a seedy location. Green always has us on uneven ground, and it’s exhausting, yet also tempting because the movie doesn’t feel hollow.

David Gordon Green isn’t pretentious, and Manglehorn doesn’t feel like it’s trying to make something out of nothing.  There’s a great deal of sympathy for the main character, and Pacino gives a lovely performance.  I suppose if one were to put in the mental energy, they could piece the movie together into a fairly rewarding experience.  But for me, Manglehorn is an exhausting curiosity.  There’s neat symbolism like a beehive on his mailbox and cool motifs like his possessions continuing to break.  Unfortunately, when it came to Manglehorn, I could only share in his weariness.

Rating: C

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Manglehorn Review

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