The Talent Given Us

Okay, I have to admit that this tendency in the arts toward what is called “Meta” work (chiefly,
films written by Charlie Kaufman, Broadway musicals like “Spamalot” and “The Producers”, etc.) is
something I just don’t get. I don’t think of myself as unintelligent, but this trend makes my head ache
– and that’s on a good day.  I know that many of my colleagues eat this stuff up and praise it to high
heaven because it is different from the norm. Sometimes I can appreciate the material but I often have
trouble with its execution. The latest example is the new feature film
road movie written and directed by Andrew Wagner in which his parents Judy and Allen portray
Judy and Allen Wagner, a 70ish couple living on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Joined by their
daughters Maggie and Emily, the Wagners set out on a cross-country trip so that Judy can reconnect
with her filmmaker son – Andrew.

The film actually starts promisingly, with Judy and Allen. She’s a crossword puzzle fanatic who
relies on her husband for help. He’s a retired financial whiz now suffering from a series of ailments.
(He constantly has a straw dangling from his mouth to control an involuntary tic.) It appears the film
might be an interesting contemporary film about the trials and tribulations of an older couple, figures
that Hollywood often shy away from. Gradually, though, the movie turns into something else.

Judy and Allen and their unmarried, thirtysomething daughter Maggie, a photographer, head
to the airport to pick up actress daughter Emily. On the way to the family’s beach house, Judy hits
on the idea that she has to connect with her son and commands her husband to start driving to
California. As with any car trip and a family in confined space, the Wagners revert to old patterns.
Judy dwells on Allen’s past infidelity and his current lack of interest in sex – at least with her. Allen
struggles in the face of his infirmities to retain whatever shred of dignity he can muster. Emily uses
the trip to dwell on how horrible her childhood was and how ineffective as parents the elder couple
were. Maggie eventually tires of it all and hops a plane back to New York City. (At that point,
I wanted to join her and was envious that she got to leave!)

The Wagners push on and pick up Bumby (Judy Dixon), Emily’s best friend and confidante
who was conveniently fired from her job on a film set. By the time they get to Las Vegas, Emily and
Bumby (who has shared an ickily seductive moment with Allen) decide to fly on to Los Angeles and
the Wagners encounter actor Billy Wirth (playing himself) who happens to be a pal of Andrew’s. He
travels the last leg of the journey with the couple who by now have worn one another down to the last
nerve, with Judy now telling her husband she will divorce him. Of course, when they get to
Los Angeles, Andrew is nowhere to be found, leading to more harsh words before a tentative reconciliation.

THE TALENT GIVEN US is a vanity production that Andrew has made to allow his parents
and siblings to shine. We are told in the press notes that they are playing versions of themselves. Well,
unlike say the Tyrone family in Eugene O’Neill’s LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, the Wagners
just aren’t that interesting. The car ride and subsequent pit stops often turn into mini-dramas of
recriminations and accusations. The Wagners turn into the Bickersons, and I certainly didn’t want to be
around them. THE TALENT GIVEN US only runs 97 minutes yet I felt as if I had spent weeks with them.
There were several walkouts at the screening I attended, and in hindsight, I wish I had joined them.

                Rating:                            C-
                MPAA Rating:                None
                Running time:                   97 mins.

                        Viewed at Magno Review One.
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.