Manny Lewis full movie review - Manny Lewis doesn't deserve your time, only the Vaudeville hook
Ten years ago I watched an Australian film called The Extra, which starred Irish comedian Jimeoin. I wondered at the time how he made such a terrible film and concluded it was the poor script.
My childhood trauma was over and I'd never have to watch it again. Forwarding to the present day and some things have changed but others clearly not enough. At a recent screening my worst fears were again realised. It was the ghost of The Extra but now called Manny Lewis: a staggeringly unfunny Australian film made by people thinking they're hilarious. Sadly, the partnership between the director Anthony Mir, a former comedian himself, and funny man Carl Barron in the title role, is disastrous from start to finish.
The film typifies the problems of the Australian film industry we've spoken about for years: the script is awful and underdeveloped and the film itself is generally lacking ambition. Nor is the premise funny or suitable for a comedy. Manny Lewis is a depressed comedian, tired of fame and living a lonesome existence. His mum has died and his relationship with his father (Roy Billing), who beat him as a child, is still unresolved. Take a moment to catch your breath from too much laughter. One night Manny makes a phone call to an erotic fantasy line where under a fake name of 'Tomaz' and he discusses his problems to Maria (Leeanna Walsman), who calls herself 'Caroline'.
Due to sizable coincidences, get used to them, Maria sees Manny on television and realises who he is. By another chance encounter, she meets Manny randomly in person and they date. Manny doesn't know it's the same woman and she uses this anonymity to ask what he thinks about their dates whenever he rings the erotic hotline. Yes, he connects to the same woman every time. Meanwhile, Manny's long term manager and friend (Damien Garvey) is arranging for him to be contracted to an American company visiting Australia. Do they know what they're in for? What happened to comedians touring and performing gigs?
Manny Lewis isn't satisfied by comedy alone, what a mistake, but values itself very highly as a melodrama. It wants us to feel or an unlikable jerk, who is as charming as a dirty sock. Manny is whiny, precious about his lifestyle, despite having an apartment overlooking the city, and still burdened by childhood issues. It's embarrassing for Barron, a fifty year old middle-aged man, to be playing someone still hampered by his dad hitting him and holding his head under water. Has he ever watched The Extra?
The film's approach to self-loathing isn't hilarious and self-deprecating like the Paul Giamatti film Sideways. It's annoying and self-important when approached dourly through endless scenes and frames of Manny looking downwards in his luxury apartment. Who thought these first world problems of a middle aged man would be hilarious or worse, touching? What the writers call "complexity" amounts to further irritation: Manny complains about being alone but whinges over his girlfriend's small habits. He doesn't deserve her, which isn't fitting for a romantic comedy. Casting Barron as a romantic lead was fatal because, without being mean, he's not likable, handsome or funny in this particular role.
At less than ninety minutes there are no laughs or fun to be had and too many boring, undernourished scenes lacking humour or drama. One riveting example of the characters sitting around politely is when Manny teaches Maria his method of eating a biscuit. The coincidences mentioned in the plot are also clumsy and improbable and compounded by the volume of clichés. At least there's no airport scene where Manny races to stop his girlfriend leaving. Instead, she's departing on a boat and its leaving tonight! Unbelievably, this coincides with Manny's childhood fear of water.
Despite funding from Channel 7, Manny Lewis is made without much skill. The opening shot is promising, using a winding tracking shot to follow Manny and the individual frames aren't ugly. However, the remaining camera-work is static and flat and the audio design is lazy: the roaring laughter of Manny's stand-up audience off-screen is clearly canned laughter and pasted over the film. Typifying the lack of flare and the unimaginative direction is a cheesy montage scene after an argument between the film's couple.
The only pleasant thing about the film is the pleasant face of Leeanna Walsman, who deserves a film not juvenile enough to think the only female in the movie will fix all his problems. Judging by the audibly depressed sighs and noises at the media screening (one elderly fellow sounded as though he was verging on an asthma attack) I wasn't solely dismayed by this film. According to the production notes, Barron and Mir went to Italy to write the script and indulged in fine dining. If they had worked on the script without these distractions the movie might have been watchable. As it stands, Manny Lewis doesn't deserve your time, only the Vaudeville hook.