It's taken Carl Reiner an awfully long time to figure out how to make Steve Martin's comic talents work on screen, but he's finally succeeded. What an unlikely secret it turned out to be: he needed to give Martin a vehicle with a good story. Sometimes it takes a while for people to learn what should have been obvious, but at least Reiner finally picked up on it. All of Me is a really good comedy, easily the best film Reiner has ever directed and the funniest Steve Martin has been since his classic appearances on Saturday Night Live
Martin plays a frustrated lawyer who is really a frustrated musician. He doesn't have the confidence to quit his law firm for music, his real love, and he is being given only insignificant cases by the head of the firm, who is, not coincidentally, the father of Martin's girlfriend. Martin can't seem to make it in either world. Finally, he gets a break: he's assigned to handle the will and estate of a fabulously wealthy woman (Lily Tomlin) who is about to die. Unfortunately, she has some rather odd ideas about how things are going to work out. She expects that, on her death, an Indian swami will catch her soul in a brass bowl and transfer it to the body of her stablemaster's daughter, Victoria Tennant, while Tennant's soul will become one with the universe. Since the will is to leave all of Tomlin's money to Tennant, this will leave the dying woman with a beautiful, healthy body and a ton of money.
Well, this is all too weird for Martin (if you can imagine that), so he walks out on Tomlin. An unexpected set of circumstances cause her little experiment in the metaphysical to go awry, though, and, instead of a transfer to Tennant's body, Tomlin finds herself in Martin's body, and he's still there, too. Martin controls the left half of his body, Tomlin the right. Their instant hate for each other leads to hilarious complications, as does their attempts to sort the situation out.
Not only is this a fairly good story, but it is exactly suitable for Steve Martin's talents. While Martin can tell a joke as well as the next comedian, his real comic talents are physical, not verbal. Martin is one of the few modern comics who could probably make a go of it in silent movies. All of Me gives him ample opportunity to use his abilities, as he lurches around, half of him a snooty upperclass lady, half a slightly strange man. His walk is priceless, as is a scene in which the coinhabitants of his body visit a public men's room.
Tomlin, on the other hand, is more adept with speech than with movements, which is just as well, since, after the first twenty minutes, we hear a lot of her voice, but only see her in mirrors. She does get an awful lot done with voice, alone, though, and we never forget that she is the film's other star, despite her lack of screentime. She is absolutely perfect for her role. Few other actresses could manage to show just how irritating her character is and still make us feel sympathy for her. Throw in her comic talents, and she was really the only choice.
Martin's part suits him very well, too. He's really a fairly normal guy in All of Me rather than playing a dunce or a crazy or a spoof character, and he works better that way. The restraint he shows in the early scenes builds the foundation for the hilarity later on. This is the kind of role which could make Steve Martin a major movie star.
Carl Reiner has never before given any real indication that he can direct a film, but he handles this one perfectly. The pace, the timing, the shot selection are all right on target. Reiner also has the sense to give several other characters the chance to shine, rather than focusing exclusively on Martin and Tomlin. Particularly good is Richard Libertini, as the daft swami, who repeats the end of any sentence addressed to him, in a vacantly good-natured way. Dana Elcar, playing Martin's boss and prospective father-in-law, has some good moments when he selects Martin to handle his upcoming divorce, explaining how he became the "comforter" of his dead friends' widows.
A special tip of the hat is due to the screenwriter, Phil Alden Robinson. Unlike most recent comedies, such as Ghostbusters the script is really the heart of All of Me For my money, a comedy with a good script and good comedians will beat a comedy with a mediocre script and good comedians. I prefered All of Me to Ghostbusters and, in fact, I think it's the best new comedy I've seen in some years. (Sorry, but it still doesn't measure up to the old classics, such as His Girl Friday which I saw again just last week. But then, what does?) I highly recommend All of Me
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