Memory is a funny thing, it ebbs and flows with one’s mood and circumstances and so does perspective. In Max Rose, we meet a recent widower (played by Jerry Lewis), who finds reason to believe that his wife of 65 years, Eva (Claire Bloom) was in love with another man. He declares at her funeral that the marriage “was a lie.” Max, who is already a cantankerous old man, becomes even more recalcitrant after his loss and engaging in a revisionist journey wherein he lets his own demons pollute his mind. Lewis, in his first feature role in more than 20 years, does well in presenting the depression and anger that Max suffers, and it is perhaps the most redeeming quality of the film because something else is still missing.
The opening shots present Max through the years, then later reveal that his wife has died. Max is alone in his living room, which suddenly looks too big and empty. That vast emptiness is a visual reminder of the new void in his life. His memories stay with him, but that soon turns to bitterness when, while going through Eva’s things, Max finds a compact with an inscription in it from 1959 signed by “Ben.” This discovery sets Max off on a journey to search for clues of infidelity, which is only ever hinted at.
The film, which is focused on Max’s perspective, tries to say something larger about relationships. However, throughout the story we don’t get enough of Eva, and so the film focuses on the one character’s perspective, while trying to make a compelling story about marriage. This is where writer-director Daniel Noah falls short, as there are not enough moments to understand the relationship; we are left with the sad outcome of Max’s current state of affairs and his memories of the bond between him and his wife, which are now marred by a negative perspective. It becomes a one-sided story, one which Lewis carries well but misses the full impact of its target. Relationships are more complex than one person’s perspective, and it is not until the end of the film that we realize that there is more to it than Max’s suspicions and assumptions. The hints of the marriage we get throughout appear when Max talks to his late wife and she replies. This is all of course in Max’s mind and says little about the actual relationship, as it is an illusion.
Max embarks on a quest of “finding the truth” looking for his rival, a fellow named Ben Tracey (Dean Stockwell). The two meet in a very tense moment; at night, no less. It is one of the most important moments in the film, which sort of wakes you up; yet the rest of the film might bore you. So many questions are left unanswered for the audience. If Max believes that his marriage was a failure, what does that say about him? While the cast has good performances, these do not make up for the slackness in the quality of the screenplay, which skims through the surface of the meat of the story: the marriage and that relationship. There is a lot of talk about Max and Eva being married for 65 years, yet there is not enough substance in the story to deal with the meaning that all those years make.
Max is quick to jump to conclusions but not so inclined to go deep within himself to understand the loss. Lewis’ performance is remarkable, especially since we seldom see him in serious roles. You will get no laughs from Max Rose, no intentional ones, at least. But you will also not get a very deep account of what went wrong or what could have gone better. There is bitterness and anger, surely, and not much else.
In the meantime, this character is so trapped in his head; he also alienates his son (Kevin Pollak), who endures the brunt of his anger. While the introspection in the film is a good story in its own right, the film is less accomplished in its overall delivery of this outcome. There is some manipulation to elicit sadness. The score by Michel Legrand delivers some powerful moments that will make you want to shed a tear. However, the substantive part of that emotion cannot be carried by the story itself.
Max Rose runs 83 minutes and is not rated. It opens our South Florida area on Sept. 23 at the Regal South Beach Stadium 18. For nationwide screenings please click here. Images and a screener link was provided by Paladin for the purpose of this review.