Netflix Update No. 18: “Nothing in Common”

September 14, 2009



We watched “Nothing in Common,” a 1986 film directed by Garry Marshall, starring Tom Hanks, Jackie Gleason, Eva Marie Saint, Sela Ward, Bess Armstrong, and Hector Elizondo.

Hanks plays David Basner, who is on a rapid rise in the advertising industry; he has money, friends, women. What he doesn’t have is any sense of self, thanks to a dysfunctional upbringing by parents — Eva Marie Saint as Lorraine Basner and Gleason, in his last role, as Max– whose marriage limped along for more than 30 years without a raison d’etre, and now, at a critical moment in David’s career, has collapsed. Both parents bring the issue to David, who has kept his distance since he left home and has never developed a relationship with either of them.

Bess Armstrong plays a high school friend and one-time flame to whom David often turns for understanding or simple emotional release. Sela Ward plays Cheryl Ann Wayne, a hard-nosed but seductive agency executive with whom David becomes entangled, in more ways than one, as he tries to land a major airline account. Elizondo is David’s boss, and Barry Corbin is the head of the airline and Wayne’s father.



All of these actors turn in strong performances. Hanks gets a chance to show his full range, from borderline nuts to pensive and insecure. Gleason, conceding a year before his death that he is an old and infirm man, uses just enough of the Charlie Bratton bombast and the Poor Soul pathos to make Max a complicated and interesting character. Gleason avoids what to him was always a temptation to chew the scenery. When he had it under control, Gleason had an intuition for drama, and he puts it to work here, particularly in brief passages in which he doesn’t speak. Eva Marie Saint, who I think is among the most unappreciated of actresses, is very moving as the broken-hearted wife and mother.



This movie takes on some difficult, almost embarrassing themes — the reasons for the failure of this marriage and the impact of a bad marriage on the child it generated — and it deals with them realistically, not looking for easy answers.

Marshall managed to achieve a delicate balance between comedy and drama that in some ways is almost tragedy. This film hasn’t got a lot of attention, but it should.


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