Rated: PG For language. Reviewed by: Chris Release date: Mary 14, 1993 Released by: Columbia Pictures
Neil Simon's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, set in the summer of 1942, is brought to the screen with a mixture of laughs and tears.
Fifteen-year-old Jacob Kurnitz (Brad Stoll) and his 13-ear-old brother, Artie (Mike Damus) have to stay with their grandmother (Irene Worth), while their widowed father works on the road selling iron.
What might have been an adventure for the boys turns out to be a dreaded experience, because instead of a cookie-baking, apple cheeked little granny, theirs is a cold, bitter, mean product of war-torn Europe.
Grandma owns a candy store equipped with an old fashioned soda fountain, but the boys are warned not to take a pretzel, a jaw breaker or move anything out of place because, as Uncle Louie (Richard Dreyfuss) tells them, "She counts the salt on every pretzel" and knows if anything is missing.
They live above the store in an austere, orderly apartment with Aunt Bella (Mercedes Ruehl, The Fisher King), who's mentally underdeveloped, and her brother, Uncle Louie, who sneaks into the apartment periodically under the cover of dark. He's a bag man for the mob who's absconded with their bag. So, a couple of big-shouldered hoods park outside the store nightly, waiting for Uncle to show his face.
Aunt Bella is the focus of the family. She's pretty, happy and childish, but she has adult feelings and wants marriage and babies. The object of her attention is a similarly impaired usher at the local Bijou, where she frequently hides out to watch Bette Davis movies and escape mean Mama.
The boys are terrific little actors, defending their weak father, becoming confidants to Aunt Bella and learning to bluff at poker. The boys mature by the end of the summer, their shyness slowly developing into "moxie."
Dreyfuss isn't on the screen long, but he still makes an impression. Irene Worth, with her mouth set in a permanent scowl, her cane pounding menacingly on hardwood floors and her tightly wound bun, is quite a sight to behold. But, the film belongs to Ruehl, who's refreshingly naive. She inspires you to smile with her instead of laughing at her. She's also heartbreaking in her need to free herself from her smothering mother. Aunt Bella might not be the smartest, but she has the most insight when it comes to her oppressive Mama.
Besides some laughs, there's also much heart-tugging scenes, and even though some of Simon's one-liners become very predictable, the acting is super, the settings are richly nostalgic and if you bring your hanky along, you'll probably enjoy this family's story.
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