Talking Movies

August 8, 2019

From the Archives: The Hoax

Another dive into the pre-Talking Movies archives finds Richard Gere ghostwriting Howard Hughes’ autobiography, but as he’s actually faking it all dealing with his publishers and Hughes’ lawyers is going to require a lot more ingenuity than his usual plotlines.

“The book of the century!” is what Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) promises his publishers after they reject the manuscript of his latest novel. Sure enough once he’s had time to construct an outrageous lie, he delivers the sensational goods in the shape of the authorised memoirs of Howard Hughes, as ghosted by Irving…

Set in 1971 this comedy-drama sees Clifford and friend and fellow writer Dick Suskind (Alfred Molina) keep on digging ever deeper holes for themselves as they try to write the explosive memoirs of a man they’ve never met while simultaneously fabricating evidence that Hughes really has been spilling his life story to them to convince the lawyers to hand over outrageous amounts of money to them. This film should have been a hilarious 90 minute comedy. Its best moments belong to the hi-jinks of that grifter sub-genre, as Gere and Molina steal files from the airforce and illegally photo Senate testimony to nail Hughes’ speech patterns and business tactics. Director Lasse Hallstrom though, for some reason best known to himself, decides to attempt dark and dramatic. Gere becomes increasingly paranoid and delusional as he immerses himself in the character of Howard Hughes to write the ‘memoir’.

And that is where the wheels fall off the wagon. Lasse Hallstrom is almost the text-book example of a talented European director who goes to Hollywood and settles into a career of unremitting mediocrity. Following on from such fare as The Cider House Rules and Chocolat Hallstrom once again produces a film that is offensive by dint of its sheer blandness. There’s nothing wincingly wrong with this film, it just screams of a lost opportunity, it could have been so much better. It’s at least half an hour too long and becomes increasingly uncertain as to whether there’s meant to be any laughs at all. Richard Gere is, you guessed it, bland…as is the usually reliable Alfred Molina. Julie Delpy is incredibly irritating in a ‘sexy’ cameo as Gere’s mistress while Marcia Gay Harden’s role as his wife is weakly written and her wavering accent (I think it’s meant to be Swedish but it keeps hitting British) only adds to the sense of drift of the film. Down the credits Eli Wallach is criminally wasted, his great talent thrown away on just one scene, but at least the godlike Stanley Tucci gets to have some fun playing the arrogant chairman of McGraw-Hill publishers.

Scorsese at his worst is better than Hallstrom being bland, and the shadow of The Aviator hangs heavy over this film. Hoax seems to assume we know nothing about Howard Hughes but we’ve seen Leonardo DiCaprio (however hamfistedly) portray his descent into reclusive paranoia. Hughes, by being humanised, has become tragic. The fate of the cardboard characters in this film aren’t tragic at all, it is only the comic machinations that hold the attention, and once they’re ditched so is our interest.

2/5

April 21, 2017

Rules Don’t Apply

Warren Beatty finally releases his Howard Hughes project, and the result says more about Beatty than it does about Hughes.

Marla (Lily Collins) is an enthusiastic starlet from Virginia who has passed up a university scholarship to seek fame in the movies. She’s assigned personal chauffeurs Frank (Alden Ehrenreich) and Levar (Matthew Broderick), working alternate shifts, and attends dance and acting classes with the likes of Mamie (Haley Bennett), but, much to the chagrin of her mother Lucy (Annette Bening), is not met by Howard Hughes, and cashes paycheques while never being given her promised screen-test. But Frank is in the same boat. When they finally get to meet the eccentric recluse, their mutual attraction is already in danger of getting them both fired for immoral behaviour, if the deranged antics of Hughes; locked in conflict with TWA shareholders, Merrill Lynch money men, his CEO, and paranoid about being declared paranoid; don’t destroy their careers and/or their lives first.

One hesitates to say that Warren Beatty is so vain he made a film about himself, but the long build-up to the first appearance of Hughes, his persistent appearance in dim lighting to hide the rigours of age, the power-tripping of keeping people endlessly waiting for no reason, the constant baloney of stringing people along with projects that are never going to happen, the phone calls at all hours of day and night that must be answered, and the endless cooing to Hughes of his genius by pretty young women, all seem to speak more to the actual Beatty that emerges from Peter Biskind’s biography than to any real portrayal of Hughes. And let’s remember that Beatty; actor, co-writer, director, producer; has been working on this script since about 1980. This was, par Biskind’s narrative, to be the magnum opus.

2/5

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