Who doesn’t love two hours of insult comedy between Jack Lemmon and
Walter Matthau James Garner, eh? God, I was in the mood for this. Dull Derek had trapped me in the visitors’ room (three beds and the smell of despair). He’d done 90 solid minutes on the problems with modern economic models and the western world. I wanted, needed, to smash his face into the floor, but instead got Boring Bob into the room to quibble the nature of the oligopolists’ demand curve (kinked or not kinked?). And then zimmered like fuck to the TV room and slapped on the old man bitch-fest that is My Fellow Americans.
Honesty first: not a great script, bit of a predictable plot, wildly unlikely scenarios given the age of the protagonists and not too much of a shame that Matthau wasn’t well enough to participate. Still, fun.
Love of it second: Lemmon and Garner are ex American presidents and they hate each other. And not politely. Lines bounce about in quality, but you cannot miss the excellence of the stars. Their terse verbal one-upmanship is the making of the film – albeit there’s a waft of crass in there.
Okay, the plot. It doesn’t matter. Essentially, they end up on the run from some bad guys in the administration. This no doubt seemed crazily unlikely back in 1996. These days…nah, as old Jack said, the plot doesn’t matter. What does is the never-quite-thaws row going on between the love-god and knows it Garner (as Matt Douglas…who gets to say “the First Penis” in a tellingly lowbrow scene in a toilet) and the uptight and glib Lemmon (as Russel P Kramer…who is pinchy of the penny and quick to make illicit bucks).
So. On the run. They walk away from an exploded helicopter. Jump trains (really) and then get up afterwords (really, I mean it). They hitch lifts with a family in several road-trip scenes – and journey with a rolling lack of grace until they get blasted with the impact their policies had on the family. Which is sobering.
Occasionally, before a bizarre climax back at the White House, they nearly…nearrrrrrly bond. I was torn: wanted them to, but needed the laughs.
DOUGLAS: Let’s stop talking. We’re about to bond. It’ll make me vomit.
It’s not so much funny as comedic in the place funny should be. Garner is in grandpa-Maverick-still-gets-erections mode; Lemmon matches him smartly with mean-mindedness and money-grubbing. They are great fun…and its not too difficult to make out the Democrat from the Republican. They’re old men, but this is about old rivalries and the bubbling emotions they don’t put in the care home brochure. We still feel, bastards!
Oh – and Bradley Whitford is in it as a White House bigwig some years before The West Wing came along to make him puckish yet worthy. And John Heard is an achingly stupid Vice President. Lauren Bacall comes in to gift Lemmon some wifely class (she has a pair of her own, you know…) and Sela Ward gives quality evil journalist… Stars, all!
Lemmon: When you were in the White House, who was the person you were most excited to meet?
Garner: Nelson Mandela.
Lemmon: I’m not a reporter.
Garner: Ella Fitzgerald.
Like old Jack said earlier, this is fun and I needed it. There’s no depth; there are weak gags and silliness in all directions, but My Fellow Americans plays out with comedy gusto and a couple of cracking star turns.
On a low? Watch this. Garner and Lemmon – better than the real thing.