Quite good, but also amazingly ill-timed.

by Martin Hafer

There’s a film about an aging actor who is having doubts about himself and his craft. He’s thought of suicide and dreads having a flop on the Broadway stage. So, to help cope, the guy retreats into fantasy–and the audience often finds that they have a hard time separating what’s real for what’s purely imagination, throughout the picture. This is the synopsis for the multi-award nominated Birdman and, oddly, also for a brand new movie from director Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Sleepers, Wag the Dog) which stars Al Pacino! Had I not just seen both of these films recently, I wouldn’t have believed two films could be so similar and come out independently of each other only a few months apart. But here we have it.

The Humbling
Directed by
Barry Levinson
Al Pacino, Kyra Sedgwick, Greta Gerwig
Release Date
23 January 2015
Martin’s Grade: B+

When the film begins, Simon Axler (Pacino) is falling apart during a performance of a play. He’s forgotten his lines–mixing them up with another play he was in some time ago. In a panic, he throws himself off the stage. Soon, after attempting suicide, he ends up in a mental institution. After a brief stay, he’s back home–home to an empty house and with few job prospects. Out of the blue, a woman from his past shows up and she wants him. The minor problem is that she’s a lesbian…as well as his goddaughter. Sounds complicated? Sure…but it gets worse…much worse. Along with frequent retreats into his fantasy world, a suddenly super-problematic personal life as well as paralyzing stage fright comes one final chance to star in yet another Broadway play. What’s to come of all this comeback…will it be a bust?

The biggest positive this film has over Birdman is its sense of humor. Birdman is awfully serious. The Humbling is serious but the film also pokes gentle fun at Pacino’s character and his age. I particularly loved the scene at the vet…but that’s just one you’ll have to see for yourself. Is it better than Birdman? No. But if you liked one, you’ll probably like the other…they are both well-crafted and offer some terrific acting.