Something's hypocritical about 'Funny About Love'

September 24, 1990|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

If I didn't know better, I'd suspect some crusty big Republican money was in "Funny About Love." It's that dirty a trick -- but I don't think the Republicans are clever enough anymore.

It's about a liberal icon, a prize-winning political cartoonist, the conscience of his generation, as played by Gene Wilder. He's sensitive, gutty, forthright, enviro-correct, caring, nurturing, decent, honest. He's Herblock with sex appeal and a wardrobe. At least the movie thinks he is.

But in fact it turns the whole proud cavalcade of liberalism on its back to die twitching in the sun, as well as depicting "male sensitivity" at such a sanctimonious, hypocritical pitch that it makes you want to beat a child. What it shows is an almost subversive view of "New Male" as self-deluding geek, dweeb, jerk, whiner, manipulator and wuss.

Wilder's performance is almost calcified in treacle; he crackles and shimmers with sucrose when he walks, his eyebrows arched into a petrification of permanent winsomeness, his ovoid baby blues ashimmer with a veritable tsunami of tears, his brow knitted in bramble of caring. For this we gave up John Wayne and Dirty Harry?

The movie is shapeless as a political cartoon without a point of view; it just slithers all over the place trying to show what a wonderful man this Duffy Bergman is and how the world just doesn't appreciate his wonderfulness enough. It's really about self-pity and being too darn good for your own good.

In fact, he's quite an evil man, as hypocritical as the sky is blue. Basically, he hates women. His wife (Christine Lahti) is simply a baby machine and when she can't get pregnant -- it's his fault -- it devastates him and puts her through a three-year "program" of fertilization therapy, trying to get her loins to get with the damn program. When her career takes off, he hates it, and contrives ways to destroy it, by throwing tantrums at her place of business in front of her employers (she's a chef). His braying finally drives her away and the movie, directed by Mr. Spock without his pointy Vulcan ears (Leonard Nimoy), seems to think he's the victim.

And so we watch this Ivanhoe of the New Age suffer, writhe in self-pity and sloppy self-hatred -- he doesn't merely weep, he really lets his glands rip.

Then a young woman -- Mary Stuart Masterson, who deserves better -- throws herself at him, gives him the best sex and ego stroking he's ever had, makes him feel like a big man all over again -- so of course he dumps her and the movie doesn't even have the guts to show us the dirty deed.

"Funny About Love" is unfunnily about self-love, self-indulgence, self-flagellation and self-serving: It's touchy-feely-squealy-icky. With apologies to Dorothy Parker, constant viewer throwed up.

'Funny About Love'

Starring Gene Wilder and Christine Lahti

Directed by Leonard Nimoy

Released by Paramount

Rated PG-13

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