Kavner's strong performance shores up otherwise weak 'Life'

July 31, 1992|By Nancy Spiller


Fox Video (1992)

Rated PG-13

Considering that "This Is My Life" is about a single mom who aspires to a career in stand-up comedy, that its script is written by the often amusing sisters, Nora and Delia Ephron, and that it is directed by Nora (in her directorial debut), "This Is My Life" is a surprisingly unfunny film.

Sample joke: Dottie Ingels (Julie Kavner) tells her two daughters that her agent, Arnold Moss (Dan Aykroyd), "grows on you." Now people, are we sure this woman makes her living as a stand-up comic? Granted, Dottie is funnier than her very lame comic friends, like the fellow whose stand-up routine consists of rhyming couplets about fish. I don't think they'd let him into a comedy club even if he paid the cover charge -- for the entire audience.

Still, while you may have come for the jokes, you might want to stay for the film's real strength -- the portrayal of a woman and her two daughters struggling to cope with Mom's need for a career. Helping further shore up what sometimes feels like a second-rate sitcom is the strong performance by Julie Kavner as the stand-up mom, a touching Samantha Mathis as her troublesome teen-age daughter, Erica, and Gaby Hoffman as the younger daughter, Opal.

Dottie is a divorced mother living with her doting aunt in a cramped house in the boroughs of New York. When auntie dies and leaves the place to them, Dottie sells their security to finance her lifelong dream of becoming a comic. The girls are aghast that mother would uproot them, but quickly settle into life in New York City. It probably helps that their palatial Manhattan apartment bears no relation to their economic circumstances.

They make the rounds of clubs and agents' offices with Mom as she beats the pavement in search of her big break, which comes surprisingly quickly for someone so unfunny. And with success comes resentment, as the daughters begin to miss their mother, who spends so much time away. Watching her on television provides little consolation.

Ms. Mathis' Erica is far more interesting to watch. One of the film's most amusing scenes is when she and her dopey-looking boyfriend lose their virginity in his bedroom. Erica becomes so upset by her mother's absence that she hires a detective to find her long lost dad. When Erica and her little sister arrive on their dad's doorstep, they quickly realize he is no solution to any problem, real or imagined. When they return home, it's to a disappointingly predictable huggy reunion. Mom is apologetic and repentant, and their future looks moderately bright, if not uproariously funny.

Ms. Ephron's direction is uninspired, straightforward to the point of dull. Carrie Fisher plugs in a few unsnappy lines as an underling agent who helps launch Dottie's career, and Dan Aykroyd's agent Moss is supposed to amuse with his habit of eating paper while watching acts.

If I told you Dottie's gimmick was wearing dotted clothes, and that the dots got bigger as she became more successful, would you laugh? If so, this film may fit you to a tee hee.

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