I remember inviting my parents over for dinner, and to watch the screener I had for the Sam Elliot movie The Hero. He is one of my mom’s favorite actors (for reasons you can probably guess). I was looking forward to the story of an aging actor dealing with life later in his career. It started off strong, but ended up not going anywhere very satisfying for us.
I started this year off seeing Annette Bening play an aging actress in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, and it was great. Right before that, at the San Diego International Film Festival, they had a screening of a movie called Dog Years (the name has since been changed to The Last Movie Star). It stars Burt Reynolds playing Vic Edwards, in a very biographical story about an aging actor. Writer/director Adam Rifkin was going to do a Q&A afterwards, and that gave me a dilemma. The movie looked good, but I had to go see Blade Runner 2049 to write a review on it the following day. I told my wife we’d watch the first hour of the Reynolds’ movie and the go over to the theatre showing Blade Runner. We had time to kill, so why not watch an hour of it. Well, we were so enthralled we decided to skip Blade Runner. When you skip your job to watch a movie, that’s a sign you’ve got something special on your hands.
Critic and Film Festival host Jeffrey Lyons did a terrific Q&A with Rifken. I asked if they tried to get Reynolds’ to take off the hair piece (they tried), and what his favorite Reynolds’ movies were (answers and stories I’ll have when I conduct my own interview with Rifken). Since the movie is finally being released in select theatres, I decided to write a review, hoping to at least steer people to see something they might miss otherwise.
Vic Edwards is an aging movie star that has a huge VE on the fence of his mansion, which reminded me of Elvis Presley’s Graceland gate. Although it’s safe to say, he doesn’t have that type of career. He’s not getting work, and his life seems relegated to hanging out with his one friend (Chevy Chase), popping meds, complaining about life, and eyeballing women. He seems fond of his dog, which makes it heartbreaking when he’s going to have to put it down (subtle metaphor?)
When he gets invited to the Nashville Film Festival for a lifetime achievement award, he’s reluctant to go. His friend encourages him to, telling him it’s an honor. And having seen the recipients at the San Diego International Film Festival that have received those honors (Annette Bening, Alan Arkin, Patrick Stewart, etc.), it’s a thrill for all involved. What Edwards doesn’t realize is, this isn’t one of the regular film festivals. This is just a couple of fanboys (one played by the always entertaining Clarke Duke) that have created the festival, and run it in a dive bar. It’s more like a film group than an actual festival. That means it’s not a limo or Lincoln town car that’s picking Edwards up at the airport, but one of the guy’s wild child sister (Ariel Winter of Modern Family).
Another example of sharp writing, it’s not like Edwards shows up and nobody is there. It reminded me of Steve Buscemi in Ghost World, being a hardcore fan of a blues artist he goes to see, but the guy is playing in a loud bowling alley where other people are there for the beer, not the entertainment. The guys at the “festival” are thrilled to be in the company of greatness, and even the award they give him is cheesy and cheap, but also kind of cool (it’s a gold plated film reel, with small lights put inside it).
One of the many terrific things about this movie is how characters, even the smaller ones, are written. Sure, Duke is a bit of a doofus, but he’s not a complete idiot. He’s somebody that loves movies, and is thrilled to meet his idol. It’s also nice that, although Edwards might be considered a joke, a has-been by many…the truth is, out in public people still want a selfie, an autograph, or to tell them about a movie they loved. Sometimes that means Edwards is about to have a heart attack while standing there talking about his career with a stranger, which is both flattering and annoying. It’s something that really makes you realize how fans can pester famous folks. Oh, and the direction that scene goes is one of the most joyous things I’ve seen on screen in years. As a critic that is used to all the usual tropes movies throw at you (and yes, this movie does have a few cliches and cheesy jokes), this was such a well written and executed scene as you’ll see.
This movie would’ve been interesting if it were just Edwards reflecting on the mistakes he made in his career. It’s an added plus that the situation with Lil starts to warm up a bit. It’s interesting watching an older, wiser person trying to talk some sense into her, whether it’s about her boyfriend, or just general advice on life. When she sees him visit his old home, and an old love, it moves her the way it moves us. They take a detour to Knoxville, which is hours away from the festival to do this. These are relationships that often get ruined on screen for me, because they’re usually done poorly. Rifkin has a fresh take on it, and his direction works nicely. She certainly could use a father figure, especially when she shows talent as an artist and is in danger of torpedoing her career. [movie fun fact: her artwork was done by the legendary Clive Barker]
When we look at the lines on Edwards’ face, it just tears you up. It reminded me of looking at Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. He appears tired, and we see him walking with the limp as he’s returning to the stadium where he once dreamed of being a football star, not an actor. How could you not be moved?
We know about Burt Reynolds’ high profile relationships and fast living, but we still like him. It’s not like the high profile couples now that we despise. A lot of the current couples, it has to do with being over saturated by seeing them everywhere (magazine covers, TMZ, Entertainment Tonight, etc.). Or the fact that they inevitably tweet something moronic. In the ‘70s, we’d see Burt waltz out on The Tonight Show or Merv Griffin (anybody remember that show?), and he’d charm the hosts, and the crowd. Heck, it’s one of the reasons all those cheesy car movies he did, despite how bad they were, brought a certain amount of fun.
The Last Movie Star is coming out on Blu-ray, DirecTV and in select theatres March 22nd. I suggest you see it. I can almost guarantee it’ll be the last time you see him in a film, and it’s worth it.
My favorite Burt Reynolds’ movies are Deliverance, The Longest Yard, Sharky’s Machine, Starting Over (in which he was robbed of an Oscar nomination while the rest of the cast got ‘em), Boogie Nights (in which he was robbed of an Oscar), and now I can add to the list…The Last Movie Star.
4 stars out of 5.