When the legendary Robin Williams went dramatic (like in 1982’s The World According to Garp or 1989’s Dead Poets Society), the results wound up stunning. When Jerry Lewis attempts to broaden his résume and do the same, however, it mostly winds up sad and wanting.
Lewis aims for your tears in Max Rose, a film that debuted at Cannes in 2013 but never really made it wide until April of this year. He stars as the titular Rose, an aging jazz pianist who discovers shortly before his wife’s death that she may have had an affair in the late ’50s. As he grapples with feelings of loneliness and jealousy, his son (The Usual Suspects’ Kevin Pollak) and granddaughter (Kerry Bishé of the disastrous final season of sitcom Scrubs) try to lend a hand, but he ultimately winds up obsessed with his wife’s potential fling and rallies against their love constantly. It’s annoying.
Lewis, who generally only appeals to those too young to understand why his comedy is terrible or to the French, tries his very best to create something memorable, but his character winds up bisected into lines delivered far too- hammily or a confused silence that masquerades as an almost passable performance. We’re never shown enough of Max’s backstory to build up an affinity for the character, and we only see hints of his son and granddaughter’s own troubles that might have been better explained had one of them looked directly into the camera and told us, “Sometimes life is hard.”
There is, perhaps, a moral about communication or the true nature of love in there somewhere, it’s just buried under so many tropes about how getting old sucks or how families aren’t perfect that we don’t bother to go looking. Lewis probably took this role in a last-ditch attempt to be remembered as anything other than the “Hey nice LADY!” guy, but as the thin plot unfolds and Rose’s search for answers limps along, the only thing worth gleaning is that closure doesn’t actually exist.