Two new comedies opening this weekend illustrate the importance of how much influence a director has over comic material. Both "This Is My Life" and "My Cousin Vinny" have paper-thin scripts, but where the former is bolstered by timing and witty delivery, the latter frequently bogs down because the pacing is off.- "THIS IS MY LIFE" provided the opening night event for the Sundance Film Festival a couple of months ago, described as an in-studio independent film. Its biggest stars - Dan Aykroyd and Carrie Fisher, both very good - are in small supporting roles, while the leads are taken by a character actress, the ingratiating Julie Kavner (who also does the voice of Marge on "The Simpsons"), and the teenager who plays her oldest daughter, engaging Samantha Mathis. (Her younger sister is played by adorable Gaby Hoffmann.)
Making her directing debut, and showing a sure hand at it, is Nora Ephron, who wrote the screenplays for "When Harry Met Sally . . ." and "Heartburn," among others. (She co-wrote this script with her sister Delia Ephron.)Kavner stars as a single mother who wants to do stand-up comedy, and when she gets her chance, finds her rise to the top amazingly rapid. But the show-biz backdrop and Kavner's quick success merely provide the drive for the story, which is really about the difficulty of giving children the love and attention they need when you are in pursuit of a career - especially a career you love.
Single mothers in particular, and parents in general should easily identify with Kavner when her boyfriend (Aykroyd)tells her not to worry, that kids are happy if their mother is happy. Kavner promptly tells him he's dead wrong: Given the choice between Mom being ecstatic in Hawaii or committing suicide in the next room, they'll choose having Mom in the next room every time, Kavner says.
That kind of wisdom could only come from someone who's been there.
For the most part, "This Is My Life" is witty and warm, the actors are all enjoyable and the sentiment is on the mark (including a touching sequence that has the daughters running away to find their father, creating an uncomfortable situation for all concerned).
There is, however, an uncomfortable sex scene involving the teenage daughter that seems awfully strong for the film's PG-13 rating; it's not something I want my children to see. (Why is teenage sex a given in movies these days? Yes, statistics show teen sex is at an all-time high, but it would be nice to have a movie once in awhile that shows teenagers just saying no.)- "MY COUSIN VINNY" is a case of a paper-thin script getting paper-thin direction as well. This is a film that gets better as it goes along, but not enough better to make much of a difference.
Still, the cast makes up for some of the slack.
Joe Pesci, whose last starring comedy effort was the woeful "The Super," here plays a street-wise but inexperienced attorney from Brooklyn whose first case is a lulu - his nephew and a friend (Ralph Macchio and Mitchell Whitfield) are accused of murder in a small Southern town.
So Pesci and his gum-snapping, leather miniskirted girlfriend (played broadly, but amusingly by Marisa Tomei) come to town to face down prosecutor Lane Smith and judge Fred Gwynne.
Logic is not the strong suit here. The evidence that lands Macchio and Whitfield in jail is, to understate, weak, and the culture-clash gags are overly familiar. Worse, however, the bulk of the film's humor relies on wild misinterpretations of language and mistaken identity, a conceit that wears out its welcome all too quickly.
Director Jonathan Lynn ("Nuns on the Run") and screenwriter Dale Launer ("Ruthless People," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels") have both done better.
But the players are having fun and some of the byplay is better for their genuine comic effort. (Macchio, however, after starring in other films - most notably the "Karate Kid" trilogy - has very little to do in his bland supporting part here.)
"My Cousin Vinny" is rated R for an overabundance of profanity, as well as some PG-level violence and vulgar humor.