Paramount // 1990 // 101 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // July 9th, 2004
Mr. Spock meets Dr. Spock.
Pity poor Gene Wilder. After establishing himself as one of the strongest comedic talents of the 1970s, Wilder found himself in a steady stream of substandard roles. The Leonard Nimoy-directed Funny About Love is pretty much rock bottom for the actor who once delighted as Willy Wonka and Dr. Frederick Frankenstein; it's a turgid, grim exercise that is neither funny nor especially about love.
Political cartoonist Duffy Bergman (Gene Wilder) and his new wife, aspiring chef Meg (Christine Lahti), decide to have a baby. The couple's attempts at conceiving are unsuccessful, and after a fruitless visit to an in vitro fertilization clinic, they mutually agree to hit "snooze" on their biological clocks. This comes as a relief of Duffy, who has been harboring a secret neurosis about paternity. But after Duffy's mother dies and he has an opportunity to spend a few moments with his sister's children, Duffy decides that he wants a baby after all. This presents a problem for Meg, who has just been made head chef at a trendy upscale eatery. Duffy's sudden desire to conceive a child no longer fits into Meg's schedule, and the strain on their relationship causes a split.
Duffy's depression over the failed relationship lasts only slightly longer than his fear of fatherhood, and he soon shacks up with headstrong, sexually carnivorous college graduate Daphne Delillo (Mary Stuart Masterson). On his birthday, she takes Duffy to a New York Knicks game, where Patrick Ewing announces that Daphne's "eating for two." Although happy to finally experience fatherhood, Duffy is conflicted because of the feelings he still harbors for his ex-wife.
It seems like the writers gathered the kindling for this one-alarm blaze from a marathon screening session of Woody Allen films. In fact, the script by Norman Steinberg and David Frankel plays like Manhattan in reverse, as Wilder's neurotic cartoonist must choose between the two loves of his life, women he is unable to see as anything but upwardly mobile wombs. Operating from the Diane Keaton playbook, Christine Lahti is notable for her predilection for oversize men's clothing, and Mary Stuart Masterson shows off her ability to speed dangerously through traffic in a compact car. The baby angle may be a slightly new twist, but Wilder's constant indecision and camera mugging is clearly a half-hearted imitation of Allen's put-upon protagonists.
But where Allen gives candid, playful glimpses into the lives of his emotionally charged characters, director Nimoy and his scribes do not. Instead of arc, Nimoy employs a zigzag approach to character development, dragging his actors from plot point to plot point in a single-minded race toward the conclusion. Little convincing evidence is offered to explain Duffy's impulsive yearning for a baby, nor to justify Meg's meteoric rise in the restaurant business. This later development is particularly troubling, since the first scene establishes that Meg is unable to make a simple cup of cappuccino. Instead of offering lighthearted vignettes about the trials of balancing career and conception, Funny About Love is only interested in showing the finale, which turns out to be so overly simple and emotionally manipulating that it completely negates any enjoyment that possibly could have been derived from the preceding 100 minutes.
Complicating the problem is Funny about Love's tendency to rocket through time without offering any context. Within twenty minutes, Duffy and Meg have met, dated, married, and decided to have a child. Within twenty-two, they're in tears at the fertilization clinic. Worse, concurrent events seem to operate on completely different timelines -- Duffy's father is depicted as "rushing" into his second marriage after his wife dies, but several years pass in Duffy's life before they officially tie the knot. The only real marker of time in this film, which encompasses at least a decade of yuppie decadence, is Meg's subtly changing hairstyle.
Wilder's performance also sours the film, specifically the way he acts with Daphne. Duffy's body language is exactly the same toward his sister's kids as it is to his young girlfriend. More than once, he carefully cradles Daphne's head and comforts her as if she scraped her knee after falling off a tricycle. This adds an unpleasant spin to Duffy's parental urges that borders on offensive. Of course, this is nothing new to Nimoy, who is well-versed in making movies that hint at sexual undercurrents in adult-child relationships. His résumé includes Holy Matrimony, a comedy about a marriage between a woman and a 12-year old boy, and The Good Mother, in which a man allows the curious young daughter of his girlfriend to touch his penis. Under the circumstances, I guess we should just be thankful there weren't any scenes of Spock inviting Earth children to sit on his lap in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
The biggest crime of Funny About Love is that it just isn't funny -- not even once. Wilder tries to play up a darker humor, making mean-spirited jokes about his mother over her casket and trying desperately to bring some laughter to a painfully repulsive moment in which the middle-aged Duffy has to "teach himself" to masturbate at the fertility clinic. Although the comedic scenes might possibly have worked in another film, the remainder of Funny About Love is so awash in sticky sentiment and cutesy-pie absurdity that every one of Wilder's jokes either falls flat or comes off as cold and insensitive. And without the humor, this film is nothing but a depressing series of heartbreaks as the characters jump heedlessly toward an unsatisfying happy ending.
The quality of this release falls somewhere just short of average. Grain and source artifacts are the main problem in an otherwise bright and colorful transfer. A Dolby 5.1 track makes little use of the extra channels except to bolster the musical score. There's very little difference from the included 2.0 mix, so if you want to tone down Miles Goodman's extremely cloying soundtrack -- and believe me, you will -- the stereo track makes a sensible choice. There are no extras included, not even a trailer. Paramount has offered up a watchable presentation for Funny About Love, but certainly nothing more than that.
Funny About Love is a poor impersonation of a Woody Allen film, a movie that spends so much time advancing its overwritten plot that it forgets it was conceived as a comedy about makin' babies. Wilder's considerable talent is once again wasted on illogical, tactless material that casts him as a masturbating, child-obsessed yuppie looking for fulfillment in any uterus that will accommodate him. Those that thought Wilder had nowhere to go but up after See No Evil, Hear No Evil will find themselves sadly mistaken.
Guilty of all charges and some that I still haven't made up yet. Funny About Love is to be loaded into a torpedo casing and jettisoned to a far away planet, where it will hopefully be reborn as something worth watching.
Review content copyright © 2004 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13