Movies about the elderly and teenagers are hard to get right. When they are successful, however, it feels even more rewarding. With elders, there are inevitable biases that explain why movies starring older actors (besides Michael Caine, Meryl Streep or Morgan Freeman) are less common. Essentially, viewers would rather watch young, beautiful actors in roles that don’t remind us of our impending death (or inevitable wrinkles). Jerry Lewis attempts to negate this with his performance in “Max Rose.” Sadly, any producer who sees the movie will be far from eager to finance an elderly-focused movie anytime soon.
Jerry Lewis’s (“The Nutty Professor”) career spans over half a century. From his work in the ’50s with Dean Martin to his philanthropy, Lewis has been one of the most prolific comedians. Today — although few 20-something year olds are fans — his name is still relevant.
“Max Rose”, written and directed by Daniel Noah (“A Girl Who Walks Home at Night”), stars Lewis as the titular character, a 90-year-old widower struggling through day-to-day life. Lewis ventures away from comedy to more serious territory here, and his fans will be disappointed by the result. The movie premiered at Cannes in 2013, though it only recently gained wide distribution. What happened during these three years in between is unknown; unfortunately, “Max Rose” should have never made it past Cannes.
The movie begins with a montage of sentimental flashbacks of Max’s recently deceased wife that's meant to tug at the viewer’s heartstrings, similar to the opening sequence of Pixar’s “Up.” However, unlike “Up,” “Max Rose” fails to come even close to as heartbreaking. His granddaughter Annie, lackadaisically played by Kerry Bishé (“Argo”), takes care of Max despite his stubbornness. The movie revolves around Lewis trying to construe clues of his wife’s infidelity 50 years ago. This plotline feels meaningless and does nothing to deepen the love Max Rose felt for his wife. Rather, viewers spend the entire time wondering why he even cares about this past scandal since his wife has just died.
The performances in “Max Rose” are the most painful feature. Lewis tries to express Max’s depression and mourning, but it never feels believable. The dialogue only fuels the poor acting; every sentence feels forced and unnatural, and every statement is overly dramatic, as if it were a part of a speech. His son, Christopher (Kevin Pollak, “A Few Good Men”), is especially guilty of supplying the worst lines, with small talk that feels like something overheard on an awkward first date. His deliveries are so unrealistic that it’s always clear that he is, in fact, acting in front of a camera with a film crew behind him.
“Max Rose” feels half-baked at best, almost like Noah failed to make a deadline in its production. Its plot is choppy and its acting feels like it was barely rehearsed. Even with fine tune-ups, it is unlikely that “Max Rose” would ever be a successful movie; it would take an entire overhaul.
Max Rose, the character, lacks any redeeming qualities, so much so that I hope no one I know ages like him. The movie does nothing to comment on the pains of getting old and portrays elders as stubborn and unpleasant, characteristics that should not be the only takeaways. There is no authentic development between Max’s family, and his friendships feel unrealistic. If “Max Rose” was trying to increase empathy toward elders, it failed.
“Max Rose” is nothing but a brief glitch in Lewis’s expansive career. As a comedian with a plethora of material, the movie will be quickly forgotten in his legacy. Considering that this could be one of Lewis’s last performances, viewers and fans will want to like it, but it isn’t worth pretending. Liking “Max Rose” only because Lewis is old is purposeless; fans will always be able to revisit their favorite material and enrich their lives with laughter.