Some French tastes defy explanation. The nation that hails Jerry Lewis as a comic genius has now unaccountably awarded 3 Men and a Cradle three film prizes, including Best Film of the Year at the French academy awards. A comedy about three bachelors who find meaning in life after taking care of a baby for six months, the film is neither funny nor perceptive. As Jacques (André Dussollier), an airline pilot, is about to leave on vacation, he tells his two roommates to watch for a parcel that he is expecting. Then a mother abandons a baby girl on their doorstep and the bachelors mistake it for the package. Although poorly prepared for fatherhood, Pierre (Roland Giraud), Michel (Michel Boujenah) and Jacques—after his return —ultimately find enlightenment in changing diapers.
3 Men and a Cradle might have been more than mildly amusing if writer-director Coline Serreau had anything refreshing to say about evolving male stereotypes. When the mother returns to claim her daughter, the three men become grief-stricken. A drunken Jacques even wonders why men cannot conceive children. In fact, the film reaches a nadir when he says, “If I were God, I would make Adam out of Eve’s rib, not the other way around.”
Had Serreau herself not given birth to such banal lines, 3 Men and a Cradle could have been a more rewarding and topical look at fatherhood.
Directed by Dick Clement
In Water, a satiric comedy that is about as fascinating as a leaky faucet, mineral water is discovered on the tiny fictional Caribbean island of Cascara. Until that happens, few people are interested in the depressed colony-least of all the British, who own it. The governor, Baxter Thwaites (Michael Caine), has nothing better to do than smoke marijuana while trying to ignore the shrill sounds of his shrewish Guatemalan wife, Biancha (Brenda Vaccaro). But when the geyser of what an American businessman later calls “designer water” gushes, suddenly almost everybody seems to be attracted to the island: a Texas oil company, the
Cubans, a British diplomat and an environmentalist, Pamela (Valerie Perrine). The French have even sent mercenaries to blow up the springs, fearing stiff competition for their own export, Perrier.
On paper, Water must have looked like a hilarious political satire. But the film’s absurd elements never gel into a convincing conclusion: the climax finds a singing revolutionary (Billy Connolly) pleading for the island’s independence at the United Nations, serenading the delegates with support from such rock legends as Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, one
of the movie’s executive producers. Meanwhile, the film relies too often on silly pratfalls for its humor. And Cascara’s black inhabitants are generally depicted as people who spend their days dancing to the sounds of the island’s radio station, manned by the manic Jimmie Walker, the movie’s only enjoyable performer. Despite its few catchy reggae songs, Water is like the torturous sound of an incessant drip.
JO JO DANCER, YOUR LIFE IS CALLING
Directed by Richard Pryor
During the opening credits of Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling, Richard Pryor’s voice asks, “Jo Jo, what in the f— is wrong with you? Why can’t you enjoy your life?” The movie, a thinly disguised autobiography which Pryor produced, direct-
ed and co-wrote, never answers those questions. Beginning at the time of his controversial accident in which he set himself on fire in 1980, the film amounts to a series of flashbacks. As well as playing himself, Pryor plays a character called Alter Ego who acts as his conscience. The audience learns that he grew up in a brothel which his grandmother (Carmen McRae) ran and in which his mother (Diahnne Abbott) worked. His domineering father (Scoey Mitchlll) later threw the young Pryor out of the house. Intended as a comedy of pain, Jo Jo Dancer never fully explores the connection between Pryor’s
rage and sadness—and his need to express those feelings through his scathing wit.
Pryor has chosen to focus on a series of personal episodes rather than dramatize his entire life. As Jo Jo Dancer shifts uneasily from one time period to another, there is no sense of Pryor’s struggle as a black standup comic or the glamorous life of the superstar before his near-fatal accident. The movie suggests that Pryor did not receive his burns from free-basing cocaine, as reported, but that he deliberately set fire to himself. It is never made clear how, why or when he became addicted to drugs or how long the battle lasted. But there is one scene when the young comedian performs a pantomime of a baby inside a womb trying to be born. Its anger, shyness, desperation and genius tell more about the complex subject of Richard Pryor than the rest of Jo Jo Dancer combined.
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