Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reeling Backward: "All of Me"

I believe in serendipity, at least when it comes to movies. In a recent podcast, Joe Shearer and I were talking about body-switcheroo movies, and I cited "All of Me" as one of the best ones. I hadn't seen it in probably 10 to 15 years, and sure enough it appeared on television in time to be recorded and reviewed here.

Made in 1984, "All of Me" arrived a year after "The Man with Two Brains," which also starred Steve Martin and was directed by Carl (father of Rob) Reiner. Four years before that, Reiner directed Martin in "The Jerk." That's three great comedies in five years. (During that span, they also teamed up for "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid," but we'll leave that alone.)

"All of Me" is above all a triumph of physical comedy, something that's become less prominent in recent years, unless you consider the towel-dropping in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" hilarious. Martin, who has a cerebral bent but appreciates the joys of slapstick, is terrific as he portrays a man with the soul of a spoiled rich woman (Lily Tomlin) trapped inside him, as the two fight for control of his body. The scene where she first invades him, after the bowl that was the conduit for her soul falls from a skyscraper and bops him on the noggin, would make Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin proud. Martin drags the left half of himself (which he controls) across the sidewalk, while the right side (Tomlin's) pulls him the other.

Then there are the gender jokes, as Martin rages over Tomlin's tendency to act in a very feminine manner, walking with an exaggerated lilt and waving a limp wrist while appearing in court (Martin plays a lawyer). At one point Martin falls asleep, and Tomlin, in full control of their shared body, puts on an excruciatingly funny caricature of macho behavior, in all its ball-grabbing glory. And of course, the scene where they must first negotiate a trip to the bathroom as a team effort is a classic bit. "Shall I tap?" Tomlin asks when business is concluded. Martin demurely assents, and then Tomlin stage whispers "tap, tap" as she executes the deed.

One of the wonderful devices in the movie is that whenever Martin looks in the mirror, he sees Tomlin's reflection. The metaphysical logistics of "All of Me" are, of course, utter hooey -- Tomlin's character wanted to transport her soul from her dying body into that of the stableman's daughter, who is just out for inheriting her fortune. But it works because we get to see these two wonderful comedic actors interacting, rather than just hearing Tomlin's voice projected out of Martin's body.

3.5 stars out of four

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