Peter Travers
October 15, 1984 12:00 PM

Though Sidney Lumet has directed some fine film dramas (Network, The Verdict, Serpico), he is justifiably not celebrated for the lightness of his touch. Broadway confections such as The Wiz and Deathtrap sink like potato latkes when Lumet tries to float them onscreen. But of all Lumet’s latkes, this comedy—written by Larry (TV’s The Mating Season) Grusin—is surely the most unappetizing. The usually lovely Anne Bancroft, looking like Ruth Gordon at her most overwrought, feverishly overacts the role of a Jewish mother in Manhattan who learns that a brain tumor has given her only six more weeks to drive the world crazy. She has just one wish—to meet her idol Greta Garbo. Her nebbishy accountant son, played by Ron (Silkwood) Silver, is determined to find the elusive Swede and serve her up to Momma in the hospital like so much smorgasbord. It’s not easy. Silver hires a detective to stake out the star and poses as a delivery boy to get into her apartment. He even follows her to Fire Island, but there he meets only a homosexual, played by Broadway wonder Harvey (Torch Song Trilogy) Fierstein, who provides one of the film’s few touching moments when he confesses his loneliness to Silver. The rest is frenzy. Silver risks his life, his marriage (the wife is shrilly caricatured by Carrie Fisher) and his job. Evidently Lumet finds all this endearing and hilarious. In truth it is tiresome and flat. You can feel the actors straining for laughs, though Hermione Gingold’s voice on an answering machine is a genuine howl, and Didi D’Errico does something special with a small role as an Actors’ Equity receptionist. Near the end, Silver develops an appealing relationship with a struggling actress, attractively played by Catherine Hicks, and together they finally catch up with Garbo. It’s really Betty Comden in slouch hat and slacks, but even the aura of Garbo can still evoke magic. There’s a real charge when GG sweeps into Bancroft’s hospital room. But Bancroft’s final monologue (she talks, Garbo listens) is artificially extended and embarrassingly maudlin, just like the movie. Lumet simply doesn’t know how to put a cork in it. (PG-13)

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