California Suite (1978)
I must say that with a cast like the one that turned up for this Neil Simon screenplay the laughs don’t come nearly as often as I would have liked though Walter Matthau delivered the goods in a slapstick performance.
This star studded flick follows the fortunes of four separate groups of people who have come out to L.A. for reasons of varying degrees.
We have the overly dramatic quarter of the film where we find an absolutely bitchy Jane Fonda renewing her war of words with ex husband Alan Alda over the fate of their seventeen year old daughter who wants to move from Fonda’s New York to live with her Dad in L.A. Alda has settled in nicely to his new life after Jane while she is still angry at the world and challenges Alda at every turn be it concerning their daughter or his seemingly new calm and tranquil existence while she lives in a rat race. Alda plays it well and this has to be my least liked role of Jane. I just refuse to like anything about her character. So I guess as an actress she accomplished what she set out to do.
Up next is the tale of life imitating art. Maggie Smith and her hubby Michael Caine arrive in town for the Oscar ceremonies. She’s been nominated for the Actress award and has flown in from England. It’s really just a two character play that in real life saw Maggie win a real Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. It’s part comedy and part drama that gets a few laughs along the way. James Coburn turns up in a cameo as the actor she plays opposite in the film within the film.
I was hoping for some heavy laughter when Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby arrive with their wives in what turns into a vacation from hell for Pryor. His reservation has gone missing which leads to a war on the tennis courts when Cosby and his wife are living the life of luxury and Pryor and his spouse wind up in a room the size of a double closet with a flooded floor. Pryor got me smiling but the comedy seemed forced to often on this trip that turned into the Murphy’s Law of vacations.
Then we have the Walter Matthau vignette. He’s arrived and meets up with old pal Murray the Cop, Herb Edelman from The Odd Couple playing his brother this time out. Murray seems to have a sex drive that just won’t quit and after a night of heavy drinking drops Walter off at the hotel. Matthau is about to get a gift that is sure to haunt him in the morning. He finds that Edelman has hired him a prostitute for the night. This won’t sit well in the morning when he awakens late and has wife Elaine May turning up at the hotel. It turns into a fun comedy of errors as Matthau goes about hiding the passed out hooker until the inevitable clash between wife and the hired “help”.
For a fun black comedy check out Matthau and May in the film A New Leaf. She not only starred in it but wrote and directed as well.
This film like many of Simon’s scripts was adapted from a stage play. The quarters are overlapped to allow the flow for a movie version and with a top notch cast I can say I have now seen this entry on the famed actors filmographys. Still I didn’t come away feeling all that good about it and perhaps it’s because it took a while to get over the downer start focusing on the Jane Fonda character. Thankfully Mr. Matthau saw me through to the final credits.