I know I’m supposed to love Lunch. It’s that new documentary by Donna Kanter that films a group of elderly comics, comic writers and others involved in the comedic industry as they meet for their every other Wednesday lunch, as has been their wont for forty years now. I know I’m suppose to wonder at the stellar group that has gathered here (from Sid Caesar to Monty Hall to Arthur’s Marx and Hiller) and be in awe at their august gathering. And most important of all, I know I’m suppose to find everything they say to be hysterically funny (I know this last because not only have the reviews said so, but every character in the film tells me how funny they are as well, over and over again).
So I’m sorry, already. I didn’t love Lunch and may the shame on me fall where it may. But I think my trouble with it was that the promise of a great corn beef on rye served with a triple helping of incomparable wit just never materialized. The people talked, they bantered, they told their stories. But nothing they said was that humorous or funny. It certainly was no Algonquin Table (which in turn was no Algonquin Table itself). It was just a bunch of regular guys getting together for lunch.
The most interesting aspect of the film is the talking head interviews that interrupt the three course dinner (soup, sandwich and desert). These were often informative and give you some interesting historical feedback like Arthur Marx’s relationship with his father Groucho and how Monty Hall got to make all those deals (and, yes, it also confirmed that Gary Owens really does sound like that in everyday life). So it’s not that it never worked for me. It just fell sort of flat. So in the end, though I know Lunch is supposed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, if truth be told, it kinda felt more like chopped liver.
Madrid 1987 also starts out in an eating establishment. This new film from Spain, written and directed by David Trueba, begins with Miguel, a famous writer (played by Jose Sacristan), sitting at a table in a restaurant with all the snarky splendor of Waldo Lydecker in the movie Laura, waxing wittily to a waiter (much wittier than the wits in Lunch, that’s for sure). He is then joined by Angela (Maria Valcerde), an up and coming writer who is there to interview the older practitioner of her art and get feedback on her writing. Or so she thinks. What soon becomes clear is that Miguel has no interest in Angela as a writer, but only wants to have sex with her. And with that change in the plot, Miguel, who was intriguing and charismatic at first, suddenly becomes sad and pathetic, and his wit now falls thuddingly and embarrassingly flat.
Not only does the movie never really recover from this turn in the plot, the worst thing that could happen for the audience then happens. The two characters get locked in a bathroom with no clothes on and no hope of a way out until someone can come rescue them (don’t ask—even if I told you how it happened, I couldn’t make it believable). So there we are, stuck with these two uninteresting characters as they talk about…well, I don’t know, things, and, well, other things, and then, well, other, other things, I guess, until the movie comes to an end.
There’s nothing here to really grasp onto dramatically. There’s not that strong a conflict. The main problem here is that Angela is never a particularly believable or realistic character (she’s more a male construct). Why she goes back to an apartment with this old geezer who she can’t possibly find attractive and why she gets undressed for him and why she then, well, you get where I’m going with this, never remotely makes sense. And without Angela having some sort of goal or reason for being in the movie, there’s no place for the movie to go (especially since there’s no place for the characters to go, stuck in the loo as they are).
I’m not sure why the film is called Madrid 1987 or why it takes place in that year. The date may have some significance to a Spanish audience that might actually shed some light on the actions of the characters. But as the film stands now, it felt at times like it was taking all of 1987 just to watch it.