Monday, June 6, 2005

Max and Grace, AKA My Suicidal Sweetheart

MAX AND GRACE, AKA My Suicidal Sweetheart
(Michael Parness, USA, 2005, 91 mins.)

Ever since Harold and Maude became one of the more surprising hits of the 1970s, one young American filmmaker after another has hoped and prayed lightning would strike twice and that they'd be blessed with their own personal cult classic. While there have been a few sparks here and there, for the most part, it hasn't.

The concept should've scared me away from the start, but I decided to give Max and Grace a try due to the fine work much of its cast has done elsewhere, especially Natasha Lyonne in The Slums of Beverly Hills and Lorraine Bracco in Goodfellas and on The Sopranos.

Alas, Michael Parrish's feature-film debut is one in a long line of calculatedly quirky romantic comedies that feel more cynical than sincere. The premise, in brief, is that Max (David Krumholtz, who'll be in town with Parrish to support the film) and Grace (Lyonne) are two suicidal mental patients who fall in love, get married, bust out of the mental institute, and go off on a journey of self-discovery. Max and Grace has its moments--I liked the dream and/or fantasy sequences--but it fails to catch fire.

That said, I don't mean to suggest that Harold and Maude was a perfect film or the template by which all off-beat romantic comedies should be judged (that would be The Graduate). The concept, after all, is pretty preposterous.

But in the hands of the right actors, like Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort, and, most importantly, the right writer/director, like the great Hal Ashby (Shampoo and Being There, among many others), Harold and Maude managed to be as bizarre as all get-out and genuinely touching at the same time. David O. Russell and Wes Anderson have come close to capturing some of its unique alchemy in their early films, like Spanking the Monkey (1994) and Rushmore (1998), but most others have failed--spectacularly.

My advice to other young filmmakers with visions of a post-millennial Harold and Maude in their heads: There was only one Ashby and, alas, he is dead.

Postscript: My Suicidal Sweetheart, aka Max and Grace, aka Crazy for Love, is not currently available on home video, but Krumholtz can be seen every Friday night on CBS's Numb3rs, where he has become a brainy sex symbol. He will also be appearing in the sequel to Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Image: CineMaterial (My Suicidal Sweetheart poster).


  1. Kathy,
    Your comments are just vague enough to avoid sounding like an outright warning. Is this film really as dreadful as I have heard or was there a tiny bit of something you liked? Sounds like you are a Harold and Maude fan though. What about The Last Detail?

  2. I love "The Last Detail," but didn't think it was relevant to my argument (almost mentioned it; decided against it). I wouldn't recommend "Max and Grace," unless you're a huge fan of David Krumholz, Natasha Lyonne, Lorraine Bracco, David Paymer, Tim Blake Nelson, and/or Karen Black. But even then, they've all done better work elsewhere--especially Lyonne (the film does her few favors).

  3. "template by which all off-beat romantic comedies should be judged?"
    What about It Happened One Night or Sullivan's Travels?

  4. "It Happened One Night" is a great film. It's also a multiple-Oscar Award-winning classic--as opposed to a cult classic, like "Raising Arizona." By "off-beat," I mean strange, wacky, bizarre. You know, like a film where the male lead is 21 and the female is 79. The Capra film is, I believe, the template by which all mainstream romantic comedies should be judged (and I don't mean "mainstream" as a put-down).