Gossip - Internet Movie Database Joe Gould's Secret - Nitrate Online Review
Contents | Features | Reviews | Books | Archives | Store
Joe Gould's Secret - Nitrate Online Store
Movie Credits Buy It!

Joe Gould's Secret

Review by Elias Savada
Posted 21 April 2000

Directed by Stanley Tucci.

Starring Ian Holm, Stanley Tucci, 
Hope Davis, Patricia Clarkson, 
Steve Martin, Susan Sarandon, 
Allan Corduner.

Written by Howard A. Rodman
from magazine articles by Joseph Mitchell.

For his third time round the directorial merry-go-round, Stanley Tucci has once more grabbed a brass ring, spinning a self-immersed, character-driven tale of a flinty mad hatter and the man who would be his storyteller. Based on two Joseph Mitchell New Yorker articles, “Professor Sea Gull” and “Joe Gould’s Secret,” the seminal writer himself now becomes one of the central ingredients in this glorious biographical homage to one of Manhattan’s more unusual street characters, the other, titular Joe that was a pavement-ranting intellectual and welcomed -- albeit disheveled -- party crasher celebrated during the 1940s and 1950s. Tucci, who fills the author’s shoes onscreen while co-producing and directing Howard A. Rodman’s subtly crafted script, continues to create endearing cinematic gems that, regretfully, have yet to find a wide audience. (Shame on you! At least go out and rent the videos!)

Graduating from fine Italian food and romantic frolics (Big Night) to sea-bound slapstick farce (The Impostors) to this new period homage, Tucci continues to focus on a loose-knit group of strong individuals and theatrical-based innocence. His first film, co-directed with Campbell Scott, focused on New Jersey shore restauranteurs playing out their own version of Waiting for Godot, while The Impostors was Tucci’s most obvious stage-driven effort, skipping from an evocative New York background to the break-away sets and painted-ocean cycloramas when the Marx Brothers action and mad cap cast move overboard. Even with the Big Apple as his canvas, Joe Gould’s Secret feels like a confined drama; a handout at a preview points out the various hangouts on lower East Side map, in much the way a playbill would note scenes in a Broadway (on- or, as this film is more akin, off-) production. As a historical setpiece, Tucci keeps much of his focus close-up, allowing for production designer Andrew Jackness to exquisitely set the tone through small details. Director of Photography Maryse Alberti has wonderfully captured the intimate Formica times and faces riding about the subways and passing in the streets, while makeup and costumes summon forth visions of Technicolor Christmases past.

The soft-spoken Mitchell is a workaholic writer whose North Carolina drawl often gets tongue tied in the simplest conversation. He and his doting wife Therese, an accomplished photographer of city life, both share quality time with their two adorable girls (back in the simpler times when most families ate meals together). Hope Davis doesn’t register as much screen time as she deserves, but as a peripheral character she’s still a plus in any film. Susan Sarandon and Steve Martin lend their names to the cast, but their roles, as artist Alice Neel and publisher Charlie Duell, are effective, but fleeting.

Tucci, as co-star, plays a nebbishy Dr. Frankenstein who discovers that his pen has wrought a two-edged sword. In search of inner satisfaction he fathoms up the initial profile of penniless Joseph Ferdinand Gould, and his subject becomes eternally grateful in monstrously thorny proportions, staking out the New Yorker office in wait for his “biographer” and fan mail filled with dollar bills, or calling him at home late at night, rousing the family from sleep. Mitchell all but throws up his arms in disgust, “Woe is me!” In the end, the writer becomes a haunted soul suffering in the wake of his lost muse. His second piece on Gould would appear a few years after the Bohemian’s death at a Long Island mental hospital; it was the last article he wrote for the magazine, although he stalked their hallways for thirty more years. Perhaps it would have been an interesting sidebar to delve into Joe Mitchell’s secret (rather than learning this information as an end credit postscript), but then the story’s about someone else

Yes, the ultimate star, hands down (and dirty) is Sir Ian Holm as the borderline lunatic that many Greenwich Village regulars accepted as an intellectual sidewalk sparkplug whose home and theater were the neighborhood streets. It’s a bravado performance, one of the strongest of the year, that fits him like a well-worn work glove: “I was born in a lunatic asylum, my father was a psychiatrist and I have had a breakdown myself. I’m not attracted to it, I’m actually scared about madness or how close to the edge most of us are at any given time.” Gould is one of those New York originals -- infuriating, curmudgeonly, gracious, intelligent -- that his circle of art patrons and acquaintances appear to handle well in small doses. As a shared, broken-down commodity he’s a harmless entity, espousing a massive, mysterious “oral history,” a collection of apparently hundreds of handwritten composition ledgers containing well over a million words secreted around town in friend’s apartments, or, perhaps, at a duck and chicken farm out in the suburbs. Holm adds an edgy dimension that makes the character leap off the screen. He smothers the role with obnoxious glee, just as Gould smothers a meal or a bowl of soup in ketchup. The actor embraces the role with a repugnant fascination -- a rascally Rasputin whose imagination is his only menace. At one party he opens his fly and pulls out a rolled-up copy of The New York Times, the better to keep his crotch warm on cold winter nights. Later he quiets the crowd with a ditty about Jesus and flies.

Tucci has crafted an absorbing character study and Holm has filled it like a grand, oversized, flea-ridden sofa. Life’s not perfect or fair in Joe Gould’s world, but you can’t help but be fascinated.

Contents | Features | Reviews | Books | Archives | Store
Copyright © 2000 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.



www.nitrateonline.com  Copyright © 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.