It's a very low-budget effort with characters and action drawn in the broadest of strokes, but it touched a lot of nerves at the time of its release and enjoyed a surprisingly successful theatrical run. At a time when controversy over US involvement in the Vietnam war was at a fever pitch
that saw hard-hats and upper-class conservaties aligned politically in opposition to the anti-war hippies, director Avildsen in his second effort (after the little-seen TURN TO LOVE in 1969) takes a look at all three groups here and finds them equally deplorable. Patrick is a successful
advertising executive whose daughter, Sarandon (in her film debut), has "dropped out" and is living with hippie drug dealer McDermott. When a drug overdose lands her in the hospital, Patrick visits her low-rent apartment to collect her things and there finds McDermott. Unable to withstand
McDermott's taunts, Patrick explodes and accidentally kills him. Shaken and frightened, Patrick wanders into a working man's bar for a drink and encounters the title character, Boyle. Boyle is a blue-collar worker who is consumed with hatred for the hippies and their lack of commitment to the good
old USA, and as he rages about the long-haired freaks, Patrick is drawn to him and begins to feel less guilty about his violent deed. Finally, when Boyle says, "I'd like to kill one of them," Patrick can contain himself no longer and confides to his new friend, "I just did." Boyle doubts the
confession but later he sees a report of McDermott's murder on television and comes to believe Patrick's assertion.
A few days later, Boyle contacts Patrick and wants to get together. Patrick is at first fearful that Boyle wants to exploit the situation, but soon finds that Boyle is simply impressed with Patrick's deed. The two very different characters begin an odd and sometimes comic relationship as each man
introduces the other to his world. Patrick's wife, Caire, to whom Patrick has confessed his crime, is uncomfortable with his relationship, causing him to admit to her that Boyle somehow makes him feel good about having killed McDermott. Sarandon, who has been released from the hospital, overhears
the conversation and is shocked to learn of her father's crime. She confronts her parents, then bolts from their apartment, disappearing into the hippie subculture. Patrick enlists Boyle's aid in finding her, and their search takes them to a Greenwich Village marijuana party where they get stoned
and take part in an orgy, during which their wallets are stolen. Boyle forces one of the hippies to divulge the location of the thieves and, armed with shotguns, the two men drive to a commune in a rural area. Boyle goes berserk and starts shooting the inhabitants, and Patrick joins in the
slaughter, at the film's conclusion blasting a fleeing young woman in the back, only to find that it is his daughter.
After small roles in THE VIRGIN PRESIDENT (1968) and MEDIUM COOL (1969), Boyle, formerly a member of Chicago's Second City satirical group, stepped up as a featured player in this film, and his performance fuels the movie, something the filmmakers quickly realized when they changed the title from
the appropriate THE GAP to JOE. Joe is a dolt, a narrow-minded bigot whose greatest joys in life are guns and Budweiser ("The king of beers," he tells Patrick), but the character is so overdrawn by Boyle that he becomes more a comic than a threatening figure. The tragic climax indicates that
Avildsen was attempting to make a forceful statement about the dangers of the growing rifts among classes in American society, but Boyle's performance undermines that thrust. However, without that performance, the film would have simply been a rather heavy-handed diatribe that would have quickly
disappeared from the theatres. Boyle's character, much like Archie Bunker in TV's "All in the Family," was embraced by those he was lampooning. While Boyle perhaps inadvertently makes his character somewhat appealing, the other characters don't come off nearly as well. Patrick is at best a
hypocrite while McDermott and the other hippies are anything but idealists. From that standpoint, JOE was a relief from other films of the era that felt compelled to favor one side of the generational gap over the other. The film was one of the first to excessively use four-letter words in its
dialog, but that didn't stop screenwriter Wexler from getting an Oscar nomination. In a small role, look for Patrick O'Neal as the bartender at the Ginger Man, a boite he owns in real life.
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- Rating: R
- Review: It's a very low-budget effort with characters and action drawn in the broadest of strokes, but it touched a lot of nerves at the time of its release and enjoyed a surprisingly successful theatrical run. At a time when controversy over US involvement in the… (more)