Writer/director Paul Mazursky's tale of an art-film director sweating out the release of his first big commercial project may draw chuckles from film business types, but it's likely to be an ordeal for almost anyone else.
Harry Stone (Danny Aiello) directs ambitious personal films, but after three flops in a row he condescends to take on the title project. Seen in snippets, Stone's THE PICKLE tells the tale of Molly, a farm lass (Ally Sheedy) who flies to the planet of Cleveland in a giant cucumber and winds up
meeting with the President (Little Richard) and falling in love with his right-hand man (an unbilled Griffin Dunne). Mazursky's THE PICKLE deals with Stone's angst on the eve of the first audience preview of his opus, which makes him lash out at everyone within reach. Casualties include his
ex-wife Ellen (Dyan Cannon), his current very French and very young girlfriend Francoise (Clothilde Corau), his recovering drug-addict son (Chris Penn), his longtime, long-suffering manager (Jerry Stiller) and everyone else in sight, from the head of production of his releasing studio (Barry
Miller) to his publicist and even his newborn grandchild, whom he terrorizes during one of his many tirades against Francoise. Meanwhile, visits to his mother (Shelley Winters), old haunts of his youth and an encounter with a boyhood pal, Butch (Mazursky), now a projectionist who will screen the
PICKLE preview, prompt recollections of his childhood that seem to revive his spirits.
However, as Harry waits out the preview in his Plaza Hotel room (obligatory Donald Trump cameo included), a shroud of guilt and depression descends, leading him to attempt suicide. Before an overdose of sleeping pills can take effect, he receives a phone call from Butch with the news that the
preview is going over like gangbusters. Harry rallies and staggers over to the theater to meet his friends and family and celebrate.
THE PICKLE's depiction of first-night jitters raised to epic levels has the ring of authenticity, but any film with a relentlessly unlikable character at its core must answer the inescapable question: why anyone should care about him? THE PICKLE doesn't. Nominally a comedy, it becomes
increasingly dispiriting as Stone's pathological self-pity wounds everyone around him. The supporting cast obliges him by springing back for more like punching dolls because, we are meant believe, Harry's too lovable to truly dislike. But it's a hard act to buy; the only really amazing thing about
Harry Stone is that anyone would want to be in the same room with him, much less be his friend, business associate, or lover. We are also meant to believe that Harry's non-stop boorishness is mitigated by his artistic genius, but what we see of THE PICKLE makes SUPER MARIO BROS. look riveting.
It's hard to see what Mazursky thought he was accomplishing, since the average moviegoer doesn't care whether the studios are being run by Manuel Noriega or Barney. THE PLAYER, by contrast, came alive because its vision of moral bankruptcy in the film industry echoed a larger feeling of societal
malaise rooted in the contemporary obsession with making money. Even more important, THE PLAYER was funny, while THE PICKLE never gets beyond the sour mean-spiritedness it wears like a badge of honor. (Adult situations, nudity, profanity.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: R
- Review: Writer/director Paul Mazursky's tale of an art-film director sweating out the release of his first big commercial project may draw chuckles from film business types, but it's likely to be an ordeal for almost anyone else. Harry Stone (Danny Aiello) dire… (more)