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“As an actor, I finally realize I can no longer separate a scene from a play and the realities of real life.  They are one and the same.”   Al Pacino as Simon Axler, THE HUMBLING
“As an actor, I finally realize I can no longer separate a scene from a play and the realities of real life. They are one and the same.”
—Al Pacino as Simon Axler in “The Humbling.” Photo: Millennium Films

By Megan Bianco

It’s unfortunate for Barry Levinson that his latest film The Humbling, comes to audiences only three months after the huge success of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman. Not only do both films focus on fictional former relevant A-list actors, but the opening of Humbling even resembles a scene during the climax of Birdman. Levinson brought on star Al Pacino and screenwriters Buck Henry and Michal Zebede to collaborate on adapting the Philip Roth novel, but to underwhelming results.

Aging actor Simon Axler (Pacino) is convinced by his therapist (Dylan Baker) and agent (Charles Grodin) to move back into his old country home when it’s apparent he’s having trouble distinguishing reality from imagination. Not only does Simon meet a mentally unstable divorcee Sybil (Nina Arianda) at group therapy, but the daughter of his best friend (Dan Hedaya), Pegeen (Greta Gerwig), randomly pops up to begin an affair with him despite being a lesbian.

The Humbling and Birdman don’t just share the similarities of fantasy and dysfunctional female characters during an actor’s late-life crisis, but its depiction of lesbianism is more akin to Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy (1997) in its denial of bisexuality, and the older man/younger woman pairing is like a less believable, gender-swapped reminder of The Graduate (1967); also adapted by Henry. Levinson’s subversive, nonlinear direction and storytelling is fascinating and creative, but the tropes are messy with stereotypes. In the end, The Humbling just makes viewers want to watch the previous, better films.

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