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Garbo's Not Enough

Garbo Talks Directed by Sidney Lumet At the Sack

By Rachel H. Inker

Meet Estelle Rolie. A labor supporting left winger, who wears legwarmers or orthopedic shoes, most of all Estelle loves Greta Garbo. Estelle's a fighter; she wouldn't let her son go an a grammar school trip to a steel mill because the workers were on strike. "Everyone came home with a little box of nails," Gilly (Ron Silver) recalls as he scolds his middle-aged mom for her political activities. He's just bailed her out of jail for another one of her anti-establishment antics. But not a moment too soon, because when Estelle hears construction workers yell obscenities at a woman in the street, she rides up to the building to off the hankering hardhats. Estelle seems unstoppable; until she finds she's dying of cancer. "I know everyone has to die, but I thought I'd be the first exception." Her last request, she informs her whimpy accountant son Gilly, is to meet Greta Garbo.

The search for the elusive almost mythical Garbo comprises the plot for Garbo Talks, a new film by director Sidney Lumet. Unfortunately it's not the fiesty Bancroft who embarks on the search, but instead her son, played by Ron Silver, whose screen presence can be likened to a lost beagle. All the time he is on the screen, which is all too often, Silver seems to get lost in Lumet's white washed urban setting. Only when Bancroft appears does Garbo Talks regain its force and almost all of it's humor.

The film provides an obligatory cast of conventional characters. Claire(Carrie Fischer) is Gilly's indulged, Beverly Hills wife. Fischer, dressed in pastel, silk dressing gowns, is tight lipped and affected. Needless to say she doesn't approve of her eccentric mother-in-law. Her lack of empathy makes Gilly turn to Jane(Catherine Hicks), an aspiring actress, who does deep breathing and tells Gilly about her sexual fantasies on the elevator at work. Claire's spoiled, Jane's daffy, and the result is facile.

On his quest for Garbo, Gilly encounters a motely crew of New Yorkers, all of whom are supposed to bring him closer to uncovering the location of the mysterious actress. Lumet introduces the characters in brief cameos, but these supposedly comic sketches are disappointingly inadequate. They simply lack punch. One exception is Gilly's meeting with a lonely gay salesman on the ferry to Fire Island, where Garbo has a home. As they wander along the beach at dusk, he describes his lonely personal life. Finally, the mute lighting is perfect, providing a discrete backdrop for this sensitive scene. The scene aptly demonstrates Lumet's talent for a more serious genre, and reinstates his heavy handed attempt at comedy.

The journey to find Garbo like an excessively long road trip. The scenes with the people Gilly meets, like the obsequious agent and the forgetful old film star, which could have been funny, resemble drawn out pit stops. Most of the time we want to tell Gilly to get back in the car.

Lumet directs Gilly's already enervated movements with a wet sock. Not only is Gilly unable to capture much interest, as he races around searching for Garbo, but Lumet provides a leaden pace, that never seems to pick up, even as Gilly comes close to meeting the great film star. In fact, it is only the movie's title that assures us that Gilly will indeed find Garbo.

However whenever Bancroft is onscreen, Lumet's dallying film becomes rejuvenated. Although Bancroft must combat a simple script, her throaty voice, and earthy no-nonsense approach to living and dying, make her character a truly endearing woman. In her small hospital room, she watches the Knicks, reads about the labor movement and encourages her nurse to fight for a contract.

Although the Garbo stand-in has a mysterious aura,(she remains faceless during the sequence), her meeting with Bancroft is anti-climatic. Bancroft, however, manages to pull it off for both of them, as her dying Estelle describes everything in her own decisively realistic terms. "I went to Paris too", she tells the movie goddess, "only you went with Aristotle Onassis and I went with the B'Nai Brith tour."

Except for Bancroft's forceful presence, the film remains as intangible as the great Garbo herself.

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