The Humbling is one of many films making its way around the film circuit this year about aging actors, their careers, and whatnot. The plot, of course, sounds recycled and the film can easily be compared to Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), and not unfairly, since the two do share commonalities, but it’s still a fresh take on what could have been a boring movie. Perhaps this is because Al Pacino breathes so much life into this film that it’s hard to not be sucked into its world.

Simon Axler (Al Pacino) has had a long and well-rounded career as both a stage actor and a movie actor. But at the age of 67, he’s pretty much washed out. Everything around him is just receding and deteriorating: his health, his acting ability, and his life. The more intriguing, and unsettling factor about his whole ordeal is that he has come to the point where he can no longer distinguish between scenes and reality.

After collapsing off the stage and straight onto the orchestra during a performance, Simon enters a rehabilitation facility for 30 days, in an attempt to, well, rehabilitate himself. His moments of zoning out, of forgetfulness (which include his inability to recall things about the last few weeks), aren’t cured by his stay, but he is introduced to a rather peculiar woman named Sybil (Nina Arianda) who begins stalking him for a very strange reason. Pegeen (Greta Gerwig), the daughter of an old friend and fellow actor (Dianne Wiest), suddenly reenters his life and her childhood dreams and his life’s regrets attempt to merge and come to life.

There really isn’t one way to describe the experience of watching The Humbling other than this: it’s like being stuck in your own hallucination where you, very much like the character, don’t know what’s real and what’s not. The film starts off very strong and immediately takes you into this imaginary world. Pacino is looking at himself in the mirror, preparing himself before taking the stage by going over his lines, and the entire conversation is a mumbled, jumbled mess that makes sense sometimes and then doesn’t.

One of the main reasons to watch this film is simply for Al Pacino. The man has had a rocky career over the last 20 years, but he really gives it his all in this film. You can tell that he’s very committed to his role immediately during the opening moments of the film. He interjects confusion, passion for his craft, and a general feeling of being lost and channels it through his character when the moment calls for it. Pacino really proves here that he’s still got it and still able to be that into a role, which is fantastic and refreshing.

The film itself is one that needs to be watched again to be able to process every nuance, every moment, and every scenes, in order to be able to thoroughly critique it, but on first viewing it holds up very well due to its ability to not take itself too seriously. The comedic moments are wonderful, Pacino flailing between the real world and his world and Greta Gerwig able to meet him at every turn. It’s all really quite entertaining when these moments happen because they keep everyone on their toes.

The movie’s not without its flaws, however. The film often feels so much like a hallucination that it becomes hard to keep track of everything that’s actually happening. Is that person actually there? Why do Gerwig’s ex-lovers show up so often? Did the whole thing just happen in Pacino’s head? Etc. Sometimes it just becomes too much to take in. There are characters whom are unnecessary to the overall plot of the film, and moments that sometimes slow down the generally good pacing.

Regardless of any of these things, the script maintains a premise we’re no stranger to but executes it well enough. The lead characters both have their issues and they play on their own fantasies and regrets throughout the film, paralleling each other in different ways. Pacino is fantastic Gerwig wonderful, the supporting characters eccentric, yet sometimes concerning as people, and the movie not afraid of being funny at all, which makes for an intriguing film that should probably be watched more than once to absorb everything.

Director: Barry Levinson | Screenwriter: Buck Henry | Cast: Al Pacino, Greta Gerwig, Dylan Baker, Nina Arianda, Kyra Sedgwick, Dan Hedaya, Dianne Wiest | Genre: Dramedy | MPAA Rating: R for sexual material, language, and brief violence
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About Author

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic, entertainment journalist and Weekend Editor at Heroic Hollywood. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves discussing movies and TV. She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on her superhero TV-watching, usually with a glass of wine in hand.

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