Jerry Lewis is many things for many different people. For some, he’s a comedy genius. For others, he was one of the outsiders within the Rat Pack. For even others, he’s the host of an annual telethon, and once used that platform to ask drug dealers for a donation. And to many, he’s the writer, director, and star of the most infamous movie to never be released. For all the different incarnations of Jerry Lewis, his status as a legend of the cinema has faded over the years in part because Lewis rarely appears in movies any more. After years away from the cameras, Lewis is once again front and center in Max Rose, a somber little drama with bits of mild humor from writer-director Daniel Noah. It may be tough to say that Max Rose is a triumphant return for Jerry Lewis, but it’s hard to deny the power that he brings to his role as a musician grieving the loss of his beloved wife.
Max Rose (Lewis) is an elderly musician who just lost his wife of 65 years, Eva (Claire Bloom). In his time of immense emotional pain, he comforted by his loving granddaughter Annie (Kerry Bishé), who sacrifices much of her time to help her grieving grandfather. Max is haunted by the revelation that his wife might’ve been unfaithful to him on a certain date in 1959, a compact given to her by another man bears the engraving of the moment in time. As much as Max tries to move on, he can’t as his mind dwells on this mysterious stranger from the past. Throughout all of this, Max still maintains an icy relationship with his son Christopher (Kevin Pollak) for reasons that only the elderly musician can explain. Health issues soon send Max to a nursing home where after some time he befriends Walter (Rance Howard) and Lee (Lee Weaver). When Annie discovers a letter from Eva’s mystery man, Lee knows the individual and gives Max all the information he needs to confront the mysterious Ben Tracey (Dean Stockwell) and find answers to the question that hangs over him and his memories of his beloved wife like a storm cloud.
Writer-director Daniel Noah does a marvelous job in keeping Max Rose moving at a brisk pace over its 80-minute running time. While the cinematography by Christopher Blauvelt is often garish and inelegant, the framing employed in many of the scenes mitigates some of the film’s lacking visual prowess. There’s a real push and pull with the film’s visual style, which makes the stellar performances from Lewis, Kerry Bishé, and Kevin Pollak all the more necessary for the film to work as well as it does.
Having debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, Max Rose must’ve sat on the shelf in search of an American distributor, because the film isn’t lacking in terms of overall quality. Through and through this is a movie that is carried on the shoulder of the aged Jerry Lewis, who carries the whole story all the way to its conclusion. Max Rose is a movie that scoffs at the notion of aging gracefully. Nobody wants to age and we all attempt to fight the encroaching years in our own way. However, by playing out on its own terms with that blend of humor and drama, Max Rose finds ample grace in its somber tale of love lost and recovered.
- Overall Score
Led by a stellar performance from Jerry Lewis, writer-director Daniel Noah’s Max Rose tells a somber tale about coping with grief through an elderly widower haunted by a single question about his late wife.