There's really no difference between this film and, say, "Wild Hogs" when you look at them on paper. Three friends shake off complacency by doing something totally unlike them, and they get in trouble, face some danger, and learn valuable life lessons. That description would generally describe a whole ton of movies, but it's the details, the flavor, the rhythms of the films... that's what defines which take on that basic formula works best. And I'd argue that there are few finer variations on the form than this heartfelt, small-scale miracle starring three actors in their twilight years, but burning at full wattage.
George Burns came roaring to life at the box-office in the '70s, and Hollywood wasn't quite sure what to do with him when it happened. First there was "The Sunshine Boys," which made huge bank and won Burns his Oscar. Then there was "Oh God," which was another giant cultural hit. And when "Going In Style" came out in 1979, it should have been the perfect triumphant third hit in a row. But... it wasn't. It wasn't a disaster or anything, but it wasn't really a hit. It was only later when the film went into a sort of perpetual half-life cable rotation that I met other people who really appreciated it. Here's where I learned that I love Art Carney. I didn't watch "The Honeymooners" as a kid. I knew of it, of course, mainly through references in cartoons or on clips shows about television history, but it wasn't a show I actively watched. It just didn't have any appeal for me. So for me... Carney started here. This was the movie where I just totally fell for him, where I realized how much I love his particular comic sensibility. And Lee Strasberg is perfection as the mild-mannered third wheel in this group of friends, gentle and wide-eyed and always reacting even when it's not his moment. Strasberg was a famous acting teacher, and here's a case of a guy who absolutely could practice what he preached. His work is beautiful, simple, honest.
It's a sitcom premise, basically. It's very high concept. And yet, in its execution, it seemed to promise that Martin Brest was a filmmaker of wit and sensitivity.
[more after the jump]