A.J. Manglehorn has a name only a screenwriter could love. He gets away with it, though, since Al Pacino plays him. In April, Pacino turned 75. That's right, 75. The sight of those gloriously hangdog eyes and an audience's memory of all that movie history the man carries make it easy to forgive a lot of transgressions — including those committed by screenwriters.
Manglehorn is a locksmith in a small Texas town, not that you'd know the location from Pacino's accent, which wanders back and forth between Waco and the Upper West Side. Manglehorn's profession serves an obvious symbolic purpose — a man with so many keys lacks the one to his own heart -- but it pays visual benefits. It's a treat to eyeball the purposeful clutter of his shop and van.
Speaking of keys to a man's heart, Manglehorn is alienated from his high-powered businessman son, Chris Messina (good), and attracted to a teller, Holly Hunter (even better), at the bank where he deposits his earnings every Friday.
Well, Manglehorn's also attracted to the free coffee and doughnuts. Nutrition doesn't much matter to him. Asked by his granddaughter to name his favorite ice cream flavor, he says, "Chicken." The movie's several such flickerings of oddball humor are welcome, though they don't do much for consistency of tone. Whether those hangdog eyes are on the verge of winking or tearing up is a tough call.
His granddaughter is one of three things Manglehorn loves. Another is his cat, a white Persian named Fanny. This is definitely a lonely-man-talking-to-his-cat movie. He also briefly sings "Paper Moon" to her before she undergoes surgery. It's filmed — in close-up — easily the most bizarre thing in this pretty bizarre movie. Manglehorn's third love is a woman who broke his heart. He still writes letters to her. Lots of letters. Hearing Pacino read them aloud is penance, perhaps, for the pleasure of seeing the bedraggled majesty of his grizzled face.
Harmony Korine plays a local massage-parlor owner who as a boy played on a Little League team Manglehorn coached. You can't make this stuff up, can you? Actually, Paul Logan, the screenwriter, did (David Gordon Green directed). Anyway, Korine, best-known as the writer-director of such transgressive epics as "Gummo" and "Spring Breakers," is so over the top he's just right. For once in a late-period Pacino movie, it's someone else who does the scenery chewing.
"It's never easy with you," Messina tells Pacino. The words might have been better directed at Logan. His script is a stew of quirk and preciosity ("Manglehorn" has not one but two scenes featuring a mime) mixed with slices of Texas color and Actors Studio juiciness.
There's a courting scene in the bank, involving another teller, whose payoff is flat-out wonderful. And Pacino goes to a pancake breakfast where he sits with a table of locals who are about as actorly as a pickup truck with mud flaps (that's a compliment). Conversely, Hunter has a scene with Pacino in a cafeteria where she expresses a degree of emotional pain, just through how she looks at him and holds her head, that's at once awful to see and magnificent. It's hard to figure out what Pacino saw in the script. What Hunter saw was this scene and getting to act with Pacino.
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.