Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Anthony Mir

Stars: Carl Baron, Leeanna Walsman, Roy Billing, Damien Garvey, Simon Westaway, Vincent Andriano.

Two films with similar themes hit local cinema screens this week. One of them was Top Five, Chris Rock’s semi-autobiographical and introspective comedy about a comedian trying to be taken seriously. The other is Manny Lewis, a surprisingly dull local production written by and starring comedian Carl Barron, a popular fixture on the stand up circuit and television, which is also an introspective look at the sad and troubled personal life of a comedian.

Making his feature film debut here Barron plays Lewis as a thinly disguised version of his real life persona, a comedian who is plagued by self doubt and insecurity off stage. He is also often approached in public by fans, which makes him uncomfortable as he is a fairly shy person.

Lonely at night, Lewis rings a sex fantasy chat line and speaks to Caroline (played by Leeanna Walsman, from tv series Wentworth Prison, etc), who seems sympathetic and caring. Caroline is the pseudonym of Maria (Walsman), who later meets Manny at a local coffee shop and strikes up a friendship. Maria seems to be the perfect soulmate for Lewis, as she is kind, funny, understanding and sympathetic.

At first Manny is unaware that Caroline and Maria are the one person, but when he discovers the truth it throws his life into a spin. At this crucial point in his life, Lewis has been approached by his agent and an entrepreneur about the possibility of a comedy tour in America. His career looks like taking off overseas, but he is uncertain about what he wants. And of course he is also consumed by troubled memories from his childhood and his abusive father (played by Roy Billing), whose approval he desperately seeks.

Manny Lewis is meant to be a romantic drama, but the pacing is sluggish and Barron’s wooden performance doesn’t help. Manny Lewis is meant to be a comedy but it is surprisingly bereft of genuine laughs, and even a scene set around his stand up routine is not particularly funny. The script draws upon lots of anecdotes and material from Barron’s own stand up routine, but much of it falls flat.

The film’s central premise is flimsy and fails to spark much interest, even though it looks at some universal themes of relationships, love, honesty, redemption, and the price of success. Barron’s sly wit and comic observations do not translate well to the big screen and much of the film’s dialogue seems clunky and clumsy. For much of the running time the film is driven by a sense of inertia and crawls along. It only really comes alive in the final act as Manny comes to realise what is important in his life, a cliched scene familiar to audiences from many other romantic comedies.

Manny Lewis is the second feature film for director and co-writer Anthony Mir (the droll 2003 comedy You Can’t Stop The Murders), but his direction here is sluggish, heavy handed and inert. And although the film uses a number of familiar Sydney locations as the backdrop, cinematographer Carl Robertson somehow manages to make the cityscapes seem rather dull and gloomy. Visually the film is quite bland as well.

Barron may be a popular performer, but his performance here lacks charisma and confidence, and his character doesn’t really elicit much in the way of empathy or interest from the audience. Walsman is easily the best thing here and she lights up the screen. She is touching in her role, and brings a real vulnerability to her performance. Billing has a sad quality as Manny’s father but is not given a lot to do. And the final reconciliation between father and son seems forced and unconvincing, and doesn’t resonate as strongly as it should.

Manny Lewis is a major disappointment and I suspect that not many people will be rushing out to see yet another local film that is destined to fail at the box office.


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