Thursday, February 08, 2007

Million Dollar Movie: Man of the Century (1999)

Not the old cinema showcase on WOR Channel 9 in New York City. Although that would be worth writing about. (Here’s the title sequence. Tell me that’s not the classiest intro you’ve ever seen. No wonder I fell for the movies and hard.)

No, this is the first in an occasional series on movies that make me feel like a million bucks whenever I watch them. Maybe not the greatest films ever made, but the ones that are guaranteed to chase away the blues.

We’d had an odd couple of days when I noticed that Man of the Century was on cable, so we watched it for the fourth time. Eighty minutes later, the clouds had lifted.

The movie doesn’t have a plot so much as a premise. Johnny Twennies (played by Gibson Frazier, who co-wrote the script with director Adam Abraham) lives in contemporary New York as if the 1920s never ended. His clothes, his language, and his deportment may be decades out of date, but not out of style.

This isn’t an affectation; Johnny’s a living anachronism, and the movie never offers an explanation. There are some bits that don’t make a lick of sense, and a story about a shadowy crime boss that goes nowhere.

And I don’t care. Man of the Century is in love with New York then and now. It’s got great blasts of silliness and is always ready to stop for a musical number. Frazier has a true knack for period dialogue, and some of his lines are now Chez K staples. (“If you keep riding me, you’re gonna have to pay the fare.” “Mother, when I’m in the swim, I wanna be with goldfish!”) And the ending is sheer bliss. The first time we saw it, Rosemarie actually wept tears of joy. That hadn’t happened since the ‘Be Our Guest’ number in Beauty & The Beast.

Ultimately, the movie says something profound: you can’t choose when you live, so you might as well choose how. All that and Bobby Short, too. You can’t go wrong.