Review: The Humbling
You might not know exactly what is real and what is fake, and more importantly, what is serious and what is not in The Humbling. In his most impressive performance in recent years, Al Pacino gives a remarkable turns as aging actor Simon Axler, struggling to hold on to relevancy and import.
Well, okay, it may not sound like the biggest turn, but what a show indeed he puts on. He is both the main character and the figurativenarrator in the metaphoric play (there is a real play that his actor considers starring in), finding himself recently out of psychiatric care and dealing with the weirdos (or so he perceives) that can’t stop creeping into his life.
One such captivator is Pegeen (Greta Gerwig), the daughter of a friend who is now all grown up and still doting on the aged Simon. She questions her sexuality (more accurately, he does), and while she lives a life without care or regard, Simon can’t do anything but search for meaning. The two have a curious relationship unfold, but this thankfully doesn’t fall into some pseudo-romantic or sexualized tale about and older male and younger woman.
Gerwig is charming as always, and while her character is at the other end of the age spectrum, it’s the fact that she and Simon are so differently mentally that makes their relationship compelling, and heartbreaking.
The Humbling is a fitting title; it might also be The Rambling or The Wandering; it seems Simon is always talking to himself or living in his head, though he does have a therapist standing by for Skype conversations. While the story may seem similar to the acclaimed The Birdman, in which a stage star is trying to reclaim fame and purpose, and reality blends with fantasy, The Humbling is quieter, more eerie and awkward in other ways.
Simon’s world at this point in his life is a comedy of errors, from getting solicited from a mental patient to help kill her husband, to inviting Pegeen’s ex-girlfriend-turned-transgender man for dinner, or contemplating doing hair-care commercials.
Time seems not to exist in this intimate, darkly comic freeform film from Barry Levinson, and based on the book from Philip Roth. While sometimes that is a bad thing, as the film may meander and lack meaning at times, at its best it finds an energetic and committed Pacino commanding poignant scenes about art, worth, and the absurdity of life.