Monday, August 30, 2010

The Odd Couple

In all its incarnations on stage and screen, the definitive Odd Couple is inarguably Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau (other combinations have included the likes of Martin Short and Eugene Levy, and Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane). Matthau, part of the original Broadway production, reprised his role as Oscar Madison, and Lemmon replaced Art Carney. It was a dream pairing - Lemmon’s natural fussiness as an actor was a hilarious contrast to Matthau’s brusqueness. Their chemistry has the crackle of a Bogart-Bacall exchange: no wonder we never see their wives in the movie.

Screenwriter Neil Simon adapted his own play for this 1968 movie. Felix is a worrywart, an obsessive neat-freak, who’s recently been divorced; Oscar, also a divorcee and concerned about his friend’s well-being, invites him to stay at his place. But the two are oil and water, and we watch as they start to get on each other nerves. Rounding out the cast are their poker buddies and two very giggly women.

Even though Gene Saks is the man in charge, it’s obvious who the real director is –Simon’s script. With the exception of Lemmon clearing his nose in the diner, every laugh is derived from it - the wit on display is never visual. The on-screen movement remains constricted, as if the camera and the actors had been given a fixed space and told not to move beyond it. One wishes that someone like Billy Wilder, who was originally offered the chance to direct, had had a go at it. As it stands, it feels stillborn, like watching a very funny play on film. The Odd Couple is great theatre, but not necessarily great cinema.

A version of this review appeared in Time Out Delhi.

No comments: