Original title: Dog Years
D: Adam Rifkin / 104m
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Ariel Winter, Clark Duke, Ellar Coltrane, Al-Jaleel Knox, Nikki Blonsky, Juston Street, Kathleen Nolan, Chevy Chase
Vic Edwards (Reynolds) is an aging, and mostly forgotten, movie star who lives by himself in a sprawling home, and whose one remaining real friend is another aging, mostly forgotten actor called Sonny (Chase). When Vic receives an invitation to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Nashville Film Festival, he’s reluctant at first, but soon his curiosity gets the better of him, and he decides to attend. However, it soon becomes clear that the festival – run by two young friends, Doug (Duke) and Shane (Coltrane) – is on a shoestring, as evidenced by its being held in a bar. Annoyed at being fooled so badly, Vic decides to take advantage of having a personal driver, Doug’s sister Lil (Winter), and gets her to take her to Knoxville, where he was born and raised. Along the way, their adversarial relationship blossoms into something more friendly, as both share stories from their lives, and learn some life lessons that each other haven’t thought about…
Just in case you’re unsure of how “meta” The Last Movie Star is going to be, the opening scene dispels any doubts whatsover. Though introduced as Vic Edwards, it’s clearly Burt Reynolds being interviewed by David Frost sometime in the Seventies. So immediately we know that this movie is going to be self-reverential to quite a degree, and will be mining Reynolds’ own professional history (if not his personal life) for the details that make up the character of Vic Edwards. And following that interview is a close up of Edwards (or Reynolds; they’re interchangeable in too many ways for it to matter much of the time), his time-worn features bringing us up to date with the fate of a man once adored by millions. Edwards is a lonely man tempted by the limelight of long-past recognition. What’s a tired old actor who still wants to be relevant to do? In these early scenes, writer/director Rifkin shows us the monotony of Edwards’ daily life, the impulse to look at pretty girls his only remaining pleasure. Of course he’s going to go to Nashville, but Edwards still has his pride. He still remembers what it means to be a star. And being duped into attending a film festival both re-awakens that pride, and an unexpected need to reconnect with his childhood.
The subsequent tour of Knoxville and Edwards’ old haunts is a remarkably affecting and bittersweet occasion (bolstered by an overnight stay in a plush hotel), with Reynolds putting aside his character’s tetchy, arrogant persona and finding the man’s inner melancholy, those regrets he’s carried with him since becoming a star and living the kind of rarefied life that is being celebrated at the festival. As he revisits his past, Rifkin takes the movie into really “meta” territory and has Edwards share scenes with Reyynolds’ screen incarnations from Deliverance (1972) and Smokey and the Bandit (1977). They’re not entirely successful, both in terms of the visual effects used, and the dialogue on Reynolds’ side, which is minimal. But it’s a clever conceit, and much more subtle than the script’s approach to the matter of growing old, which is one area where it lets the side down. Rifkin is so keen to point out that growing old is a terrible thing that he hammers it home over and over, just in case we didn’t get it the first time. Along with an extraneous subplot involving Lil’s commitment-phobe boyfriend, and Edwards suffering the kinds of falls that would see most OAP’s end up in hospital, the movie rarely falters, and offers the kind of reflective musing on life that doesn’t have to be done in someone’s twilight years.
Rating: 7/10 – a moving performance from Reynolds anchors The Last Movie Star, and helps make it an enjoyable slice of life movie that is both bittersweet and poignant; with good support from Winter, and an apposite score by Austin Wintory, it’s the use of Reynolds’ screen history that has the most impact, and Rifkin is to be congratulated for not making it feel exploitative.