Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here to file one last report at the wrong end of the day before I shut down the Labs and get some much needed rest. I couldn't head to bed without writing this review, though, on the off chance that some of you might be headed out to the theater, not sure what to check out. If you're in one of the lucky limited markets where it's in release, I would strongly urge you to choose Stanley Tucci's delicate, lovely new film JOE GOULD'S SECRET. It's a winner from start to finish, and an important new picture from a man who is turning into a filmmaker of real weight and depth.
That man, of course, is Stanley Tucci, who co-directed the marvellous BIG NIGHT and who directed the sly, absurdist little ditty THE IMPOSTERS. He's got a remarkable touch. There's something about his simple, direct aesthetic that I find enormously affecting by the end of each picture. Even with THE IMPOSTERS, which is as silly a film as I've ever seen, there's something about that image of the entire cast doing a conga line through the set, then off the set, across the stage, and out of view. There's real gentle power there, the kind that sneaks up on the viewer. It's easy to let JOE GOULD sneak up on you because it's a film that takes its time and isn't afraid to appear aimless. It's not, but it sure does seem that way at first.
Right up front, we meet Joseph Mitchell (Tucci), a reporter for THE NEW YORKER. He's the kind of writer that never quite lets go of a story, even when everyone else insists he's finished. That becomes a liability when he meets Joe Gould (Ian Holm) one morning in a diner. Gould is a strange, dirty, little man who barks at the people working in the diner, who tries to empty an entire bottle of ketchup into a bowl of soup he orders. The owner of the diner scolds Joe, tells him that he's not allowed in the diner during the day, during business hours. Once Gould is gone, Mitchell asks who he is. This is the beginning of a series of inquiries for Mitchell as he becomes more and more engrossed in this incredible character he's discovered.
You see, Joe Gould isn't just some bum. Oh, no... far from it. He's Professor Seagull. He's well known in the art world. He's a poetry expert. He's the main administrator of the Joe Gould Fund. And more than any of that, he's the author of "The Oral History of Our Time," a towering collection of voices and anecdotes and observations that is "twice the length of the Bible," according to Gould. He leaves notebooks all over the city with friends for safekeeping. He is given money by these friends, and he holds no job, answers to no one. They are all simply helping keep him solvent as he does his important work, his life's work.
Mitchell becomes fascinated by Gould, and the film's primary interest is that strange friendship at the heart of it. The two men are completely different, but there's something that binds them well beyond the point when Mitchell finally publishes his article "Professor Seagull" in THE NEW YORKER, making Gould an instant celebrity, even if he is just a minor one. It's enough; Gould is given money by a mysterious benefactor. He is asked to join organizations that were throwing him out before. He is fascinating to women in bars.
To say much more about this film's plot would be criminal, but don't go in expecting some SIXTH SENSE/USUAL SUSPECTS style twist ending. This is a film that's about keeping secrets long after you know them. It's about the relationship between artist and subject. It's about learning how to focus your particular gifts. It's about that incredible face of Ian Holm's. It's about the simple choices of Tucci the director and the elegant choices of Tucci the actor. This is a film that features great character work by the whole cast. Susan Sarandon, Steve Martin, Hope Davis, Patricia Clarkson, Allan Corduner... these are just a few of the great faces that cross through the life of Joe Gould. Make sure you do as well. Until then...