In Austin filmmaker David Gordon Green’s “Manglehorn,” which screened at the Paramount March 14 as part of SXSW Film, the titular character, played by Al Pacino, has a small life.
He owns a locksmith and keymaking business (played by Austin’s own Sharp’s Locksmith), he dotes on his granddaughter, who lives in a big house across town with his estranged son.
Manglehorn, on the other hand lives alone, hanging out with his cat. When he’s not making keys or jimmying car doors open for grateful parents, he sits in his backyard and composes letters to a mysterious Clara, the long lost love of his life, all of which have been returned to sender, unopened.
The man is just not very good at people. When he finally asks Dawn (Holly Hunter), the bank teller he makes sure to visit every Friday, out on a date to Luby’s, all he can do is talk about Clara. When his well-to-do son (Chris Messina) comes to him for sympathy at a stress point in his life, Manglehorn can’t quite deliver the necessary emotional support.
Written by Austin writer Paul Logan, “Manglehorn” gives Pacino a chance to act against type and Green a chance to direct against type. Green’s fondness for junkshop/DIY surrealism (see also “George Washington,” certain things about last year’s “Joe”) is still present.
At one point, Manglehorn walks by physically impossible multi-car pile-up, shattered watermelons everywhere. No narrative reason for it, but boy does it look cool.
but there’s also plenty of unnatural light, especially in the “massage parlor” owned by a lowlife Manglehorn used to coach in Little League. The sketchy dude is played by director Harmony Korine, the strange light serving as a nice tribute to Korine’s “Spring Breakers.”
Ultimately, as Green pointed out in the post-film Q and A, this is movie about different kinds of love and Manglehorn sure has trouble navigating those different kinds.
As he says to his son, who may be in legal trouble, “When you choose this life, there is no one else. There is only you.” He might as well be talking about both of them.