Friday, October 17, 2014
But, after finishing The Humbling, a decided small book, more like a long story or a novella, I am not sure how to react. I enjoyed the first part (the novel is divided into three parts), the despondency and depression of a once great actor and the talks about suicide ring very true. Then we come to the second chapter, called Transformations, where we are provided a kinky inter-generational love affair between the old actor and a 40-year-old lesbian, peppered with their myriad sexual proclivities, including, but not limited to, the appearance of a giant, green strap-on dildo.
I was flabbergasted.
The news is that the book is now being made into a movie, starring Al Pacino. I was concerned. How are they going to show the green dildo on screen? If they don’t what they are going to show, there is nothing else, except few half-baked ideas.
I was not sure if my reaction was right, so I decided to consult other critics. Here they are:
The Humbling/Book Reviews/
Writes William Skidelsky in The Guardian:/ Still, no amount of past achievement should blind one to a writer's present failings and it has to be said that Roth's new novel is, by his standards, dismayingly poor. Roth has always had a tendency to veer off into realms of extravagant silliness; the most egregious example of this was his 1972 novella The Breast, which reworked Kafka's Metamorphosis so that the hero wakes up not as an insect but as a giant mammary gland.
The Humbling belongs in the same dubious company. Brief to a fault at 140 generously spaced pages, it can hardly be called a novel at all; it is more an old man's sexual fantasy dressed up in the garb of literature. There are, of course, redeeming features: an interesting initial conceit, the usual beautifully controlled writing. And the novel asks interesting questions about ageing and what it does to you. But these things aren't nearly enough to make up for the absurdity at its core.
Writes KATHRYN HARRISON in The New York Times:/ As it unfolds, “The Humbling,” Roth’s 30th book, is not only the familiar pairing of an older man obsessed with his deterioration and a younger woman whose sexuality promises rejuvenation — “Exit Ghost,” “The Dying Animal” — but also a Pygmalion story. “The Transformation,” as the second part of this short novel is titled, presents Axler with a woman to groom — to help her become “a woman he would want.” Pegeen Mike Stapleford, “a girl-boy,” “a child-adult” and the daughter of old acting friends, is 25 years younger than Axler. A lesbian with a trail of wounded lovers raging in her wake, she has more than enough sexual energy to make up for Axler’s eviscerated state.
Having materialized out of nowhere, Pegeen walks in, bandages Axler’s hand after he trips and cuts it and gives him a glass of water, a simple kindness that prompts him to reflect how bereft of such gestures his life has been of late. “How long have you been out here without anyone else?” Pegeen asks. “Long enough to be lonelier than I ever thought I could be,” Axler says. Too despondent to shop or eat, Axler just happens to have all the ingredients necessary for Pegeen to whip up a dinner of spaghetti carbonara. A little Schubert on the stereo, a shared bottle of wine and presto, Pegeen allows him to feel “the strength in her well-muscled arms.” Then she unzips her jeans and has sex with “a man for the first time since college.” Wow. This must happen to a lot of depressed people.
Never mind about electroconvulsive therapy. Pegeen is enough of a shock that Axler immediately forgets his languishing, possibly dead acting career and the excruciating spinal condition that makes it necessary for Pegeen to always be, um, on top, and devotes himself to buying clothes and accessories for his now formerly androgynous lover. Goodbye “sport bras” and “flannel pajamas.” Hello “satin babydolls,” Prada shoes and cashmere sweater sets. Goodbye barbershop bob and hello expensive Manhattan hairstyle, a “look that gave her precisely the right cared-for devil-may-care air of slight dishevelment.” “It was an orgy of spoiling and spending that suited both of them just fine.”
The Humbling/ Movie Reviews
Writes The Hollywood Reporter:/ The Humbling started life as Philip Roth’s 30th novel and one of his most poorly received works, dismissed by the critics as little more than the sexual fantasies of an elderly man. Certainly not the most auspicious beginning for a film adaptation, and these unfortunate origins probably have a lot to do with the wildly uneven tone and quality of Barry Levinson’s tragi-comedy about the last roar of a once-great stage actor. Al Pacino, who reunites with the director after their 2010 TV movie You Don’t Know Jack, has warmly saluted the Bard in his own documentary Looking for Richard and runs riot here in the role of the self-absorbed Shakespearean performer. And his love story with a young lesbian woman who gives up women (“a 16-year-long mistake”) to bed him is nothing short of preposterous.
And yet, all this notwithstanding and after an extremely buggy first half, Buck Henry and Michal Zebede’s screenplay finally kicks in and an entertaining film emerges from the rubble. Once Pacino is surrounded by other characters, the comedy comes thick and fast and the material begins to come together in an absurd sort of way. Though the film will not have the easiest time finding an audience, basically favorable critical response in Venice should help spread the word.
Writes Vaariety:/ An actor prepares to face the final curtain of his career in “The Humbling,” director Barry Levinson’s free-form adaptation of Philip Roth’s penultimate novel, about a star of stage and screen beginning to lose the tricks of his trade (and possibly his grasp on reality). In one of those curious quirks of timing, Levinson’s film arrives hot on the heels of another polymorphous movie about an actor in crisis, Alejandro G. Inarritu’s “Birdman,” in whose deservedly large shadow it may be doomed to dwell. But where Inarritu’s exuberant style piece calls to mind the likes of Fosse and Fellini, “The Humbling” feels closer to the intimate theater/film hybrid works of Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn (“My Dinner With Andre,” “Vanya on 42nd Street”) in its lo-fi aesthetics and gently playful sense of art imitating life imitating art. Fronted by a vibrant, deeply committed Al Pacino performance and very fine support from Greta Gerwig, this uneven but captivating film deserves to find its own audience, though doing so will surely prove to be an uphill climb.