The iconoclastic oeuvre of Percy Adlon provides another unusual human comedy in “Younger and Younger.” Superficially a family drama of an errant, philandering father, the yarn spins out from its simple premise into fantasy, music, black comedy and innumerable offbeat digressions. It’s a mad, wild souffle served up by actors at the top of their form.
While the film isn’t quite a bull’s-eye, it is chockablock with unusual and intriguing elements. It’s too quirky and disparate for the mainstream, with a carefully considered campaign needed to ensure strong specialized results.
While it has echoes of his earlier “Bagdad Cafe,” the new offering’s novelty offers a much more daunting challenge for audiences.
Adlon’s latest American microcosm is set in an atypical if venerable storage facility. Here, the forgotten and marginal mingle with the rich and famous. The human crossroads clearly has its feet straddling a fence that barely separates real and whimsical worlds.
Jonathan Younger (Donald Sutherland) is the titular overseer of the activity. Comporting himself in the manner of some exiled European royal, he greets both regulars and new accounts as if they were entering into some grand estate.
He’s expert at providing the illusion that the pent, dark cubicles of his concrete block are the key attractions of an amusement park.
He is all artifice. The substance and work falls upon his dowdy, badly neglected wife Penelope (Lolita Davidovich). She is witness to his transgressions, yet abides it all because she truly holds the reins that allow for his indolent, carefree and selfish behavior.
Jonathan seems only to care about their son Winston (Brendan Fraser), who is studying economics in England. He dreams of his graduation and subsequent return to carry on the family business.
The title is appropriately multi-faceted. It refers to the rechristened business and, when Penelope succumbs to a heart attack, is literally what she becomes as Jonathan sinks into dementia and is haunted by her eerie presence.
Not one for conventional narrative, Adlon, who co-wrote the script with his son Felix, dots the story with numerous subplots and colorful characters. Sally Kellerman and Julie Delpy pop up as a mother and daughter who are the subject of media scrutiny when Kellerman’s husband dies under curious circumstances.
There is also considerable attention given a massive pipe organ located in the bowels of the establishment, rabbits and other flights of fancy.
Though free-flowing in the manner he swings from drama into, for instance, a musical production, Adlon eschews the culty and kitschy.His unique method of tackling everyday life has ironically been the greatest strength and most problematic aspect to his commercial appeal. He is a very particular taste that goes against the grain of contemporary filmmaking.
Yet he consistently elicits fine performances and creates a special feel and look for his screen stories. “Younger and Younger” is no exception.