Joe Gould's Secret [2000]

Genre: Drama
Based on a pair of delicious character portraits by The New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell, "Professor Sea Gull" and "Joe Gould's Secret," Stanley Tucci's film is an often lovely study in opposites that never quite realizes the delicate complexity of Mitchell's rich essays. Tucci plays Mitchell, a transplanted southerner in New York with a honey-smooth lilt and a careful detachment from the world. When he sketches a profile of disheveled bohemian Joe Gould (Ian Holm at his scruffy, scrappy best) for The New Yorker, he inadvertently becomes a part of the volatile little man's life, and the chaos shakes up his carefully ordered world. As in his first film, Big Night, Tucci shows a sensitivity to performance and an easy naturalness in his direction, and his evocation of 1940s New York is understated but beautiful. Holm creates a vivid firecracker of a frustrated artist, an explosive personality whose character quirks add an almost aggressive edge to him. Gould is never cute, but Holm creates a sad sympathy for his frustration. But the real story is Mitchell's troubled relationship with the man and his own guilt and responsibility when he "escapes" Gould. There's a quiet melancholy when we discover Joe Gould's secret, but in a way it's only the prologue to Joe Mitchell's secret. Tucci's careful, precise direction is heartfelt and well meaning, but never cracks Mitchell's social mask to reveal the man underneath. --Sean Axmaker

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