Until September of 2010, Jerry Lewis was an annual visitor to our living rooms on Labor Day weekend. As host of the Muscular Dystrophy annual telethon, his in your face style of fundraising was an annual event for millions. But he had not appeared in a feature film since 1995’s underrated Funny Bones until Max Rose debuted at Cannes in 2013. The film sat on a shelf gathering dust until it landed a distribution deal earlier this year. While it features a terrific turn by Lewis himself and one strong scene near the end, it has little else to recommend it.
Lewis is the title character, a retired jazz pianist whose wife of more than 60 years has just died. After her passing his granddaughter “Annie” (Kerry Bishe) and to a lesser extent Annie’s father “Christopher” (Kevin Pollak) try to comfort him. He allows Annie to spend time with him but makes it clear that the rift between Max and Christopher is deep enough that he does not want or need Christopher around.
As Max goes through the house he shared he with “Eva” (Claire Bloom, who is seen only in flashbacks and in Max’s musings) finds something truly disturbing. Something she’d kept secret from him and inside it is an inscription with a date and a profession of love from another man. It becomes maddening and then an obsession. He wants to know who this man is. What his relationship with his beloved wife was. If she was ever unfaithful to him. It eventually leads to a heart attack.
Max moves into an assisted living facility when he is discharged from the hospital. He is not happy with this and expresses his anger and outrage to Christopher. When he learns that his home has been sold by Christopher in order to help defray the costs of the assisted living facility, he becomes apoplectic. “Jenny Flowers” (Illeana Douglas) runs the place and she does her best to try to get Max interested in enjoying his golden years.
Eventually he makes some friends in his new home. Finally he learns the identity and location of the man who gave his wife the gift and he makes a journey to confront him. In what may be the film’s best scene, he meets “Ben Tracey” (Dean Stockwell, a regular in TV produced by Donald P. Bellisario) who is quite ill. Their confrontation is very enlightening.
With running time a sparse 83 minutes, it is easy to speculate over just what pieces of this story were left on the cutting room floor. The gaps in the story are palpable. Kerry Bishe does the best she can but her character’s dimensions are limited. Overall this film is very disappointing. The terrific turn performed by Jerry Lewis can’t quite save this from being nothing more than movie mediocrity.