Lost in Yonkers (1993)


(director/writer: Martha Coolidge; screenwriter: Neil Simon/based on the play by Neil Simon; cinematographer: Johnny E. Jensen; editor: Steven Cohen; music: Elmer Bernstein; cast: Richard Dreyfuss (Uncle Louie), Mercedes Ruehl (Aunt Bella), Irene Worth (Grandma Kurnitz), Brad Stoll (Jay), Mike Damus (Arty), David Strathairn (Johnny), Robert Guy Miranda (Hollywood Harry), Jack Laufer (Eddie), Susan Merson (Gert); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Ray Stark/Emanuel Azenberg; Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; 1993)
The pic seems too calculating and doesn’t have the same stunning effect as the play.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A faithful comedy/drama to Neil Simon’s 1991 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, that is also scripted by him. Director Martha Coolidge(“Material Girls”/”Angie”/”Rambling Rose”) keeps things shuffling, in this nostalgia-laden period film, between melodrama and comedy, and tries to make it less stagey but only gets so far in accomplishing that goal. A good ensemble cast keeps things watchable, even if it never gets exciting. Irene Worth and Mercedes Ruehl reprise their pleasing award-winning stage roles, while Richard Dreyfuss takes over the role Kevin Spacey played on the stage. All is well and good, but the pic seems too calculating and doesn’t have the same stunning effect as the play.

It’s set in Yonkers, a nearby suburb of New York City, in the summer of 1942, when the war was on. Eddie Kurnitz’s (Jack Laufer) wife just died of cancer and he’s in debt because of mounting medical expenses paid off by loansharks. So he takes a traveling salesman’s job in the south selling scrap iron to the military to try and salvage his situation. This forces him to send his bright, well-behaved teenager sons, the 15-year-old Jay (Brad Stoll) and the 13-year-old Arty (Mike Damus), to live in Yonkers with their stern, rigid, steel-like German Jewish granny, Grandma Kurnitz (Irene Worth), who lacks warmth because of her bitter experiences back in the Old Country. Granny runs a candy store and lives with her flighty simple-minded daughter Bella (Mercedes Ruehl), who works in the store.Dramatic moments arise when granny’s good-for-nothing petty criminal son Louie (Richard Dreyfuss) arrives as a guest for a few days, as he needs a place to hideout from the slick Yonkers gangster Hollywood Harry (Robert Guy Miranda) who wants to kill him for stealing a bag full of his money. While Uncle Louie visits he teaches the genteel boys how to live with moxie. The other major subplot has the likable but child-like 36-year-old daughter, Bella, the boy’s ‘lost in Yonkers’ aunt, have a cautious romance with the retarded 40-year-old local movie house usher, Johnny (David Strathairn). But she is crushed when the timid sad soul is not fit enough to return her love and move away from his parents. The question lingers if Bella will ever be able to extricate herself from her dysfunctional home and live an independent life.Though it has some charming moments, it never peels away its blandness.It seems easier to admire for how skillfully it’s put together than to just enjoy it.