Those enamored with Woody Allen’s work—with his middle-aged heels seeking young girls, the stale approach to how artsy, hip New Yorkers once talked, disguised as modern-day badinage—can have it again in Bernard and Huey, Dan Mirvish’s retrieval of a 1986 script by cartoonist Jules Feiffer.
An unusually cast David Koechner (Anchorman, the American Office) has some acidic fun as Huey, who turns up on the doorstep of his fussy old friend Bernard (Jim Rash). It’s been so long that Bernard doesn’t recognize him. Back in college in the 1980s, Huey’s Little Black Book furnished Bernard with dates.
Huey is now pudgy, bald and old, but, shockingly, his forceful approach to picking up women still seems to work. He uses Bernard’s flat to bring home his newest dates. All of the women in his bed shout down the house, as if they were receiving the Olympian thrusts of Apollo himself.
Huey’s return flushes out Zelda (Mae Whitman), the daughter he left behind when she was 10. She wants to be a graphic novelist, so Huey steers her to Bernard, who works in the depressing sub-department of a publishing conglomerate. Problem is Zelda’s work—pencil drawings of men getting castrated—evinces a certain hostility, as well as lack of technical skill. For the sport of it, Zelda decides to get involved with Bernard.
Mirvish directs with a certain care-free quality compared to Mike Nichols’ social comedies, which got more self-serious as the years went by (see 2004’s Closer), and there’s a minor payoff at the end. Certainly, Feiffer has wit. Huey, asked if he’s on the lam, says “Define ‘lam.’”
But this is mid-century comedy masquerading as millennial, and the mask keeps slipping. Over the end titles, we see some of the 89-year-old Feiffer’s work, and it has all the familiar appeal and tang. It’s easier to forgive little ink drawings than it is to forgive actors playing rats.
‘Bernard and Huey’ plays one night only, Thursday, Sept. 6, at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Theater. 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael. 1.415.454.1222. rafaelfilm.cafilm.org.