REVIEW: ’18 Again!’ and ‘All of Me’
YATES: ’18 Again!’ breaks away from body-swap pack
In a bit of a reveal of next week’s review of “The Change-Up,” Anna and I pay homage to body-swap films by selecting our favorites from the sub-genre during classics week. There’s certainly a lot to choose from, so I first set out to create my own definition for a body-swap movie. The main criterion I set is that it has to involve two people actually switching bodies. Unfortunately, this disqualified some outstanding classics, most notably “Big” starring Tom Hanks and “Family Man” with Nicolas Cage. In “Big” Hanks’ character becomes an adult version of himself, and in “Family Man” Cage gets a glimpse into an alternative life he may have lived with different choices. How about “Teen Wolf?” Michael J. Fox certainly undergoes quite a metamorphosis from human to werewolf, but again, he doesn’t actually switch bodies with another person. Having pared down the selections and sifting through the remaining eligible films, I finally decided on 1988’s “18 Again!”
Millionaire philanderer Jack Watson (an always brilliant George Burns) makes a wish during his 81st birthday party that he’d like to be 18 again. During a car accident with his hapless grandson David (Charlie Schlatter), Jack gets his wish as their souls are switched. As David lies in his grandfather’s body on life support after the crash, Jack sets about instilling a bit of style into David’s college social life – wooing the girl of David’s dreams, winning over new friends, and steadily improving David’s standing on the track and field team. When the family decides to take Jack’s body off life support, Jack must find a way to switch their souls back and make things right again.
Of course, the classic staple of the body-swap is that both people are in valuable need of some life lessons — lessons that they cannot apparently get while staying put in their own body. Typically, some sort of unknown higher power steps in and switches the pair until said lessons are learned and they may be switched back. This works best if the two people being switched are opposites — young/old, male/female, etc. (more on that next week). In the instance of “18 Again!” you have the awkward, artistic teen and the self-made, mature elder. It’s a match made in ‘80s body-swap film heaven … if such a place exists (I believe it does.).
“18 Again!” is just one of many films from this sub-genre that are easily interchangeable. “Dream a Little Dream” uses the same young/old formula a year later with Corey Feldman and Jason Robards. The late ‘80s also saw father and son switch places in “Vice-Versa” and “Like Father, Like Son.” The reason I chose “18 Again!” as a top body-swap movie is because it has a bit of everything from your classic ‘80s flick. Athletics, frat house shenanigans, Pauly Shore … this film is pure 80s cheese. It also works to break away from the body-swap pack. Though two people do switch bodies, the plot focuses strictly on Burns’ wish to be 18 again being granted. Instead of the typical “how do we switch back?” routine throughout the rising action, we see the 81-year-old living it up as a teenager — all the while making improvements to his grandson’s life.
Your classic body-swap film is a guilty pleasure, pure and simple. There’s nothing groundbreaking about them, and that’s OK. As viewers, we know both people will be switched back and learn valuable life lessons in the end. It’s what happens along the way that makes them fun. Seeing 18-year-old David subtly taking on 81-year-old Jack’s tendencies — cigars and cognac, bowties and suspenders, a slight eye squint — is incredibly endearing. Watching the film’s antagonists get what is coming to them in the end is expected and delivered. It is George Burns’ second to last film, and reportedly based on his 1980 novelty hit single “I Wish I Was 18 Again” (you can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3c-WBn5cCg. The fact that every few years a new version of a very similar adventure pops up at the box office is a true testament of the staying power of the body-swap film. While the stories may be similar, each one offers a unique charm that makes them surprisingly ageless.
WIEGENSTEIN: One body can be enough for two in ‘All of Me’
Though my choice this week isn’t quite a straightforward body-swap flick (as prompted by last Friday’s release of “The Change-Up”), the 1984 release “All Of Me” does center around a mix-up regarding the physical being. Namely, that there’s not enough of Steve Martin to go around.
Although I’d take more Steve Martin in any situation, allow me to explain further. His character, Roger, is an unhappy lawyer by day and an only halfway-fulfilled jazz musician at night. He finally gets a chance to upgrade himself in his law firm by controlling the estate of Edwina Cutwater (Lily Tomlin), who has been preparing to die ever since her birth. Edwina is irritated that she never got a normal life, and has concocted the perfect solution: “transmigration,” whereby her soul will enter the body of healthy, beautiful Terry (Victoria Tennant) upon her moment of passing.
Needless to say, things don’t quite end up as planned. After an extreme falling-out between attorney and client, someone accidentally knocks Edwina’s soul out a window (it makes more sense in context, I promise), only to have it land in Roger’s body. On their quest to relocate both Terry and the guru who performs the transmigration ceremony, Roger has to teach himself not to respond out loud to the dead woman’s wry running commentary, while Edwina gets shoved into life experience roughly by running, having sex and attempting to argue a court case, among other things.
Though the premise is more than a tad flimsy and the ultimate message is simple to predict (both characters need a brush with the afterlife to really learn how to live, man), the briskly-paced ride that gets Edwina and Roger there is funny enough that the minute issues with the plot are easily passed over. The result is a duo comedy piece that provides my favorite Steve Martin performance yet (tied with 1999’s “Bowfinger”).
“All Of Me” is helmed by Carl Reiner (father of fellow director Rob), who had a knack for providing excellent Steve Martin vehicles in the ‘70s and ‘80s, including “The Jerk” and “The Man With Two Brains.” Given that Martin has moved on to a much quieter public persona in recent years, writing many of his own projects, short stories and plays, not to mention winning Grammys for his bluegrass performances, it might be hard for modern audiences to recall just what a sublimely zany screen presence he introduced himself with. This movie, then, can serve as a dive into the deep end of some of his finest madcap work — all the single-character tricks that Jim Carrey would go on to use in films like “Liar Liar” begin here, from Roger’s first attempts at controlling his own body once it has two inhabitants (the pair split control right down the middle).
However, while it’s clearly an amazing showcase for Martin’s talent as a physical comedian — it’s not an easy task for an actor to somehow embody a split personality solely by the way he walks — the combination of the film’s two stars is what truly makes “All Of Me” the latter-day classic that it is. Just as the plot dictates, Edwina’s humor is presented entirely through Lily Tomlin’s snotty, dry tone, and she manages to make an internal monologue just as entertaining as Martin’s extreme body absurdity. Before the soul mix-up happens, Edwina is asked how she can manage to have a second go-round at life. “Because I’m rich,” she breezily responds in one of the best line deliveries of the movie.
By joining together, Tomlin, Martin and Reiner create one of the finest comedies of the 1980s, and a highlight in the careers of all three. Though it lacks a second person to “swap” with, “All Of Me” shows that sometimes, one body can be more than enough to contain two high-class humorists.
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