December 19, 2011
I don’t think I’ve ever disliked Alan Alda in a role, his role in the 1988 film “A New Life” is no exception. But this film has the added advantage of having been written and directed by Alda, so it is shot through with his wit and his sense of timing.
In truth, “A New Life” is a piece of fluff, but the combination of Alda and his art with a cast that includes Hal Linden, Ann-Margret, and Veronica Hamel give the fluff enough substance to keep it interesting.
Alda plays Steve Giardino (who makes up these names?), a Wall Street trader whose gearshift is perpetually in overdrive. Among the things he neglects are his wife, Jackie, played by Ann-Margret. Jackie finally has enough — or, more accurately, not enough — and she and Steve split. Both are disoriented in the single state, and Steve is further confused by his stock-market colleague Mel Arons (Hal Linden), a profligate who tries to prod Steve into a similar way of life. Jackie eventually takes up with a much younger and overly attentive sculptor, Doc (John Shea), who is a waiter in real life. Steve settles in, or so it seems, with a medical doctor, Kay Hutton (Veronica Hamel). The truth in this movie is that stable relationships are not easy to come by, and both Steve and Jackie will have more work to do.
This is a delightful ensemble, as the names of the actors promise. Linden is especially entertaining as a kind of Mephistopheles figure to the confused and somewhat naive Steve. ”What are you making such a big deal about happiness for?” he asks Steve. “Look at me. I trade all day against guys who would cut my heart out of an eighth. I drink too much, I eat rich food, I make love to women half my age. You think I’m happy?”
(He grins) “That’s the advantage of being shallow.”
Fans of such Alda-esque dialogue will find it throughout this film.
Look for Alda’s daughter, Beatrice, in the limited role of Steve’s adult daughter, Judy.