Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel in 1972's "Minnie and Moskowitz".

Minnie and Moskowitz July 31, 2015 

Minnie Moore (Gena Rowlands) doesn’t believe in the movies.  As a girl, she fantasized about finding a Prince Charming in the shape of Humphrey Bogart or Clark Gable, living in a fancy house, and having kids the neighborhood could wince in jealousy over.  But now Minnie’s in her late 30s, fully aware that the man of her dreams probably doesn’t exist.  She swears that she’s gotten used to the fact that reality isn’t so rose-colored and things can’t always turn out the way you want them to; but once you’re a romantic you’re always a romantic, and deep down, Minnie still finds herself hopeful that someday her very own Bogie will arrive on her doorstep.

 

Seymour Moskowitz (Seymour Cassel) is a free-spirited valet with no great ambition in life, contented drifting from town to town, from bar to bar, causing ruckuses and speaking his mind.  Ponytailed and handlebar-mustached, he has no problem with the judgmental world or his rotten temper, which seems to escalate from zero to sixty through the slightest provocation: bar fights are a norm in his life.  But despite the ever mounting flaws that seem to continuously tarnish his character, he’s a good man, just a lost one.

 

By chance, these two misfits meet after Minnie endures a particularly awful date; the man who took her out, a demented widower, nearly assaults her in a parking lot after she flatly rejects him.  As if he’s magnet for action-packed situations, Seymour flies to the rescue, knocking the date out and speeding away with Minnie in his beat-up pick-up truck.  For Seymour, it’s love at first sight; but for Minnie, this long-haired, hairy-lipped time bomb is a red flag, not a Gable.  Seymour, however, isn’t the kind of guy that gives up a good woman when he sees one.  So he spends the rest of “Minnie and Moskowitz” trying to win her over — and with their identical lonely hearts, it might not be so difficult after all.

 

Minnie and Moskowitz is John Cassavetes’ warmest film, a quirky romantic comedy that's frequently raucous but also endearing, hopeful, lovable.  The characters finding love aren’t of Doris Day/Rock Hudson perfection but of damaged confidence, both completely lost in this game called life.  It’s a rom-com so real it’s hard to even call it a rom-com, with the story unforced, the eventual marriage hasty enough to cause unignorable inhibitions.  Minnie and Seymour are not conventionally likable (she’s untrustworthy, he’s so hot-tempered it’s a wonder anyone talks to him), but because they’re so much better together, their union is one of rare affection that suggests they really do love each other, though not in the way Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard taught us.  Cassavetes dedicated Minnie and Moskowitz to the people who married for love, not comfort, and it’s a worthy sanctification.

 

His other films are extraordinarily realistic, mostly telling stories of middle-aged people facing a cruel case of mid-life crisis blues.  Here, it’s the opposite: the middle-aged people face a cruel case of mid-life crisis blues before they find romance; and after they find their special someone, they are renewed.  They become whole again after years of trying to find themselves.  With its mostly improvised dialogue and no-holds-barred performances, Minnie and Moskowitz should be uncomfortable.  But being the voyeur to a trial of love is an easy job, and Cassavetes lets his optimism shine through.  Rowlands and Cassel are terrific.  B+