Seems Like Old Times June 30, 2017
And yet I kept thinking of movies like 1936’s My Man Godfrey and 1938’s Bringing Up Baby while viewing it, despite the movie hardly resembling either in tone or in texture. But then I had an epiphany: it is not the structuring of Seems Like Old Times that makes it like comedies of decades past — it is the affinity between its three leads, Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn, and Charles Grodin. Here, they’re reminiscent of classic screen threesomes like Rosalind Russell, Cary Grant, and Ralph Bellamy in His Girl Friday (1940), or Katharine Hepburn, Grant, and James Stewart in The Philadelphia Story (1940). They’re so in their element in Seems Like Old Times we can only react with sheer delight in watching them perform.
It helps that the movie gives them exceptional material to work with. Neil Simon, the playwright behind Barefoot in the Park (1963) and The Odd Couple (1965), injects the screenplay with sight gags, frenetic mishaps, and zingers without missing a beat. It’s as if the laughs were placed on an assembly line for us to mull over with the same energy as Lucy and Ethel attacking chocolate bon bons. The film’s leads, at the top of their game, deliver them all with the same ferocity as, yes, Russell, Grant, and Bellamy.
The film is concerned with Nick Gardenia (a dependably sardonic Chase), a hapless Los Angeles writer whose futile existence is thrown off course when he’s kidnapped by a pair of thugs (Judd Omen and Marc Alaimo) who force him to rob a bank in Carmel. It’s nothing new for the criminals: their secret to success, it seems, is putting guns in the faces of innocents and making them do the dirty work (and take the blame) while they reap the benefits.
It’s all done rather nonchalantly — Gardenia passes a note to a teller, all the while making jokes about the situation — but is nonetheless problematic as an effect of Gardenia accidentally mugging for the security cameras. Moments after the robbery is he dumped by the men who made him their makeshift minion. But law enforcement officials, unaware of the dastardly scheme behind the entire ordeal, paint Gardenia as a criminal, thus turning him into a wanted man.
Having to go into hiding, he can think of no other option besides reaching out to his ex-wife, Glenda Parks (Goldie Hawn), for help. Parks is a public defender with a reputation for believing in her clients — her chauffeur, her housekeepers, and other service people who work for her, for example, are former defendants.
Gardenia sneaks onto her Los Angeles property just as Parks and her new husband, District Attorney Ira Parks (Charles Grodin), are having a ritzy get-together involving the most important people in town. In the quiet of the night is Gardenia able to convince his former spouse to help him get out of the nightmare situation. She even lets him stay in their guest house. But she doesn’t fill her current husband in whatsoever, and such is bound to cause major problems.
And maybe those problems wouldn’t be so major if the Parks didn’t also have five or six rowdy dogs, if their workers weren’t bigmouths with an attachment to trouble, and if the governor and his wife didn’t come to the Parks’ household for dinner at the film’s finale to contend with. But being that it is, indeed, a throwback of sorts to 1930s Hollywood, the more trouble, the better.
In the hands of Simon, director Jay Sandrich (who, unsurprisingly, worked more often in television, specifically in the sitcom genre), and the cast, the trouble brewing enforces some truly spectacular comedic exercises. Incepted by less intelligent filmmakers and screen personalities, Seems Like Old Times could come crashing down. But instead, the movie is so uniformly terrific we wonder why Airplane! is so often considered the premier comedy of 1980; Seems Like Old Times is pretty damn good itself. A-
1 Hr., 40 Mins.
s much as I’d like to think that the wickedly funny Seems Like Old Times (1980) is more or less a modern-day screwball comedy, I have to consider that nothing about it is necessarily screwball except for the frenzied comedic antics which fly about in its 100-minute run-time. Its characters aren’t silk-adorning high society types (though I’d be lying if I said they weren't affluent), the performances aren’t broad (targeted's more accurate), and the dialogue is not infused with the bubbly pop of a chilled glass of champagne.