I probably wouldn’t be too off base to assume that I’m one of the youngest, if not the youngest, person to submit a review for “Murphy’s Romance”. Not too many people under 20 years of age have heard of it, and that is a shame. It’s probably one of the ten best love stories of all time. And it’s not spectacular in its scale, not bogged down with style, and not given to flights of fancy that promote Oscar bait monologues. “Murphy’s Romance” is, on the other hand, simply… simple, realistic, loving of its characters, and full of wit that gives the film a sense of style not encased in camera work. It also has one of my favorite characters in any movie ever: Murphy Jones, played with the kind of wit, charm, and life you see expressed by very few actors by James Garner. Murphy is not just the title character, but he is the delicate string that holds the entire movie together. His expressions in every scene display the wisdom and slyness of his character, and the way he looks at the Sally Field character should be an acting template for any actor playing in a love story: He gazes at her; he doesn’t stare. He doesn’t search her eyes for answers to corny questions. There is nothing cliched about this character. He’s just real.
The plot of the film is a simple one. Movies like this are never really about their plots so much as they are about their characters. Emma Moriarty is a single mom who grew up on a farm, knows horses and hard work, and who moves out to the country to fix up a ramshackle old house and barn to start a business of boarding and training horses. Her son Jake is played by 80s child star Corey Haim, who plays his role somberly as a boy who misses his dad and is kind of clueless as to the workings of this new life. He’s just a normal kid who grew up in the city and finds it odd that his new school doesn’t have a single computer. This role could have been a thankless one if Haim didn’t play it so well. His eyes express the weight of his small world on his shoulders, and we can see that weight lifted in the presence of his dad (Brian Kerwin) and when talking to Murphy. Emma happens across Murphy Jones’ drug store when advertising her business. Murphy is all for free enterprise, so she posts her sign in his window and walks in. In this first conversation, we already know that these two are destined to fall in love by the film’s end. That’s how these movies work: 1) We introduce the main characters to each other and know from the start they are compatible. Step 2) We watch as a series of wrenchs are thrown in the works to put off this revelation between the characters themselves. In the case of “Murphy’s Romance”, we are given a simple wrench, not a series of ridiculously over the top occurrences that scatter our radar of reality. The arrival of Emma’s ex-husband Bobby Jack (Kerwin) makes for enough realistic encounters and quick dialogue exchanges for every implausible moment in today’s teen dramas.
That’s enough about the plot. As I said, love stories are not about their plots. The few smart love stories that have come out of Hollywood over the years recognize this and treat their characters with intelligence. “Murphy’s Romance” has a main cast of wonderful performers who embody their roles with an almost improvisational realism. Sally Field is terrific as Emma, who we can see from the start has tenacity and a good work ethic (“I’ve worked hard for all these callouses!”), but also has an unwillingness to separate the men from the boys, which blinds her to the possibilities of loving someone new after her failed marriage. Kerwin has one of the tougher jobs in the film: He has to maintain the image of a scumbag ex-husband while still coming across as the kind of man we could see as charming. It’s a difficult balancing act, but it’s one that he pulls off nicely. Haim, with the eyes of a soulful man trapped in a boy’s body, is very good. But James Garner, who earned a Oscar nomination (he should’ve won) for this role, owns this movie from beginning to end.
“Murphy’s Romance” is one of my favorite films for all the reasons I’ve mentioned: Great performances, wit, and most of all, love. Garner and Field play their characters with just the right pitch in every scene, and when we finally do come to the closing scenes of the movie, everything rides on them. The last scene, brilliantly photographed, is written in such a way that it would make or break the film. As it stands, it is probably one of the most loving scenes in film history, with the two leads nailing every note. It reaches out of the screen and makes us grin from ear to ear; it touches our heart in a way that few films do, and it’s a testament to the true power of film: It makes us want to fall in love for the first and last time in our lives.
Was this review helpful to you?
I cannot add much more praise than what has been said about this film, but I would advise film students, film instructors, and screenplay writers and teachers to study this film and add a proviso to their pedagogy that great filmmaking cannot BE TAUGHT if all you’re going to do is emphasize the roller coaster theory of filmmaking, i.e., obstacle, solution, obstacle, solution. That’s the way I was taught and it took em a long time to realize that’s extremely simplistic. This would make a great anti-Hollywood Hollywood film as a sample of a wonderful and different form of filmmaking where characters are two-dimensional and situations and set-ups are contribed. why don’t films today measure up the quiet brilliance of this fabulous work. The answer is plain. Inspired filmmaking, directing, acting, and genuine love for the medium and the audience cannot be taught or bought. If you can at least consider why this film is ten times better than something like “There Will Be Blood”, it will have served its purpose–not that you have to agree, but at least why some people would consider a film with complex character, low-key, brilliant dialogue, and non gee-whiz cinematography is something to applaud. Yea, this film demonstrates the famous line in Sunset Boulevard that ‘the films have gotten too small,’ but the smallness is in their substitution for flash over substance. Some navies have complained that sailors can’t pick up the sonar when they listen for undersea objects. Audiologists say it’s because our eardrums have been blasted by R&R. Maybe ours have been too in the realm of filmmaking. Like a rock music addict’s ears that have been damaged by loud music and can’t distinguish the nuances of sound, our post-millenium sensibilities have numbed us to the nature of cinematic, albiet commercial art.
This is it! A must see! Makes one think about how one should trully live their life! Shows the value of family and true love. James Garner as Murphy is outstanding! This movie is one you will want to add to your library! Excellent – Outstanding – True to life – warm happy fuzzys in heart kind of movie!