I believe Mel Brooks once said: “There are only three gags in the world. Everything comics do relies on three jokes.”
Apparently I’m the only one who ever heard him say it because two online sites of famous Mel Brooks quotes had no reference to it.
However, I digress.
Segueing what Mel said into the plots chosen by US film makers one wonders if the entire spectrum of American movies are made up of only three ideas:
- Boy meets Girl. Loses Girl. Gets her back again
- Loner/individual takes on the government/CIA/richest man in town and wins
- Hapless Mother/Father unites with adorable Daughter/Son to form the kind of relationship they should have had since the child’s birth.
The Confirmation (2016) fits into Category 3 and has an added twist with perhaps a fourth plot idea: Shamelessly remake European films with an American background.
Walt (Clive Owen) is a reforming drinker asked to look after eight-year-old son Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) for a weekend while ex-wife Bonnie (Maria Bello) and new boyfriend Kyle (Matthew Modine) go to a couples’ seminar organised by their local church.
Anthony is poised to make his confirmation and, despite being mystified by the church and its goings on, seems happy to do it for his Mum.
The movie is book-ended by scenes of Anthony making his confession. While under Bonnie’s care he genuinely has nothing to confess; after a weekend with Walt his revelations are extraordinary.
Early in the action, Walt accepts a much-needed job where his craftsmanship and vintage woodworking tools are all he needs. However, the tools are stolen from the back of his pick-up.
The Confirmation is about a down-on-his-luck good man and his angelic, smart-as-a-whip son trying to get them back. The Bicycle Thief (1948), an Italian film by Vittorio da Sica had the same plot. In post-WWII Rome, a man accepts a job for which he needs a bicycle. When his is stolen he is devastated and, with his young son in tow, hunts the city to get it back.
“The sequence resonates for anyone who has seen “The Bicycle Thief.” Such films stand outside time. A man loves his family and wants to protect and support them. Society makes it difficult. Who cannot identify with that?” – Roger Ebert
Ebert’s quote could well be describing The Confirmation. As the film progresses you feel for Walt and the bad luck that keeps him from getting justice. He loves his family and would give anything to protect and support them. But society makes it difficult.
We are shown by writer-director Bob Nelson (Nebraska) another side of small-town American life. It’s very tough out there and often good people do bad things because they’re desperate. The man who is eventually shown to have stolen the tools is at the end of his tether and his wife tries to explain his actions by saying “We’re going back to Idaho to stay with my parents” – a fate she makes sound even more terrible than the poverty they are already in.
Along the way, Walt and Anthony meet some colourful people all trying to do their best in Battlersville, USA. The most engaging is Drake (Patton Oswalt), a chirpy nutcase who has a list of leads that lead the trio to challenge a Boeing engineer in the leafy side of town, then two brothers who look menacing but who know and understand Drake’s foibles.
Oswalt (perhaps well-known from TV series Veep, Two and a Half Men, United States of Tara and The King of Queens) is just oneof a handful of talented actors who we all know is familiar but cannot quite place from what roles make them so familiar.
For me, the strangest of these was Modine, who is a well-known name to many moviegoers but, apart from one of his early roles in Full Metal Jacket (1987) hasn’t got a great CV.
The kids – Lieberher and Spencer Drever (as Allen) – play their roles well in what is a fair-to-middling movie about redemption.