I’m too young, really, to think of him as an actor first. Sleepless in Seattle, okay, but I’ve never really watched All in the Family—and I don’t like what I’ve seen. Even his character seems from my perspective like an obnoxious parody. And while I get “oh, you wouldn’t actually want to be like this guy,” I’m not sure American audiences necessarily got the message. The lovable bigot? Yeah, that didn’t appeal, much. So although I’ve seen some of his acting—I finally saw This Is Spinal Tap not too long ago, for one—he is, to me, the director of Stand By Me. And, yes, The Princess Bride.
Is his career the product of Hollywood nepotism? Yeah, probably. His father is of course Carl Reiner, covered in this space before and still hanging on at 95. There’s probably a connection there. And people who don’t remember that he made some really good movies and only know his more recent stuff probably despair at that. I grant you that I’d happily live in a world that had neither The Bucket List nor North. And I’ve never watched The New Girl and so cannot speak to the quality of his acting on it, but I honestly don’t think he’s a great actor in anything. Passable, but there are probably a lot of guys out there who are better but whose fathers didn’t have anything to do with The Dick Van Dyke Show.
On the other hand, there is Misery, a fine movie and one of the only horror films to get Academy recognition. (I don’t feel like looking it up, but have any other Stephen King movies won Oscars?) I have problems with the premise of When Harry Met Sally . . . but love the movie despite them. I even like The American President, which costars Reiner’s childhood friend Richard Dreyfuss. His acting may be only passable, but when his directing is firing on all cylinders, he’s one of the great popular directors in Hollywood.
Yes, that caveat. “Popular.” This, I suspect, is the category that a lot of people pigeonhole Spielberg into. And if Reiner did more Ghosts of Mississippi (which I like, thank you very much) and less The Magic of Belle Isle (yes, I’d forgotten it, too), he might be able to move out of that category the way I believe Spielberg has. Honestly, the closest parallel I can see to Reiner is his former brother-in-law, the late Garry Marshall. Fine and talented as a director when he was firing on all cylinders. Decent as an actor provided he didn’t have to stretch himself. Really good at making terrible movies when he wasn’t working at it.
Apparently, he wanted to make The Princess Bride as soon as he read it. He personally handled all the major casting. It was as much a labour of love for him as it was for everyone else involved, including William Goldman. He likes Stand By Me better of his own movies, and for me, it’s a very difficult decision to make. They’re both such classics. He directed four movies in a row that are, in my opinion, legitimate classics, and that’s an impressive record no matter what else he’s done with his career.
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