Manglehorn the locksmith (Pacino) is approaching the end of his life. His wife has been dead for awhile. His son, Jacob (Chris Messina), has moved away to the big city and never talks to his father. Manglehorn’s biggest connection is to his white fluffy cat and to Clara, the long lost love of his life to whom he constantly writes letters and reads them as a voice-over to the audience. The biggest success of his life is Gary (Harmony Korine), whom he coached on a baseball team ages ago. Gary has decided to stay in town, and try to fashion a life in the small sleepy Texas town by opening a massage parlor.
Manglehorn has one last chance at life, in the form a younger woman named…wait for it…Dawn (Holly Hunter, who is 18 years younger than Pacino), a happy go lucky bank teller. They go out on a date, Manglehorn’s first in ages, which is notably uncomfortable as first steps back into humanity generally are. Manglehorn’s self-centered behavior in the date, in which he can’t stop talking about Clara, feel like a young’un attempting to date after getting over his first real breakup. Herein lies the problem.
Manglehorn, written for Al Pacino, is about a crotchety old man at the end of his life, experiencing regret about his life choices, personality and attitude without making apologies for any of it. The problem with Manglehorn is that it was written by a person at the beginning of their life. Screenwriter Paul Logan, whose IMDB credits him for making a single short and being the driver on Prince Avalanche, is at the start of his life writing a screenplay for a man approaching the end of his career. Because Paul Logan hasn’t experienced life, Manglehorn is filled with the type of trite poetry you find in a college sophomore Creative Writing class after one guy broke up with his first girlfriend and is imagining himself as the crotchety single old man who will never ever get over that one girlfriend who got away.
David Gordon Green is no help, adding visual and aural complexity in an attempt to ease over ham-fisted symbolism: Manglehorn’s cat getting sick because she ate a stray key; the mailbox by which he mails letters to Clara has a giant beehive on it; his chance at love and humanity is named DAWN. Green will layer images on top of images, sound on top of sound, and throw in poetic car accidents involving watermelon trucks. Unfortunately, no matter how much Green attempts to add interest, he can’t gloss over Logan’s empty lack of maturity.
Manglehorn has absolutely nothing to say. At all. Which is a shame because Pacino, Hunter, and Korine turn in great performances that are buried under piles of cinematic bullshittery. These are good performances in service to a movie that doesn’t deserve them. Maybe I’ve been a bit harsh on Paul Logan. Maybe it’s not entirely his fault, and David Gordon Green went completely off book. Maybe all the blame should be put at the feet of Green, whose visual trickery is just as empty as the screenplay. In either case, the movie is insufferable.