We’ve often been told that we don’t cover enough older movies here at Film Junk, so I thought it was time we launched a new feature to try and remedy that fact. Forgotten Films will be a semi-regular column in which I attempt to explore movies that have been swept under the rug for one reason or another, flicks that many people (myself included) may have missed the first time around. They probably won’t all be hidden gems, but I’m looking forward to digging them up, dusting them off, and holding them up for you all to see.
For the first installment of Forgotten Films, I have decided to tackle Sour Grapes, the first and only movie (so far) to be written and directed by Seinfeld co-creator Larry David.
To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of this movie when it was first released, which was back in April 1998, not too long before the series finale of Seinfeld. You’d think that a movie directed by Larry David would be a big deal (especially at that time) and that everyone would have heard of it. Well, the thing is, the movie bombed hard, and was soundly trounced by critics. Roger Ebert actually listed it among his most hated films of all time! A couple of choice quotes from Ebert’s book, I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie:
“Sour Grapes is a comedy about things that aren’t funny… Larry David, who wrote and directed Sour Grapes, apparently thinks people are amused by cancer, accidental castration, racial stereotypes and bitter family feuds.”
“I can’t easily remember a film I’ve enjoyed less.”
I guess it’s pretty hard for a movie to find an audience with comments like that coming from the big man.
Keeping that in mind, I was a bit apprehensive to watch it. Being a big fan of both Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, I was worried that this would tarnish my appreciation for the comedic genius of Larry David. I was quite surprised, however, to find that Sour Grapes (while far from a perfect film) does have quite a few funny moments, some decent performances, and tons of classic Larry David-isms. It plays out more or less like an extended and slightly less sanitized episode of Seinfeld.
Evan and Richie are two cousins living in New York who head off to Atlantic City for a weekend of gambling with their girlfriends. Richie is lucky enough to win a $400,000 jackpot playing the slot machines. The trouble is, he won the jackpot using two quarters that he borrowed from Evan. I’m sure you can see where this is going. It all leads to a bitter feud between the two cousins, with Evan demanding half of the pay out while Richie adamantly refuses to give him more than 3%. The animosity continues to escalate with plenty of unbridled rants and debates over the proper social etiquette for such a thing. Evan and Richie’s girlfriends eventually break up with them because they become obsessed and refuse to budge, and things get progressively worse for both of them.
Leave it to Larry David to explore another one of those awkward, true to life situations that has no simple rules to govern it. I’m sure you can see how this premise would have made a great episode of either Seinfeld or Curb, and while the idea does get stretched a bit thin over a 90 minute feature, it’s still fast-paced and consistently entertaining.
Steven Weber (Wings) and Craig Bierko (Cinderella Man, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) do a great job carrying the energy level of the movie, with Weber resembling Jerry Seinfeld in both appearance and mannerisms (not to mention his hard-line stance on social graces), and Bierko hovering somewhere between Kramer and George (he even has a Jewish mother that resembles Estelle Harris). Some might say that their performances are a bit too derivative of the Seinfeld TV series, but I didn’t have a problem with it. Both characters seem to represent different sides of Larry David, although they are both equally stubborn and greedy.
By the end of the movie, it all becomes a little bit silly and far-fetched with some of the ways they try to plot revenge on each other (not to mention the guy who accidentally gets both of his testicles removed and ends up speaking in a high-pitched voice). I can definitely see how some would find the movie mean-spirited… but then again, black comedy is a staple of Larry David’s diet. That’s not all the movie relies on though; there are also plenty of random one-liners and non-sequiturs to be found throughout.
The bottom line is that if you like Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm, I don’t see how you wouldn’t enjoy this flick. There’s a biting tone and familiar rhythm to it all, and heck, it’s worth renting just to see David’s parody of Friends. The movie is also backed by a classical music soundtrack (not unlike Curb Your Enthusiasm) and features small appearances from Orlando Jones and Philip Baker Hall. All I can say is to give it a chance… it’s no masterpiece, but it’s an easy target for critics, but I don’t think it deserves all the hate it has received over the years. At the very least, it’s an interesting footnote in Larry David’s career, and makes me wish he would consider aiming for the big screen again one of these years.