Forgotten Films: Sour Grapes


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.

  • Wow, that is one awful poster. That being said, I’d definitely be interested in watching this. FINALLY got around to continuing Curb (Season 4) the other night…. so so good.

  • I love Seinfeld, but I’ve yet to see an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm that has made me laugh. Sour Grapes has been on my Netflix queue for a while. Should I bump it up a few slots?

  • Hmm… that’s a hard call. I think it resembles Curb Your Enthusiasm more than Seinfeld just because it’s about two guys getting progressively more self-absorbed and doing nasty things to each other. You might like some parts of it but I’m guessing you won’t be impressed overall.

  • I come up with one good idea and suddenly everybody’s stealing it. Sheesh.

  • Hey Matt, I have read a few of your “Where The Long Tail Ends” posts before (and quite enjoyed them) but I can honestly say these were not the inspiration for this column.

    I had been thinking about finding a way to write about some older movies on the site for a while now, and after recently trying out (Canada’s version of Netflix) I finally had an easy way to start seeing some back catalogue stuff that I had been meaning to watch for a long time now.

    Part of the fun of reading other movie sites is learning about films I haven’t seen, and part of the fun of running a movie site is recommending some to others. Rest assured, there are plenty of forgotten films to go around so I don’t think we’ll be encroaching on the same turf too often. Plus your column has the cooler title. ;)

  • Hmm… I did just notice however that Scott Weinberg at Cinematical is now claiming to be starting up a column called “A Flick You Missed”. You may be on to something here.

  • Yeah, and Dave at Row Three reviewed Dark Star all of two weeks after I did. So that part of your theory is out the window too. ;)

    But I will say it is a lot of fun to do as I’m sure you will soon find out. And while I don’t care at all that other people are doing it, I fully reserve the right to call all of you fucking thieves whenever I feel like it. :)

  • I was like, “Ooh, older films!” and I clicked on this and it’s from 1998!

  • Haha yes, good point… older is a very relative term. I don’t think I’ll be going back too far, but certainly I expect the 70’s and 80’s to feature prominently.

  • Great idea for a new column. Although it’s unfair to judge a book by its cover, I would’ve passed right through this movie at my local video store, horrible cover/poster!

    “I was like, “Ooh, older films!” and I clicked on this and it’s from 1998!” – Less Lee

    I was thinking a bit of the same. It’s like I get Much(music) Vibe over here and they this Vintage Video Flow which is the reason I subscribed to the thing, looking for Old School rap videos. Turns out they often classify 1999-2002 as Vintage videos while I’m looking much more into 1985-1995. You kind of see the relativity of such terms as years pass by.

    ps: tell Jay to upload Cantankerous to your server! :)

  • tomasiepants

    I always enjoyed this film. Really surprised it got such horrible reviews… plus, compared to some of the movies being released… this movie wasn’t really THAT offensive.

  • aaron

    This is actually but most favorite movie ever, I’m stunned to see all the bad reviews.

  • bamminer

    It’s alright–not good or bad. Here’re some changes I would make–1. Evan would be poor; that way, you have more of a debate with a wider range of people. If Evan gave him the money as a poor man, then the debate becomes more concrete. You’ll either believe that Richie owns Evan a lot(if he’s poor, after all) or you’ll believe that 50¢ deserves 50¢ or less than a lot. Evan having a lot of money makes the first argument less convincing. You feel less sorry for him; even though, Richie is the super creep! With that change, either you’re on Evan’s side(see yourself in his shoes) or Richie’s side(he only gave me 50¢; what if I had used it to buy a soda, then I’d owe you nothing?). They made the most of it as it is, but it might have a 5 out of 5 with that change. 2. Barry Pepper’s balls aftermath: is the more realistic approach to come after Evan with a gun or cash in for record amounts of money?! Then, he could settle if he wanted to be the bigger man or(if not) sue Evan and ruin him financially now and in future earnings, too. 3. Even if he was narcissistic enough to feel like Selma couldn’t go on without him(manipulated his family into going along with him on that on the car ride to Atlantic City) and even if Selma “parrotically” convinced him that this was the case, the homeless-mother scene was too sloppy to be practical! Not to mention, Evan’s medical licenses would be defunct–if Barry did the latter. There was some other minor problems, too, as the limo driver tossing Richie out(could he really do that from the front?).