Confidently imbued with a trademark small-town lyricism, Manglehorn is David Gordon Green’s latest, intermittently peculiar and arguably most self-important work to date. As the titular aging locksmith, A.J. Manglehorn (Al Pacino) epitomizes the contemporary curmudgeon. Angry at the world and unable to shake the memory of love lost, Manglehorn’s self-imposed isolation remains a serviceable impediment for him to overcome. Tentatively sparking a relationship with a local bank teller amid a failed attempt at reconciling with his estranged son, our man remains awash in a sea of misery as he struggles to leave the past behind.
Like a bulk of Green’s favorable body of dramatic works, Manglehorn is ostensibly about (a) flawed individual(s) and their tonally varied journey toward an inevitable crux and/or corresponding epiphany. Slight as they may be, Green’s preceding efforts have carried with them a low-key singularity that’s meant to emphasize authentic humanism over the cloyingly melodramatic. All the Real Girls – my personal favorite – and last year’s Joe come to mind, both of which employ characters and predicaments in a way that’s emblematic of the romanticized way Green illustrates these locales. Although unbalanced in terms of narrative and sustained heft, these films effortlessly engage on the basis of relatability and a subdued but affecting melancholy.
In steadfastly continuing the return to form sparked by 2013’s Prince Avalanche, Manglehorn is admirably indicative of the director at its helm but fails to maintain an overall evenness that would position it atop the best of its kind. Barring the contextual familiarity of Manglehorn’s heartache, the narrative’s peppered with an air of uncertainty comparable to Manglehorn’s muddled sense of self as it trudges along. “Lovin’ you is the only thing I ever done right,” the lovelorn grump croaks prior to an exchange with a female friend, of which fittingly suggests just how slight and one-note the film’s narrative arc is and remains throughout repeated (failed) attempts at procuring our involvement through mystery.
For as deservedly lauded Pacino’s nuanced performance is, the central character remains more compelling than the emotional turmoil that haunts him. The relationships established throughout are key in ushering Manglehorn toward a potential epiphany, yet they fail to overpower the trifling narrative impetus warranting it. Further shaken by a stab at magical realism in the form of stories told by relevant supporting characters, Manglehorn fails to transcend any particular character-driven benchmark in the realm of the similarly subdued.