Director: Paul Aaron   
Glenn Close, Mandy Patinkin, Ruth Gordon

There are certain things that get into your head when you are a child, but that you eventually let go of. When I was a small child, I used to believe in Santa Claus. But as the years went by and I experienced reality, all the magical things about Saint Nick got to be more and more improbable, and I eventually let go of the entire idea. I also used to believe in the Loch Ness Monster. But I eventually realized that the idea of a giant monster managing to escape close scientific investigation year after year in such a relatively small area of existence had to be impossible. But there are also a number of things that first got into my head as a child that have stuck there all of these years later. One of them is the idea of the afterlife, an idea that includes such things as a place where the dead go after they die in this world, and also the idea of ghosts and spirits. I think I have mentioned earlier one of the main reasons why I believe there is such a thing as the afterlife. If you have forgotten, the reason is that during all of my thinking over the years about the possibility of the afterlife, I haven't been able to imagine myself to not exist at all in some form or another. Being totally wiped out at the point of death? I can't imagine it. I admit that I can't fully explain why I can't think of how my existence came out of nowhere, though one possible explanation is reincarnation. I actually had the chance to meet a psychic once (for free, let me assure you), and she told me that I had a past life. She also told me upon examining me that in one of my past lives I had been killed with an axe to my back.

I didn't know what to think about that supposed revelation when I heard it. I have to admit that to this day I don't really like to think about it, and my train of thought goes on to other topics. Topics like the one I am going on to next, in order to get my supposed past-life murder out of my mind. Anyway, besides a spirit world, I also got into my head as a child the idea that everyone wants to make some sort of impact on the world, an impact that will make them kind of immortal to generations to come. I think I first learned this with a Dave Berg cartoon. It started off with a boy writing his name ("Roger Kaputnik", of course) endless times on a building. When another boy asked him why he was doing this, Roger answered him by saying, "For immortality! When I am long gone, the world will know that there was a Roger Kaputnik!" But the punchline of this cartoon (heh heh) in the last panel of the cartoon was that (chuckle) a sign on the top of the building announced that the building was being torn down for urban development! (Oh Dave Berg, your sense of humor will never get old!) Okay, it was a pretty bad cartoon, but I found out during the subsequent years that passed, that I too had some kind of desire to be immortal and be known long past my death. Twice when my father did some concrete construction on our property, I got his permission to scratch my initials and the date in part of the cement that he laid down. And when we constructed a new bathroom in the basement of our house, I slipped a note in the wall of the bathroom before it was fully sealed.

I think I can put those two topics that I wrote about in the above two paragraphs together, for several reasons. People who have become immortal with the various works that they do during their lives do haunt us, in some sort of way, to this day when they have died long ago. And people (who are now spirits) may have such an urge to exist that they may exit their new spirit world and appear in our "normal" world. There is a third reason why I can put these two topics together, and you have probably guessed it by now - that the movie I am reviewing here, Maxie, mixes these two topics. You might expect that a movie mixing those two aforementioned topics might be fairly serious in tone, and if you would ask me, that would be how I would like to see those topics in a movie. Instead, Maxie takes a light-hearted look at those topics. Still, I was prepared to give the movie a chance - I've been pleasantly surprised before by movies that decided to go in a direction that I thought wouldn't work. The setting of Maxie is modern-day San Francisco, focusing on married couple Jan (Close, Fatal Attraction) and Nick (Patinkin, Alien Nation). Peeling off the wallpaper in their apartment while renovating, they find a message written on the wall from 1927, signed by a Maxie Malone. They find out from their landlady that Maxie, an up-and-coming actress who appeared in a silent movie, used to live in their apartment and died at a young age. Intrigued, Jan and Nick get a copy of the movie and watch it in their apartment. This act apparently shakes the cosmos, since Maxie appears as a ghost not long afterwards, and then takes possession of Jan's body. Maxie is back, and she's got big plans!

I mentioned in the last paragraph that though I wanted to see a serious movie both about ghosts and the examination of wanting to make an impact on the world that would make you immortal, I was willing to give a comic look at these subjects a chance. Maybe it was partly due to these deep down feelings of mine, but I actually found that the parts of Maxie that worked were the few parts of the movie that took things seriously. The early part of the movie before Maxie's resurrection intrigued me. When the message on the wall was revealed, I was curious - just who was Maxie Malone and why did she feel like she had to leave such a giant message? The next part of the movie, when Nick and Jan dig up information about Maxie and find out more about her, was also interesting, kind of like the satisfying feeling you get when a movie detective uncovers clues. After Maxie is resurrected and occupies Jan's body whenever she seems to feel like it, there are a couple of other serious scenes I thought were handled well. There's one touching scene when Maxie spots Nick and Jan's landlady (Gordon, Where's Poppa?) - who used to be a close friend of Maxie's years earlier - and slowly reveals to her friend that she has returned, which totally stuns her still-living friend. Not long afterwards, there is a scene when Maxie has temporarily left Jan's body, and Jan finds out what Maxie has been doing with her husband. She is hurt, of course, and demands to know how Nick could have been lead astray from this other woman. Both of these scenes are real and convincing.

Unfortunately, even though the movie has those scenes, it doesn't seem to have been very inspired to do much with them subsequently, comic or otherwise. Take the character of the landlady, for example. You might think that after she finds out that Maxie is back, there would be later in the movie scenes of the two friends doing, well, something together. But if I recall correctly, the landlady only subsequently appears in only one other scene for just a few seconds (and Maxie is not present in that scene.) In fact, when it comes to the other material in the movie - the stuff that is intended to be light-hearted - the movie blows these opportunities as well. When Jan attends a party full of high society types and Maxie gets in control, all that the screenplay can think of having her do is pour a drink down a woman's dress and then sing "Bye Bye Blackbird" to the crowd. When it finally dawns on Jan's boss, a Catholic bishop, that his secretary is more or less possessed, there are rumblings from him that he's planning an exorcism. But the movie not only never gets to that stage, it in fact drops this character from the movie entirely after this point. Most disappointingly is when Maxie gets the idea to make a Hollywood comeback while in Jan's body. The idea of someone with a '20s attitude trying to break into modern-day Hollywood has a lot of potential for humor, but the movie blows it. We never see how Maxie succeeds in her audition, for one thing, and when the movie brings in celebrities Harry Hamlin and Leeza Gibbons (playing themselves), there is absolutely no attempt to do anything funny with them.

In fact, the whole Hollywood part of the movie is kind of insulting to the audience. Maxie tries to convince its audience with stuff like someone without an agent or any experience in any kind of "talkies" could land an audition for a speaking part in a commercial (and get the part), then could then land almost immediately afterwards a leading part in a big budget motion picture, and that there are no rehearsals when production of a motion picture begins. In fact, the movie's attitude to some other things is just as insulting. This attitude starts around the time that Maxie first appears as a ghost in front of Nick. Nick's attitude to seeing a ghost is unbelievably bland. The scene could have been funny or spooky, but Nick treats the episode almost like it's a minor inconvenience. It doesn't help that Patinkin's performance here and elsewhere in the movie is just as bland. He plays his character as such a wimp that I actually grew angry at this character. As for Close, she is neither compelling as Jan or Maxie, though at least I wasn't annoyed at her performance. Maxie is a failed comedy, but I am glad that I did see it for one reason. You know how in movies and TV shows, when someone presses play on a video recorder at home, that there is always no audio and a blank screen on the TV before the video starts up? Well, in Maxie, the home video recorder here is just like real life - a TV show is playing on Jan and Nick's TV just before they press play to watch the silent movie video they have brought home. I have been waiting to see that in a movie for many years.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
Check for availability on Amazon for source novel "Marion's Wall"

See also: Prison, Real Men, Slaughterhouse Rock