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I.Q.
(1994)

Director: Fred Schepisi  
Cast:
Tim Robbins, Meg Ryan, Walter Matthau


I think all of us have admiration for certain famous people. Many people today and in the past have done various great things that make the people who are not famous in society admire these famous people. But as you may know, the public image of many famous people today or in the past often hides aspects of a personal life that, if revealed, might tarnish the famous person in the eyes of the public. Over the years, I have read a lot about various famous people who had a side or sides to them that might tarnish their reputations if the secret facts about them were better known by the public. One such secret I have found is a regular occurrence among the famous, though it's more like a category since there are various variations among the theme. I am talking about SEX. For example, there was Martin Luther King Jr., one of the big figures among the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is celebrated today, but I can't help but wonder how the public would view him today if the fact that he had several extramarital affairs during his lifetime were better known. I also wonder what would have happened had this fact been released during his lifetime. Then there is Ludwig van Beethoven, composer of classical music pieces that are popular even today. What you may not know about him is that some historians today claim he only had sex with prostitutes during his entire lifetime. In fact, one of them may have given him a disease that ultimately killed him. A third person with a sexual secret is Issac Newton, the scientist who came up with scientific achievements such as the three laws of motion as well as the theory of universal gravitation. His sexual secret that many historians agree he had was that he never had sex even one time in his life.

Although these revelations might give one pause for a few seconds upon hearing them, we of course should remember that while these people were famous, they were also human. This can be proven by just picking of one of any tabloids that you find at the supermarket cashier - it seems every week there is a story concerning someone famous involved in some kind of foolish activity. Such observations have made me conclude that every person, no matter how noble he or she appears at first glance in this society of ours, has several kinds of secrets in their personal life that they hope are never revealed out in public. One such person that had secrets of his own was Albert Einstein. Actually, while Einstein in his lifetime made some great accomplishments like the theory of relativity and the construction of the atomic bomb, he on occasion showed the public he was human. There was the famous picture of him sticking out his tongue, for one thing. He also didn't hide among his associates that one of his favorite television shows was the children's puppet show Time For Beany. But there were secrets about Einstein that he managed to keep until his death. As you may expect, many of these secrets were related to the subject of SEX. While Einstein may have been a scientific genius, he had one failed marriage in his lifetime. The second woman he married (who was related to him both on his father's and mother's side, by the way) didn't seem to be a much happier marriage, since letters from him unearthed after his death went into detail about many affairs he had with different women at the time of this marriage.

I'm not sure what you now think of Albert Einstein now that I have revealed those facts to you. As for me, I will go back to what I said earlier: Famous people are human like you and me. If you were to take a deep look at any person, famous or not, most likely you will find some things about I.Q.them that may shake up your feelings about them. Knowing how imperfect I am (except when it comes to writing movie reviews), I can accept some flaws. I can also accept a movie that takes a famous person and shakes them up in a way you might not expect. That happens to be what the movie I am reviewing here, I.Q., does with Albert Einstein. It drops this real-life scientific genius into a movie that can be safely labelled a romantic comedy. That by itself might sound strange, but I think the following plot description may make the movie sound even stranger. Let me illustrate the plot for you now. Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption) plays a fellow by the name of Ed Walters, a likable chap who makes a living as an auto mechanic in 1950s New England. One day, a beautiful woman by the name of Catherine Boyd (Meg Ryan, Sleepless In Seattle) comes to Ed's garage. Ed is immediately attracted to her, but Catherine refuses to acknowledge Ed this way. Part of the reason is that Catherine is a genius, a candidate at Princeton University for a doctoral position, and feels that she should only brush shoulders with other geniuses. This is emphasized by the fact that her English fiancé James (Stephen Fry, A Fish Called Wanda), who is accompanying her, is a top psychology professor. After Catherine and James leave, Ed finds she accidentally left her watch behind, and travels to her home to return it. Though when Ed gets there, he bumps face to face with Catherine's uncle - Albert Einstein (Matthau, The Bad News Bears). It doesn't take long for Einstein to see that Ed is a really great guy despite not being a genius, and also sees that he would be a better catch for his niece instead of the snotty James. So with the help of his friends, which include the real-life geniuses Boris Podolsky (Gene Saks) and Kurt Gödel (Lou Jacobi, The Diary Of Anne Frank), Einstein starts to train Ed to come across as a kind of intellectual that would attract Catherine, though at the same time Einstein privately tries to convince Catherine that brains aren't everything.

Doing some research on I.Q., I uncovered the fact that it did sluggish business in North American theaters when it was released, and not doing much better when released to the rest of the world. After subsequently watching the movie for myself, I started to wonder why the movie didn't perform better than it did. It could have been badly marketed, though I don't recall how the TV commercials at the time presented the movie. But after some additional thought, I came up with a possible theory that might explain in part (or whole) why moviegoers didn't line up to see it. Even in 1994, people were living in a cynical age, and this movie's decidingly uncynical tone and viewpoint may have seemed hokey and unrealistic to most people hardened by the harshness of life. I.Q. is a movie that has a real sweet and gentle tone. Although the movie received a PG rating ("For mild language" according to the MPAA), even its supposed use of mature language didn't shake the feeling that the movie really deserved a G rating. The world in this movie is one full of hope and confidence that things in the end will always work out for the best. Most of this wonderful and reassuring tone is generated by director Fred Schepisi (who also did Roxanne, another underrated romantic comedy.) Exactly what Schepisi does I'll get to shortly, but I first want to mention that he is also in part aided in the creation of this absolutely inviting world by his long time cinematographer Ian Baker, who lenses this world to come across as clean, neat, and absolutely bright and warm. Also, legendary movie composer Jerry Goldsmith injects the right kind of musical score, a score that's gentle yet full of heart. Wisely, Goldsmith seemed to know that his music is not needed most of the time, because much of what happens onscreen is already filled with so much heart and emotion that we in the audience don't need to be told how we should be feeling by possibly distracting music.

Though I am always up for a good old R rated movie full of blood and violence, I have to admit I was completely charmed by the world found in this movie. I think the biggest reason why I was so captivated with what happened in I.Q. were the characters. Director Schepisi deserves great credit for how likable these characters come across. Now, he was certainly aided a great deal by the screenplay he was working from. The screenplay gets the majority of the central characters to come across as very likable. While Ed may be a lowly auto mechanic, he has an interest in reading about science-related topics, so he's clearly not stupid, even though it's Einstein and his friends who come up with the plan for him to pretend to be a genius. And while he is fooling Catherine with this appearance, he worries about it constantly, realizing that he can't do this deception forever - something his wise garage buddies remind him of at one point. Catherine is initially kind of blind to the issue of loving for the heart and not of the mind, but we see right from her first encounter with Ed that she has some attraction to Ed, even if she won't admit it for a long time. And as the movie progresses, we see her learning about the heart and bettering herself from it. Einstein and his intellectual friends are not the stuffy geniuses that you usually see in movies. They are up for a good game of badminton, always up for a good joke, and are clearly having a lot of fun as they aid Ed in appearing as some kind of genius. The only character that doesn't come across as positive is Catherine's fiancé James. Yes, the movie does resurrect the cliché found in countless other romantic comedies when the fiancé is a snotty and stuffy kind of fellow. But it's a necessary evil, since if the fiancé was really a nice and decent fellow, it wouldn't look good for Ed to be competing for Catherine's affections.

Schepisi takes these well-scripted characters and directs the cast to interpret them so that they come across as people you wouldn't mind meeting in real life. Robbins is made to have his character definitely attracted to Ryan's, but a little shy and unsure of how to do it without help, which gives the character extra appeal. While Ryan's character may declare her attachment to her fiancé as well as the idea of intellect ruling above anything else, the times she looks at Robbins you see the instinct of attraction, which makes her human just like us viewers in the audience. The biggest surprise is what Schepisi manages to do with Matthau. Being accustomed to Matthau's gruff and rough performances in other movies, I was unsure if he could play a lovable intellect. But Matthau manages to pull it off. He certainly looks like Einstein under all that makeup, but Schepisi managed to get Matthau to play it slow, play it cool, and play it with a charming grin on the face. It's not only unlike any other Matthau performance I've seen, it completely works. Matthau makes Einstein a completely human character, one that has a lighter side as well as a serious side. By the way, the tone that Schepisi gets Matthau to play also happens to be the tone he gives much of the rest of the movie. The movie for the most part has a slow and leisurely pace, which although may not sit will with teenagers who have grow accustomed to frenzied speed and editing, definitely charmed this (slightly!) older viewer. Without any flash or extravaganza, the movie made me observe and enjoy the appealing characters and situations. Although this comedy may not in the end be all that laugh-out-loud funny, I have to admit that I had a big grin on my face from the beginning to the end, and I learned that charm and whimsy can have as much appeal as the cinematic sight of someone being blasted by a sawed-off shotgun.

(Posted May 30, 2015)

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See also: Bunny O'Hare, Cheyenne Warrior, My First Mister

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