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You'd have to be a particularly unpleasant and grouchy individual not to want Max Rose to be a success. Not just because it marks Jerry Lewis' first starring film role since 1995's Funny Bones, but because seldom cinematic tales primarily revolve around characters in the twilight of their years. When they're done right, though, these films are particularly wistful, sage, and wise, as the likes of 45 Years, Harold And Maude, Harry And Tonto, About Schmidt, The Straight Story, and Nebraska have proven. Max Rose doesn't come close to matching this elite list, however, which is a particular shame because you can't help but be warmed by the presence of Jerry Lewis in the titular role.
Lewis' Max Rose is an aging pianist who is mourning the death of his wife of 50 years, Eva (Claire Bloom). Assisted by his son Christopher Rose (Kevin Pollack) and his granddaughter Annie Rose (Kerry Bishe), Max Rose struggles to adjust following her death, until he discovers evidence that suggests Eva might have been unfaithful to him, which leads him to re-evaluate his life.
While the above premise suggests at a deep and profound plot that could have pushed and pulled Jerry Lewis down various emotional avenues, Max Rose is handled in such a precious, lifeless, and overly nostalgic fashion that you're never hooked by what unfolds. It's not helped by the lack of clarity and focus in the first 30 minutes, as Max Rose transplants between Jerry Lewis' mourning widower and flashbacks of him being mawkishly lovey-dovey with his now dearly departed. Sure, it's a little sweet at first, but it almost instantly becomes repetitive, especially since there's no real hint at the overall narrative of Max Rose
As does the film's style, with director Daniel Noah seemingly going over every inch of Max Rose's home in a slow, meandering opening that's accompanied by a dull, plodding piano. It instantly slows the film down to a screech that it never threatens to recover from. Not even the glowing and effervescent Kerry Bishe can jolt it into proceedings, as she's reduced to playing the overly concerned granddaughter that's stalled her life to help out her grandfather. To do just that she repeatedly tells him pun-based jokes that you, at first, politely smile at, but when they keep coming you instantly lose your patience with. Which itself works as a perfect microcosm of Max Rose.
There's also a severe lack of conflict, suspense, or intrigue during this mundane beginning, too. And by the time that arrives with the potential revelation that Max Rose's wife of 50 years had been cheating on him, which in turn provokes a heart attack that leaves him in a nursing home, your patience will have long dried up.
Even if you wanted to be compelled, Max Rose isn't able to build on these inklings of a plot anyway. Instead, there are kind-hearted scenes of Jerry Lewis enjoying the company of his fellow nursing home companions and calling his son a loser before he then departs to find the man who might have shacked up wife his wife. But it's all very much too little, too late.
On a few occasions Jerry Lewis' eyes twinkle and his smile beams wide enough to offer a genial denouement to his superlative career. But Max Rose will only make you want to hound out the funniest films and finest performances from his prime so that you can wash out the overly saccharine tedium of his tepid return.