I'm Not Rappaport
directed by Herb Gardner
Gramercy Pictures, 1996

Nat Moyer and Midge Carter are two octogenarians who fight like brothers, though only one of them is.

That's Midge (Ossie Davis), longtime super of a Manhattan apartment building that's about to go co-op. Midge devotes his nights to running an antique boiler and his days to avoiding the head of the tenant association, which has decided to replace Midge with an automatic furnace.

As if he doesn't have enough problems, Midge is befriended in Central Park one day by Nat (Walter Matthau), an old-style labor activist who long ago de-Stalinized but refuses to de-Leninize. Nat -- who presents himself as both an escaped Cuban terrorist and a member of the Human Rights Strike Force -- still thinks it's possible to turn New York into a worker's paradise, though his attempts are generally limited to lowering the prices at the local supermarket for his fellow shoppers.

Nat is convinced he can solve all the world's problems -- including Midge's -- though he's not making much headway on his own: a hip "like a tea cup," a heart that once stopped for six minutes during a bypass operation and a daughter who wants to put him in a nursing home for his own protection.

Between the two they couldn't find an eye chart, much less read it. Midge has more cataracts than the Colorado; Nat suffers from glaucoma. Nat fares better, if only because he enjoys smoking his glaucoma medicine.

"Who needs sight when we got vision?" he asks Midge during one of their quirkier outings. It's a fair question, and a line typical of the repartee that makes I'm Not Rappaport a highly enjoyable, if not fast-paced, film.

In transferring his play from the stage to the screen, writer-director Herb Gardner was able to add a number of touches, not the least of which is the lush beauty of Central Park, where most of the action -- and inaction -- takes place.

He's also able to get Midge and Nat off their park bench and into the drug-infested streets of the city, where he offers us one of the film's funniest -- and more terrifying -- moments: Midge and Nat trying to pass themselves off as Missouri Jack and Tony "The Cane" Donato to scare off a drug dealer (Craig T. Nelson) who's threatening their favorite Central Park artist (Martha Plimpton).

Anyone familiar with Gardner's work -- A Thousand Clowns, The Goodbye People -- should know what to expect from I'm Not Rappaport: detailed characterizations, side-splitting dialogue, powerful performances, a strange and potent mix of sentimentality and skepticism, and the heart-rending sensation of sharing the experiences of ordinary people caught in moments of extraordinary conflict.

Anyone not familiar with it should be. I'm Not Rappaport is a great place to start.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

Buy it from Amazon.com.