One movie I will love my whole life is Local Hero, written and directed by Bill Forsyth. For the protagonist, an upper-middle class everyman, Forsyth tapped Peter Riegert, with a deadpan face and wavy black hair. Since then Riegert has made a career of supporting roles in films like A Shock to the System, Infinity, and The Mask, with the exception of Crossing Delancy, in which he played the male lead.
King of the Corner marks not only Riegert’s return to leading man, but also his debut as a feature film director. And while King of the Corner won’t displace Local Hero on my list of favorites, it’s a solidly watchable drama.
Coasting through Life
Riegert plays Leo, an East Coast marketing man who specializes in focus groups. He’s great in a crowd, with a confidence so natural he doesn’t even have to work at it. He goofs off at his desk without fear of getting caught, but that lack of drive may also explain why he hasn’t risen higher in the company.
Surrounding Leo are the friends, family, and coworkers you’d see anywhere in America. Leo’s assistant Ed (Jake Hoffman) runs the video camera, and thinks Leo has prepared him enough to actually run the next focus group with Leo’s help. Leo’s wife (Isabella Rossellini) sees him only at home, and their topic of conversation is inevitably their fifteen-year-old daughter (played by 20-year old actress Ashley Johnson). Last but not least is Leo’s sick father (Eli Wallach), who has retired to Arizona, and whom Leo visits every two weeks.
The film’s conflict is a mid-life crisis, of sorts. His father’s mortality looming, Leo toys with the idea of an affair, he sweats about Ed stealing his job, and he questions the relevance of his life’s work. The conflict isn’t as simple as all that, because Leo is more complex and enigmatic. He’d almost rather confess to an affair than actually have one, and he’s so comfortable at work that he’s not really worried about the kid displacing him. And even if that happened, Leo isn’t sure his job is worth fighting for.
There is a Jewish subtext to Leo’s life and his father’s convalescence. After all, the movie is based on a work called Bad Jews and Other Stories. It’s worth mentioning, even though it didn’t resonate with me, a non-Jew.
The Best and the Worst
The best components of King of the Corner are the script, by Riegert and Gerald Shapiro, who wrote the collection of short stories on which it’s based; and Riegert’s own dry wit and charismatic presence. The movie offers plenty of angles from which to appreciate it — the loss of a father, midlife crises, or a questioning of one’s career and identity — and Riegert is exactly the unassuming, observant, introspective guy to sell them.
But the movie has its flaws, too. Leo’s daughter is too young to be played by Johnson. Ordinarily I don’t question casting decisions, but Johnson is distracting as a fifteen-year-old girl. And some scenes of mostly dialogue are static, uninspired, and non-cinematic. An early conversation between Leo and his wheelchair-bound father has the two of them walking slowly and steadily forward. For several minutes the view doesn’t change, and I wasn’t yet engaged with the characters enough to pay attention to what they were saying.
There are other places where the movie felt limited by either its budget or Riegert’s timid direction. Riegert and Rossellini didn’t really have a good husband-and-wife chemistry, a problem that two experienced actors should have been able to overcome. The editing (by Mario Ontal, who trained under John Sayles) is sometimes choppy, and would have been helped immensely by a few more closeups or some more visually interesting photography (by Mauricio Rubinstein, who has also worked for Sayles).
But for the older audience at which King of the Corner is aimed, these complaints aren’t likely to seem important. King of the Corner is a movie I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to parents and in-laws. But nieces and nephews will probably want to look for something more hip and energetic.