King of the Corner
directed by Peter Riegert
(Ardustry, 2004)

Leo Spivak is trapped.

He's bored at his job, tired of test marketing products with focus groups. His protege is taking credit for Leo's ideas.

His marriage to Rachel (Isabella Rossellini) is stale. His daughter is rebelling; her boyfriend honks the car horn instead of meeting her at the door and his car's too loud.

His irascible father (Eli Wallach) hates his nursing home and has taken to calling his loving companion (a vibrant Rita Moreno) "that wetback." His religion -- calling him a marginal Jew would be generous -- isn't giving him much comfort or guidance.

It's Leo's midlife, and it stinks.

For much of Peter Riegert's directoral debut, King of the Corner doesn't explore much plot that hasn't already become cliche in other films. I found myself waiting for the midlife crisis, waiting for it to peak, waiting for Leo's downfall, waiting for his moment of clarity.

His path? Undermined at work, Leo (Riegert) can't turn to his home life for consolation because Rachel is beside herself over their daughter staying out late with the mysterious boyfriend.

He travels every weekend to visit his father. Dad reminds him regularly of the sacrifices made so Leo, an only child, could become successful.

There's no time for contemplation or a breather until a business trip to Philadelphia, when Leo has to deal with a colleague angling for his job and a chance run-in with the woman he yearned for, painfully and silently, as a high schooler.

She's feeling frustrated, too, so their resulting one-time fling has a ring of truth -- not so much Leo's visit to her Main Line home to meet the husband and return her underwear.

He's a man all too anxious to throw himself on the grenade. Leo has a lot to lose, and he seems in an awful hurry to hit bottom.

It's in the last half-hour of the movie, when Leo has to come to terms with the death of a father he didn't really know, to really face his teetering marriage and to find the right hold on his daughter -- somewhere between protecting her and letting her grow -- that Riegert's film, and Riegert, shine.

Much of the growth is nudged by Rabbi Evelyn Fink (Eric Bogosian), a freelancer who's put in charge of Dad's funeral. It's the rabbi's no-holds-barred honesty at the funeral -- one that provokes both humor and near horror at its bluntness -- that finally prompts Leo's breakthrough: his impromptu kaddish is a tribute to the difficulty -- and the sometimes triumph -- of simply showing up and doing what's right.

by Jen Kopf
5 August 2006

Buy it from