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For, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Neil Simon’s celebrated play-to-film, which spawned two sequels, gets a Blu-ray upgrade from the Shout! Factory. It’s certainly watchable but in my mind doesn’t come close to Simon’s best work. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Dec. 26, 1986.

File “Brighton Beach Memoirs” in the folder marked “Movies I Wanted to Like, But. … ”

It is, of course, the “but” that makes the difference.

What’s the problem? It’s overly familiar, for one. Not only has this story been told 100 times before (whether or not it is the fictionalized truth of Neil Simon’s youth) but all the characters are ethnic and social stereotypes, and there is neither enough laughter nor emotional power to overcome its weaknesses.

And whether or not it is accurate (and in some ways it is) to have the central character, Jerome (or Simon, if you prefer), be a totally sex-obsessed teenager who seems to be a refugee from a “Porky’s” movie, thinking of nothing but the female anatomy, it begins to wear out its welcome after awhile.


Blythe Danner, Jonathan Silverman, 'Brighton Beach Memoirs'

The sex jokes — gags ranging from Jerome’s pencil drawings of female breasts to dropping his napkin so he can peer under the dinner table at his attractive cousin — lose their vulgar punch because there are so many of them.

Jerome is the centerpiece of the film, speaking directly to the camera (in a technique similar to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) and generally narrating the otherwise ensemble goings-on of his family’s life during the Depression in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach.

His older brother loses his job and considers joining the Army; his shy, ineffectual widowed aunt, tentatively courts a new romance but doesn’t know how to deal with her two daughters; his mother, a domineering “Jewish Mother” stereotype, rules the roost; and his father nearly works himself to death and has to quit to spare his health.

There is comedy and drama in equal doses, and the film seems equally funny and touching, and banal and plodding.


The cast is good, with newcomer Jonathan Silverman quite appealing as young Jerome, torn between the inherent laziness and self-centered attitudes of youth, and the imbalance of hormones that go with approaching manhood.

Blythe Danner, as his mother, manages to retain some charm while playing a role that is rather shrewish and bigoted, and frequently unpleasant, while Bob Dishy is most appealing as the father who is warm but not particularly understanding of his children’s needs.

Even more impressive is Judith Ivey as the painfully shy aunt.

The period touches are nice, the technical aspects are first-rate and Simon’s script has its moments, but on the whole this is awfully familiar territory and if you have seen many movies or much TV you’re likely to wonder if you haven’t wandered into a rerun.

“Brighton Beach Memoirs” is rated PG-13 for profanity, vulgarity and nudity in a photograph.