Must-See Movie Moment: The April Fools
Posted on April 1, 2014 at 8:00 am
Happy April! This is from my book, 101 Must-See Movie Moments.
The April Fools is a 1969 film starring Jack Lemmon and Catherine Deneuve that, if remembered at all, is thought of as a dated mid-life crisis romance and a clumsy attempt by Hollywood to make something that was, to use a briefly popular term of the era, “relevant.”
Lemmon plays Howard Brubaker, a good man who tries to do his best but is not quite sure how he got caught up in the phony notions of success he seems stuck with. No one else is questioning it, so he hardly lets himself be aware of how unsatisfied he is. He is married to a woman who seems to care only about decorating their home (Sally Kellerman). His boss (Peter Lawford) encourages Howard to find happiness the way he has – by having a lot of affairs. When he politely asks a woman at the party (Deneuve as Catherine Gunther) if he can buy her a drink she takes it as an invitation to leave the party and he is nonplussed. And he is even more so when he finds himself falling in love with her. What he does not know is that she is married to his boss.
They go off together and spend an evening that will lead them both to realize how much they had been missing and how dishonest they had been with themselves.
Lemmon was so good in outlandish roles like “The Great Race” and “Some Like It Hot” it is easy to forget that no one was better at playing a decent guy struggling with the challenges of modern life and trying to do the right thing. Deneuve struggles with the English dialog, but she is so serenely gorgeous it does not really matter. It is a pleasant, if bittersweet little trifle, but one scene makes it worthwhile and that is when Howard and Catherine meet an older couple who more by example than by anything they say make them think seriously about where they want to be at that age and who they want to be with. And that couple is magnificently portrayed by two of the all-time greats, Charles Boyer and Myrna Loy.
Joseph Campbell wrote about the prevalence in myth of “the old man in the woods,” the character sought out by the hero to help guide him on his journey. Think of Yoda in “The Empire Strikes Back” or Professor Falken in “Wargames” or “Deep Throat” in “All the President’s Men” or Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films or Aslan in the Narnia movies or the psychiatrist in “Ordinary People.” These are the hero’s corner men, the ones who throw water on his face and rub his shoulders and get him back in the ring swinging. “The April Fools” is a particularly good example because as the characters played by Boyer and Loy show the younger couple how much they appreciate what they have together, we also get a sense of the older generation of actors passing the torch to Lemmon and Deneuve.
Brubaker and Catherine go to the club the boss recommended, an outlandish place with a jungle theme, where animal-skin waitresses are summoned by popgun blasts to their rear ends. They leave for a disco, where they meet Grace (Loy) and when her driver turns out to be drunk, they take her back to her home. There they meet her husband André (Boyer), who explains that nothing good happens during the day (the sun beats down, people have to work), so he has chosen to live at night (women are beautiful, there is champagne to drink). This is just one of the ways in which Brubaker and Catherine have entered an upside-down world that encourages and enables them to think about what is possible for them. Grace tells Catherine her fortune, smiling that “it’s bad luck to be superstitious but the cards are so pretty” and guiding her to let herself insist on being happy. But the most important way Grace and André guide Brubaker and Catherine is by showing them that there is such a thing as sustaining, enduring love. Whether it is Grace and André or Loy and Boyer, we cannot help being moved and inspired by the example of these wise and beautiful souls.