Max Rose Jerry Lewis, Kerry Bishé, Kevin Pollak. Directed by Daniel Noah. Not rated. Opens Friday at Regal Village Square.
It’s been more than 20 years since Jerry Lewis had a starring role in a live-action movie, and seeing him act again is just about the only reason to watch writer-director Daniel Noah’s otherwise unremarkable indie drama Max Rose. Lewis stars as the title character, a retired jazz musician coping with the loss of his wife of 65 years. Already distraught over his wife’s death, Max is further shaken by the discovery that she may have cheated on him. As his granddaughter Annie (Kerry Bishé) tries to lift his spirits, Max looks for answers about a potential decades-old affair.
He also adjusts to life in a retirement home (fellow showbiz old-timers Mort Sahl, Rance Howard and Lee Weaver play his new buddies) and argues with his son Chris (Kevin Pollak), whose second marriage is on the verge of falling apart. Although there are some comedic moments (especially at the retirement home), Max Rose is remarkably somber for a movie starring Jerry Lewis, and Max’s grief and obsession never achieve the kind of dramatic power that they need to overcome the movie’s leaden tone. Lewis has some poignant moments, and he never resorts to shtick, even in the relaxed scenes of Max messing around with his retirement-home pals. But he also struggles to bring the character’s deeper emotions to life, and there’s always the sense of watching Jerry Lewis (he even wears his own distinctive wardrobe) rather than Max Rose.
Watching Jerry Lewis is what will interest people in this movie, though, and in that sense Max Rose delivers. It has a few mildly amusing bits and one fairly powerful scene in which Max finally confronts the man he believes had an affair with his wife decades ago. This movie is never going to be anything more than a footnote in Lewis’ career, but for fans who find even the footnotes worthwhile, there’s something to appreciate.