The Golden Grouches is primarily an Oscar blog.  So naturally the movies we tend to advocate are the ones at least in the conversation for a gold statue.  If we get to champion little-seen movies, they are still little-seen movies receiving nominations.  But now we’re in the cold, dark off-season for the Academy.  You know, the place where comedies are allowed to exist.  So I’m returning to the huge pile of non-Oscar recaps I’ve sorely neglected, plus I have a few other ideas brewing.  To start things off, I’m very happy to report back on a non-Oscar little movie we were able to talk about, Play The Game.  You’ll be excused if you missed it, though it is has been out for three weeks, it has only played in Florida (though it is expanding to a theater in California).

The romantic comedy stars Paul Campbell (he’s Chief of Staff to the President on Battlestar Galactica, at least for the one season I’ve watched) as David, a master of persuasion, evidenced by his rampant success selling cars to people who don’t need them at the dealership owned by his father (Clint Howard),  and the number of women he’s bedded.  But he’s the heart of gold kind of romcom lothario, not the evil sort.  David had to drop out of school and work for his father (with whom he has an uneasy relationship) to pay for his Grandpa Joe’s (Andy Griffith) spot in a retirement community, once his grandmother passed away.  After his grandfather has been alone for a few years, David decides to fulfill a promise made to his grandmother to help Grandpa Joe find someone new.

As David teaches his grandfather how to get back into the world of dating, he finds himself falling for Julie (Marla Sokoloff).  But all his tricks, so effective with the various floozies he picked up in bars, bear no fruit when applied to Julie, and he finds himself stuck being her friend.  Meanwhile, Grandpa Joe has great success picking up one woman (Liz Sheridan) and struggles a bit more with another (Doris Roberts).  Geoffrey Owens (Elvin on The Cosby Show!) is also in the film as David’s best friend, Rob.

Play The Game feels like two movies unnaturally grafted onto one another.  The first is a pretty standard romcom with a hint of a twist and the second is a retirement home PG-13 rated sex comedy.  An potentially interesting combination, but it felt like writer/director Marc Fienberg, desperate to tie the strands together, could only come up with scenes with Campbell recapping events and giving Griffith his turn for some expository dialogue with a “So how are things going with you?” or vice versa.  Which creates some problems with the pacing.

The other hindrance to the feeling of a cohesive movie is Campbell’s David.  It turns out I’m not a huge Paul Campbell fan, and had I been casting the movie, I probably would have looked to someone like Tyron Leitso.  But that aside, I’m not sure the Campbell character is charming enough to glide over the rough patches in the movie.  Or, at least, he’s not as charming as the movie thinks he is.

But, there’s still much to like.  The romantic comedy half is conventional and middle of the pack, but that’s not an insult.  In fact, it is probably a good thing if you are watching with your grandparents, as they can tolerate it until Andy Griffith gets back on screen.  Plus, I’ve been in the tank for Marla Sokoloff since Whatever It Takes.  She clearly excels in this sort of role, and not to heap on Campbell, but I think she does a good job compensating for him as they go through their formulaic romance.  The point of these sort of romcoms isn’t to wow with their ingenuity.  We all know how things will end.  I see the goal as more letting us feel happy at the end, while tossing in some jokes along the way to tide us over.  And this film largely accomplishes that.  It is weakest when it gets away from that path, for example a half-baked subplot involving David’s issues with his father.  Also, David’s obligatory redemption isn’t as satisfying as it should be, which gets back to my fundamental issues with the character.  But I think the film’s ultimate resolution somewhat makes up for that failing (though some will certainly find it gimmicky).

Andy Griffith as the star of a sex comedy is as horrifying and hilarious as it sounds.  I think Fienberg should be commended for building a story around a retirement home; I can’t think of too many comedies confident enough to devote so much time to seventy- and eighty-somethings.  I’m a huge Andy Griffith fan (who isn’t?) and the part fits him well.  He gets to start out in his Sherriff Taylor/Ben Matlock aw shucks bashfulness around women and morph into someone significantly more comfortable with the ladies.  Granted, that does led to some painful Viagra jokes, but I’ll admit even the thought of Andy Griffith discussing Viagra makes me smile.  The plot, though, is a bit underdeveloped.  A nascent love triangle with Sheridan and Roberts is resolved too quickly.  And Griffith’s courtship of Roberts probably deserved another scene.

The list of movies I can watch with my grandparents isn’t as long as I’d like it to be, so I’m happy I can add Play The Game.  It isn’t a great movie, but it is light and generally fun.  As  fair warning, there are a few moments that absolutely killed me, but might offend some of the more prudish folk.

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