Exploring Digital Purgatory: Mikey and Nicky

The Movie: Mikey and Nicky (1976)

One Sentence Premise Summary: Nicky is really paranoid man dealing with a serious mental health crisis while avoiding the mob, but that does not give him the right to be mean to his friend Mikey, who is just trying to help him.

Where You Can Stream It: Amazon Prime and HBO Max (As of June 23, 2021)

Why I Streamed It: I had watched Elaine May’s first movie and heard very good things about her second effort despite some major issues relating to the post-production process.

Why You Should Stream it

Look, saying 1976 is the greatest film year of all-time makes me a basic film nerd, and I am fully ready to accept this fact. I’m fine with being proven wrong if you watch this movie (and the three movies that made my 100 favorites list PLUS Taxi Driver). Even having watched this a couple weeks ago, this has stuck with me in ways a lot of other #content just doesn’t. There are a couple reasons for this.

First and foremost, Peter Falk and John Cassavetes nail the chemistry of long time friends. They are not the typical movie stars, but they’re unbelievable actors. If I taught an acting class, this would be something I’d show them as an exercise in showing the contrast of two people having completely different goals and struggling with those goals on-screen. I know a lot of footage was shot and it’s questionable if May’s true vision was ever realized, but this is a gem of a film.

I think a spoiler averse culture has led us to caring more about plot over character. The plot is not irrelevant, but May is much more into exploring how two friends co-exist over the craziest night of their lives. Mikey is trying to help his friend, and Nicky is spiraling.  Cassavetes’s Nicky is a very challenging character because he can be so hard to understand. He changes his mind so frequently and is uncontrolled in his actions to the point Mike becomes more and more sympathetic in his responses to Nicky’s behavior.

The spiral goes so far down that Mike comes to a decision that leads to a rather dark ending. It feels authentic to what could actually happen in a scenario like this. It’s easy to look at Peter Falk and see Columbo. It’s an iconic character that’s even being revisited to this day. Falk is so much more than that. He might be one of the best actors of our time who would probably struggle to get roles these days. In the 1970s, he was the perfect choice to lead a quiet contemplative character study.

Another basic opinion is the idea of New York as a character in a film. In reality, I would hate spending any time in 1970s New York. On film, May makes it seem like the most fascinating place on the planet with a lot of character and tons of characters. The dirt and grime are all there, from the crappy hotel Nicky stays in to the bus where Nicky tries to choke out the driver. There is a texture that only makes this film feel more tangible.

The 1970s produced a lot of great cinema. Many of the greatest directors of all-time had their start or best years in this decade. May made a borderline masterpiece that has sadly been forgotten. One of the benefits of streaming is getting a chance to pluck this out of obscurity and enjoy it all these years later. This film is also a fitting watch as Ned Beatty passed away a few weeks before I sat down to watch this. This is not as iconic as his turns in Network, Deliverance, or Superman, but he does get his chance to shine.

Best Performance: Peter Falk for all the reasons stated in the previous section.

Best Quote It doesn’t make it anything, Nick. A grave is a grave. There’s not a religion in the world that says a person’s soul is buried with them in their grave. It’s not your mother in there.- Mikey

Final Grade: A-

Coming next week, We Are Lady Parts!

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