In 1985 Michael J. Fox had done what very few actors had done before him – be highly successful on Television and film at the same time. Not only was he spearheading the highly successful sitcom ‘Family Ties’ but he was the star of the most successful film of that year ‘Back To The Future’, as well as having another hit with ‘Teen Wolf’. An enormously successful film career seemed his for the taking.
But instead his film career gradually lost momentum and by the mid-1990s his career was focussed largely on sitcom television. It was perceived that he lacked a certain gravitas or presence required to last on the big screen. But after viewing him in the 1994 comedy ‘Greedy’, this seems to be an unfair call.
Directed by Jonathan Lynn, ‘Greedy’ is centred on Joe (Kirk Douglas) a self-made millionaire in his twilight years surrounded by an array of slimy family relatives only interested in his inheritance. Panicked by Joe developing a close relationship with his nurse (Olivia D’Abo), the relatives draft in Daniel (Michael J. Fox) the son of an estranged relative and whom Joe took a shine to as a young child. But in multiple ways, things don’t go as planned.
Even though ‘Greedy’ was made less than 20 years ago, it feels almost refreshingly ancient in its film style. In a present era where comedies consider chaos, action, noise and freneticism as the basis for humour, ‘Greedy’ feels a refreshing contrast. It’s leisurely paced, limited background music and lengthy scenes. Clearly Lynn had the confidence in the screenplay and cast to deliver what was required without artificial manipulation and he is largely justified. In what has been an uneven career, this is one of his better efforts.
‘Greedy’ is bolstered by having a deep and talented cast. A particular standout is Phil Hartman as probably the slimiest of the relatives. Wisely he’s only in the film sparingly so he is able to go at full blast throughout, creating a gem of a comic performance. My favourite bit is when he tells the British nanny, “I didn’t like the Beatles and I don’t like you.”
Douglas clearly has a ball with the role of Joe. As portrayed in the film it’s easy to see why he’s disliked by so many but Douglas uses his charisma and charm to make him mischievously likable, even when it’s clear he’s pulling tricks on just about every other character in the movie.
But the key character and performance in the film is Fox as Daniel and he does an impressive job with it. Not only his well-known comic timing on display, but he also gives his character convincing dramatic substance in how he’s struggled through life and how Joe treats him. It enables us to empahsise and care about his plight and give added weight to the film’s more dramatic scenes. It’s a fine performance and pivotal to the film’s success.
The film is quite deft in how it develops Daniel’s character throughout the film. We are introduced to him as having a decent persona, in a good romantic relationship but dispirited by his failure as a professional tenpin bowler. Thrust into the madness of Joe and his scheming relatives, Daniel loses his bearings and becomes gradually corrupted. In a film populated by various types and caricatures, the realistic portrayl of Daniel’s characterisation is essential to maintaining one’s interest over the fairly lengthy running time.
Director Lynn also makes the wise decision to begin the film from the perspective of (relatively speaking) the least loathsome of the relatives only interested in Joe’s money. While they’re not likable, it helps one have some empathy for their plight and how they’ve been stuck for years in grovelling towards Joe at every turn in the forlorn hope for monetary assistance.
‘Greedy’ has a difficult task of balancing several contrasting styles within the one film. It has both realistic characters and comic buffoons that are basically caricatures. It has scenes largely of drama, but also scenes not only of comedy but slapstick and farce. For the most part the film maintains the balance very well, with the possible exception of a climatic scene in a legal office where drama and farce clash to a rather disconcerting effect.
Also, in the middle stages ‘Greedy’ gets somewhat bogged down in the rather convoluted and confusing nature of its plot (especially related to Joe’s scheming). A segment where Joe takes his nurse for a seemingly romantic encounter in Washington could’ve probably been excised from the film entirely.
Largely ignored upon its release and perceived as symbolic of Fox’s failure to cement a long-term film career, ‘Greedy’ can be seen now as an fine and funny film which is a good demonstration of Fox’s talents.