By any measure actor/director Peter Riegert, has enjoyed a brilliant career that spans four decades beginning when he burst on to the scene in 1978 as Donald ‘Boon’ Shoenstein in “Animal House.” Since then Riegert has acted in over 50 movies, theater, and television. He played the NBC executive who had to decide whether to air Jerry and George’s show in the final episode of Seinfeld, and the State Assemblyman Ronald Zellman on The Sopranos. One of his most memorable acting roles in the eighties was the Pickle Man, Sam Posner in 1988’s “Crossing Delancey” – an endearing character that my friend Jenny has a mad crush on. Riegert’s most memorable role is Mac, with Burt Lancaster in 1983’s warmhearted and quirky “Local Hero” by Scottish director Bill Forsythe.
“King of the Corner” which marks Riegert’s first time helming a full-length feature, is an homage to Bill Forsythe’s directing style with the calm, even pacing, gentle humor and understated acting. The two films even have the same opening scene with Riegert driving on a freeway –only twenty-one years apart. Like “Local Hero,” “King of the Corner” emerges with ironic insights into human nature that vary from the satirical to the poignant.
Peter Riegert has been traveling around the country with “King of the Corner” appearing at Q&A’s for the theatrical releases. I was able to spend some time with him last fall at the Mill Valley Film Festival, which reinforced my truism that films are like their directors; in this case: likeable, wry, and warm. “King of the Corner” seems to purport that people are flawed and can commit self-sabotaging and destructive acts. But there is redemption, and overall, humans are regarded in an affirmative and reassuring light.
The script, co-written by Riegert and Gerald Shapiro, is adapted from Shapiro’s short story collection “Bad Jews and Other Stories.” It features Riegert as a New York fifty-something marketing man, Leo Spivak who runs focus groups and is entering a hard patch in his life. He seems to be oblivious that a young upstart played by Dustin Hoffman’s son, Jake, is moving into his turf at work. At the same time Leo is dealing with an aging complaining father, Sol -- Eli Wallach -- who he visits a few times a month in Arizona.
Leo commits a transgression in a moment of insanity that alienates him from his wife. There is an anomalous overly acted and incredulous scene related to this incident that would have been better left out (When I asked Riegert about it, he stood by it saying that he believes people do have moments of insanity and can act out of character. ) Leo also feels like he is losing a connection with his daughter, Ashley Johnson, who has taken up with a questionable boyfriend. Their father-daughter interactions are sweet.
Eli Wallach’s opening scene is very funny when he tells his son Leo that he is “shrinking”. I’ve watched the film four times and I would watch that scene (and Eric Bogosian’s droll eulogy scene as the overly honest rabbi) many more times. Wallach’s performance is powerful and touching as the stubborn and cranky father. The stellar cast also includes Isabella Rossellini as Leo’s wife, and Rita Moreno as Sol’s girlfriend, Inez.
In the end there are no clear answers. Just many shades of gray, like life. In this low budget indie, filmed in only 20 days, Peter Riegert has created an appealing and note-worthy film about human nature in all its glory. For Movie Magazine, this is Joan Widdifield.
© 2005 - Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D - Air Date: 6/08/05
King of the Corner
Directed by Peter Riegert, with Eli Wallach, Isabella Rossellini, Rita Moreno