Reynolds Is Phenomenal In ‘Last Movie Star’
The Last Movie Star turns a bold and daring eye on an aging Burt Reynolds and never looks away. Writer-Director Adam Rifkin has crafted a tribute to the movie star Burt Reynolds and a deconstruction of the actor and person Burt Reynolds. It’s a strange and fascinating piece that is equal parts funny, emotional and sit-comic. Reynolds is rather incredible throughout even as the direction lets him down here and there.
Vic Edwards (Reynolds) was once the biggest movie star in the world. That was a long time ago. Today, Vic is a lonely has been in a large house whose dog just died. No, lie the opening scenes of the movie with Vic having to put his elderly pooch down at a vet’s office legit broke my heart as a dog lover, not to mention just feeling sorry for this old man we’re just meeting and will come to know.
Vic gets invited to a film festival in Nashville, Tennessee where he will be honored with a lifetime achievement award. His buddy, played by Chevy Chase, seemingly playing his creepy self, encourages him to accept, he’s heard that Eastwood, Pacino and DeNiro have all been honored at this festival in the past. The promise of an all-expense paid trip and the fact that Vic is originally from Tennessee convince him to accept.
Upon arrival however, Vic finds the festival may not be as prestigious as promised. After a painful coach plane ride, Vic is met at the airport by Lil (Modern Family star Ariel Winter), who is loudly arguing with her terrible boyfriend and driving what can kindly be considered a car, Vic was expecting a limousine. Finally, Vic arrives at the festival, hosted by Lil’s brother Doug (Clark Duke) in the back of a bar.
Desperately unhappy, Vic proceeds to get drunk and the next day forces Lil to take him back to his hometown in Knoxville rather than return to the festival. From there, Vic will reminisce and regret, ruminate and accept where his life is now. It’s quite a journey filled with some surprisingly big laughs from both Reynolds and Winter. But. The Last Movie Star has something more than just some TV sitcom ready punchlines in store.
It is perhaps more than a little manipulative to have the aged Burt Reynolds acting out portions of his own life story through the character of Vic but damned if I wasn’t moved by it. Portions of the film are even told using Reynolds’ real life movies as those of his characters. A pair of dreams find the Reynolds of today chatting with Bandit Burt and Deliverance Burt. These scenes are admittedly maudlin but Reynolds gives them real weight.
Later dramatic scenes in which Vic is reflecting on his childhood, his marriages and his career are equally moving and while the direction isn’t spectacular and the set ups are obvious and forced, Reynolds is so good that I could not help but get sucked in. The final moment of the film is by far Reynolds crowning jewel as an actor and as Burt Reynolds the movie star. Watch his eyes, watch that smile; it’s really something to see.
I have mixed feelings about The Last Movie Star but not about Reynolds. Despite the pushy, borderline amateurish direction, he is magnetic and deeply sympathetic. That’s not something I have ever thought of Burt Reynolds, sympathetic. He’s always been that Bugs Bunny like character to me, the quick-witted charmer with that killer smile, and always one step ahead of the man.
Later in his life he was a sad shell of a movie star, slumming it on TV, glaring from tabloid magazine covers and only occasionally, as in Boogie Nights, flashing the chops that he’d so often hidden behind that façade of a movie star charm. He was perhaps a pathetic figure from that tabloid perspective, the focus on his legendary hairpiece, which gets no call outs here, but never someone I was called to feel sorry for.
Here however, in The Last Movie Star, Burt Reynolds is deeply sympathetic. Downright moving in how sympathetic he is. Genuine vulnerability has come with his aging and withered his charm along with his handsome features but the actor remains. Sure, the movie cheats by using Reynolds’ real life as shorthand but man does Burt lean into that and make it something more than just an ego trip down memory lane.