VHS Vault: Brighton Beach Memoirs

Back in the day, the motto of every video store yes, VIDEO store, was “Be Kind. Rewind.” Embracing the current movement to be “retro” I’m going to talk about a little movie called Brighton Beach Memoirs. Adapted from the play by Neil Simon of the same name, Memoirs chronicles the life of Eugene Jerome as he reaches puberty. It’s heart-warming, hilarious, and semi-autobiographical.

“Eugene, a young teenage Jewish boy, recalls memories from his time as an adolescent youth. He lives with his parents, his aunt, two cousins, and his brother, Stanley, whom he looks up to and admires. He goes through the hardships of puberty, sexual fantasy, and living the life of a poor boy in a crowded house.”–via IMDB.

The popular play is still being produced to this day by community theaters and pubescent high school drama departments all over the country. If you don’t believe me, do a YouTube search of the title and watch what comes up. I got it on VHS when my college was selling “old movies.” Jonathan Silverman does justice to the role and his voice-overs as Eugene are seared into my brain’s  association of the role for all time. However, I would have loved to see Matthew Broderick reprise his Tony-winning role on film.  Blythe Danner, the outstanding actress that she is, plays a Russian- Jewish mother more convincingly than anyone given the fact that most associate her with the WASP-y mother type. The fact that Danner didn’t get an Oscar nomination for this role escapes me. Equally as impressive is well-known stage actress Judith Ivey. Other than Designing Women,  growing up, my associations with Ivey and her work included Memoirs. It wasn’t until I got into the business myself and started seeing more New York theater that I truly gained an appreciation for Judith Ivey and her work as an actor and director. She’s slated to direct the revival of The Miss Firecracker Contest and I saw her perform the role of Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie which was amazing. A young Jason Alexander plays a bit part in the film as well, long before his days on Seinfeld. I do wonder what happened to the actor who  plays Stanley. But alas, a “Where Are They Now” post is one for another day.

The movie is humorous, heart-felt and still relevant today. Put it in your Netflix queue and if you can find a video store that doesn’t just sell porn, rent it. Pin-ups and puberty are the main themes of the movie and Eugene’s “wet dream” monologue will forever be considered one of the funniest speeches in theater and film history.

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