Friday, June 16, 2017


The Yiddish term for Norman Oppenheimer (perfectly played by Richard Gere in Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer) is a macher (someone who gets things done, a "fixer," but also, less flatteringly, a pushy, overbearing sort of guy.) Norman is a macher - in both the flattering and less flattering senses of the term. He is a con artist, constantly building and trading on his supposed connections and ability to do favors for people and connect them with important people in New York Jewish society. This doesn't make him rich, nor does that seem to be his goal. He just wants to be connected, however marginally, with important people who matter and can accomplish important things. I guess the idea is that knowing such people and having a reputation for knowing them, by extension, somehow makes him matter too. And don't we all at some level want to matter?

And it does seem to work for Norman - for a while anyway (as the film's subtitle reveals). My first reaction watching him was how silly and pathetic he seemed. But gradually one warms to him (thanks in part to how effectively Richard Gere portrays his character). His most important "friend," an Israeli politician who becomes his country's Prime Minister, calls him "a warm Jew," which I take to be intended as a compliment. As the film progresses - and Norman digs himself deeper and deeper in difficulty - it gets harder and  harder not to like him and root for him to succeed somehow, even if it is never quite clear what ultimately he should succeed at!. 

It is not a subtle movie. One can practically pinpoint the moment (fittingly on Amtrak) when he overdoes his schtick and reveals too much to the wrong person. But, while the ultimate outcome is personally tragic, he does not depart a failure but happily leaves behind a real legacy of accomplishment. His bizarre desire to be loved results paradoxically in all sorts of other people being better off - as, analogously, the Prime Minister's ambitious desire for affirmation also (apparently) ends up accomplishing some real good.

This surprisingly feel-good movie is a truly wonderful "made in New York" story!

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