Tuesdays With Morrie (DVD, 2003)

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TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE: Jack Lemmon's swan song

Feb 28, 2003 (Updated Feb 28, 2003)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Acting, direction, faithful to the book, generally well-done film

Cons:Bit too melodramatic

The Bottom Line: This film will touch each and every one of you deeply.


Having read the book, Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, I was deeply moved by what Morrie Schwartz had to say about life. I know everyone has heard so many clichés on what life is and most people are sick of hearing them. However, one cannot deny that what Morrie had to say about life was inspiring and these touched millions of people around the world. Oprah Winfrey was one of the many people who was touched by Morrie and this led her to produce a TV-film adaptation of the same name in 2000 starring Jack Lemmon and Hank Azaria. I never knew there was a film version of the book until I saw the 52nd Emmy Awards Ceremony, where the film won awards for Best Supporting Actor in a TV-Film or Mini-Series (Hank Azaria), Best Actor in a TV-Film or Mini-Series (Jack Lemmon's last acting role and award) and Best TV-Film. Seeing the film win these awards, I tried to purchase this film on VHS, but did not get to until earlier this year. And I was glad I did.

The film starts off by introducing us to Morrie Schwartz (Jack Lemmon), a 77 year-old, well-respected sociology professor in Brandeis University and a Russian-Jew immigrant. He enjoys life by eating a lot of food and dancing the nights away. However, his life takes a turn for the worse when he starts to experience numbness in his legs, which is when Morrie learns that he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease), an incurable degenerative nerve disease.

Meanwhile, we also learn about one of Morrie's favorite ex-students, Mitch Albom (Hank Azaria), who is now a successful sports writer in Detroit. Although he is not in any financial debt or in any trouble at work, his relationship with his girlfriend, Janine (Wendy Moniz), is slowly deteriorating. Mitch's devotion to his hectic work schedule (which includes him flying to different parts of the United States to report on the most important sports events and writing up these reports at home) does not give him enough time with Janine, who has been threatening to break off the relationship on many an occasion. Ironically, it is during an argument over the phone when Mitch is flicking through the channels that he sees his old professor, Morrie, on TV's Nightline being interviewed by NBC's Ted Koppel.

Seeing Morrie again has brought back many memories of the college years for Mitch and after seeing his professor in such a state, Mitch hesitantly decides to pay his dying professor a visit. What Mitch does not realize is that from his visit, every single little thing in his life will change completely. Mitch, who looks up to Morrie and wants his life to change, wants Morrie's advice on life. Calling this their "final thesis", Morrie gives Mitch his advice on life through a series of conversations that take place every Tuesday (as Morrie says, they are "Tuesday people"), in which Mitch tape records what Morrie has to say about life, which is essentially what the entire plot of the film is.

The film's story is told in exactly the same way the book was told. Every lesson on life, every quote from the book and every situation faced by Mitch (such as the deterioration of his work as a result of visiting Morrie on a frequent basis) is shown in this film, which shows the film's faithfulness to the book. Because the film sticks to the book's every word, director Mick Jackson attempts to give the same message that was given from the book, which is basically the idea that life is too short and that all you can do is live it to its fullest. Like the book, the film talks about a wide range of subjects such as love, forgiveness, acceptance of death and regrets. Of course, not every single lesson written in the book is put into the film, but both the film and book tell us to appreciate life. Thomas Rickman, who adapted the book onto the TV screen, pulls off all the right moves here and brings out the very best of the book onto the screen.

However, I think that without the brilliant acting, the film would not be half as good. Jack Lemmon gives what I think is his best performance of his star-studded career. Throughout the film, I could not believe I was watching the same person who portrayed Daphne from Some Like it Hot and Felix from The Odd Couple. Lemmon portrays Morrie with such sincerity and his extremely affable, lovable personality really grows on you throughout the film. The audience immediately fall in love with Lemmon's Morrie and his portrayal of the professor pulls the tears right out of our eyes. Lemmon is perfectly casted in this role and all I can say is that this was a brilliant way to close his magnificent career. But I was even more surprised by Hank Azaria's portrayal of Mitch. Having heard his voice in one too many episodes of The Simpsons, this was a great change from Azaria's usual comedic work. Azaria shows the emotional complexity of Mitch with such measured accuracy throughout the film and we sympathize with all that he goes through in his busy life. Wendy Moniz, as Janine, is relatively decent, but I feel that some of her acting was slightly wooden, particularly during the scene where she first meets Morrie. She restrained her emotions a bit too much here and I did not really feel a sense of camaraderie between the two during her visit. This is, however, a minor flaw. The rest of the cast, particularly Bonnie Bartlett as Morrie's loving wife Charlotte and Caroline Aaron as Morrie's devoted nurse Connie, are excellent in the supporting roles.

However, despite all that is going for the film, I did feel that the film was a bit too melodramatic. For example, I feel that the scene at the beginning where Morrie first started experiencing numbness was overdone, as was the scene where an emergency ambulance comes in to give Morrie some oxygen. Also, the swelling of the music during the tragic sections of the film is a classic example of a regurgitated melodramatic technique. However, if none of these were added, the film would just come out as monotonous, ordinary and very flat (even films like these need moments of suspense and drama).

Therefore, director Mick Jackson must be commended for his efforts with this film. Jackson paced this film perfectly. There is never a moment in the film where a scene moves too fast or moves too slow. It is all executed with precision and each scene filmed is done as realistically as possible. As I said earlier, Jackson portrays the message of the film clearly and what I like about his direction in this film is that he lets Lemmon and Azaria dictate each scene through their acting. This produces the realism the film needs. Also, Jackson does one thing here that other directors fail to do with these inspirational films: Jackson follows the KIS (Keep It Simple) principle. In this film, you will not find any of those elongated, manipulating speeches from any of the characters in this film and I greatly appreciate that. Sure, there may be many tears in this film, but that is mainly from thinking about the very state Morrie is in, not because of some darn revelation the main character has come up with and again, I thank Jackson for not falling into the same trap other directors manage to slide into. To conclude, Jackson must be commended for doing such a fine job with this film.

As I have stated in this review, this film has a few flaws, but these are very minor flaws. Overall, this film is a well-made film and I appreciate that Oprah Winfrey took the time and effort to make sure that this film was made and her message at the beginning of the film about ALS was a great way to start off the film. I would recommend this film to adults though, because I do not think many children and teenagers appreciate what Morrie has to say and they are too young to comprehend what is said throughout the film. Otherwise, I would highly recommend the film.

Thanks for reading the review.


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