Appreciating The Thing About My Folks is easier once you acknowledge that you've already seen it under another name. Back in 1986, it was called Nothing in Common, and it starred Tom Hanks as an ad executive facing the unexpected dissolution of his parents' marriage. The old man was played by Jackie Gleason, and he was one crusty character indeed so set in his ways that he couldn't believe his wife could turn her back on him.
Nineteen years later, writer/ star Paul Reiser has turned the selfsame concept into a vehicle for himself and the great Peter Falk, who sink their teeth into it with an enthusiasm that almost makes up for the obvious lack of originality. The only substantive difference between the two films is that Reiser's character, Ben Kleinman, has started a family of his own, while Hanks' David Basner was a footloose womanizer with a learned aversion to commitment. Otherwise, the identical dynamics apply as son Ben and papa Sam head out on a road trip that, for all the incessant squabbling it entails, will teach each man vital new information about the other and maybe mend Sam's ruptured relationship with his missus (Olympia Dukakis) in the process.
It should be the utmost in superfluous viewing, but there's seldom a good reason to pass up quality time with the ever-embraceable Falk, who can deliver a laugh line like nobody's business. (He can even make a fart joke work, may the movie-reviewing gods not strike me dead for saying so.) Like much of the actor's work, his performance here takes a character who's brash, obstinate and unrepentantly lower-class and somehow makes us believe that it's everybody else in the world who has the problem. Plus, if you're down with his Sam from frame one, you can congratulate yourself on being a step ahead of Paul Reiser, which is always a pleasant feeling for some folks to harbor.
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