Still and silent, Jerry Lewis slumps there like old furniture in the lifeless house in which the first half of Daniel Noah's coming-of-old-age drama Max Rose molders. The film is a fiction, a tidy and improbable one, but these scenes have documentary power. Lewis' Max Rose, recently bereaved, sits and stares at nothing in particular, which affords us a rare opportunity to regard Lewis himself: Has this livest of live wires ever been so still onscreen? So resigned? His character's mind, I'm sorry to say, reels between past and present. The wife, Eva, is played by Claire Bloom, another welcome and fascinating presence, but the scenes she and Lewis share are quick and corny, memories in which the longtime couple exults in being a longtime couple, feeling just one thing at a time.
The film's second half, unfortunately, puts Max into action, giving him new friends, a mystery to solve and ultimately -- no matter how much you might plead for this not to happen -- a white light to stride beatifically toward. In his stupor, he discovers evidence that Eva might have had an affair 60 years earlier. This rouses him, and the final scenes offer unconvincing revelations, reassurances and reconciliations.
Noah's framing often emphasizes Max's isolation: He'll be in the center of the screen, but in mid and wide shots, surrounded by a lifetime's accumulation of furniture and records. In the apple-red sweater he sports for much of the film he's sometimes like the fruit in a still life, not dominant, just there.
Lewis does dominate, of course, especially when he snaps without pity at son Chris (Kevin Pollak), in Noah's most convincing and compelling scenes. In them, Lewis is prickly, unpredictable -- he's Lewis.