Manglehorn dabbles in the strange and peculiar, but at its core, it may be director David Gordon Green’s safest and least rewarding drama yet. The film contains weird scribbles in its margins, but the narrative is thin and contains little chew on. A.J. Manglehorn (Al Pacino) is a grizzled locksmith and wounded soul living in small-town Texas, still aching for a woman named Clara who got away many years ago. He sends regretful letters to her like clockwork but they always find a way back to his mailbox unread. Manglehorn now spends his days cutting locks, looking after his ill cat and making kind, flirty conversation with Dawn (Holly Hunter), the friendly bank teller he visits each week.
Angelo Manglehorn (Al Pacino) is a man adrift. He has no connections to tie him to the world, no close relationships with family or friends. As a locksmith, he spends his days crafting spare keys or helping people who have locked themselves out of their cars. When the day is done, he returns home to spend the evening with his sole companion: his cat, Fanny. Much like its eponymous character, David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn drifts aimlessly, never bothering to make meaningful connections between characters or story elements.
In Cake, it takes about fifteen minutes for director Daniel Barnz to establish the ground rules for this familiar portrait of grief and addiction, followed up by another 90 minutes or so of dramatic clumsiness and eye-rolling clichés. Whether it is drugs, sex, or booze, each brings a routine numbing quality to the table for Claire Bennett (Aniston), a seemingly darkly comedic and scathing woman who we first meet in a support group for chronic physical pain.
David Gordon Green has never allowed himself to be easily pinned down as a filmmaker. After making his name with dreamy independent films about relationships and growing up, he moved onto big budget comedies of varying quality. While even his most dire efforts bring a certain amount of style (even the awful Your Highness had a compelling visual softness not usually associated with medieval stoner comedies), many have mourned the direction of his career. His newest effort, Manglehorn, feels like a bastard child of these two worlds. In many ways it’s his most visually adventurous film since his career began, but it’s hardly a return to his early work in terms of feel, theme or style.