Final Film in the Eugene Trilogy is Unfortunately Stage-bound



Broadway Bound is the last film in Neil Simon’s “Eugene Trilogy” of plays, based on his own early life, and the third adapted for the screen. Simon’s alter ego, Eugene Jerome, was first played by Jonathon Silverman in the 1986 film Brighton Beach Memoirs. Matthew Broderick took up the role in 1988’s Biloxi Blues. In Broadway Bound Eugene is played by Corey Parker, though to add some confusion the original Eugene, Jonathon Silverman, now plays Eugene’s older brother and writing partner, Stanley.

Unlike the first two plays, Broadway Bound was adapted for television, not the big screen. The change in scale includes limiting the film’s sets almost entirely to the interior of the Jerome house where Eugene lives with his brother, parents, Kate and Jack (Ann Bancroft and Jerry Orbach), and his grandfather, Ben (Hume Cronyn).

Eugene and Stanley are aspiring comedy writers trying to break into radio in the years after World War 2. It’s a career path that makes little sense to their father, a weary garment worker, or their grandfather an aging and angry Bolshevik. Kate, a woman who has sacrificed her youth and her dreams to serve her family, tries to be supportive of her sons’ dreams, but she doesn’t understand their humor. Besides that, Kate, Jack, and Ben have their own problems to worry about. Kate and Jack’s marriage is in trouble because of an affair. Ben’s wife is moving to Florida with his other daughter, Blanche (Michelle Lee), who is considered a traitor by Ben because she married into wealth. The tensions and disappointments that surround Eugene and Stanley seem to weigh less on them than to serve as fodder for their comedy – something which causes the rest of the family pain after the boys get their big break.

Broadway Bound is classic Neil Simon, centered around a warm but dysfunctional Jewish family, heavy on wisecracks and sentiment. But somehow in this rendering it never feels real enough to be emotionally affecting. In the film’s emotional climax, Kate tells the story of her glorious night as a young woman, dancing with George Raft. Ann Bancraft is a brilliant actress, but like the rest of Broadway Bound, the scene feels stagey and artificial. I was never able to “believe” the story of the Jerome brothers, which is all the more disappointing given that Eugene and Stanley were based on Neil Simon and his real brother and early writing partner, Mel. Watching Broadway Bound, it’s impossible to forget that you are watching a play. The film is simply too stage-bound, it’s dialogue simultaneously too cloying and clever to seem real.

Despite Broadway Bound’s deficiencies, watching Bancroft, Orbach, and Cronyn – all such great actors, all lost to us now – provides a bittersweet pleasure. Cronyn gets a lot of the film’s punchlines, and its affection is with Bancroft’s Kate. But Orbach’s hangdog face makes Jack a more sympathetic character than he should be, given his betrayal of his wife. At least Kate still has a bright and beautiful memory to return to from time to time: Jack seems to have nothing but disappointment in himself and the life he’s made. If anything makes Broadway Bound worth watching, it’s seeing these three stellar talents again.