Still in the Game, Written by George R. Flowers
Still in the Game details the existential struggles and adventures of retired comic Robert “Barkley” Barkoff. At 75, his zest for life is incongruous with the concern of his son, who insists that Barkley needs to move into assisted living for his own safety. (Prior to the story, Barkley fell from standing on a chair whilst changing a lightbulb in his home – a cause for concern for his son and daughter-in-law.) In the course of exploring alternative living options – the Shady Oaks Nursing Home, for example (‘the pride of Westchester’) – Barkley fatefully meets Murray Geller. The two retired men have both been brought to this place by their sons, concerned for their safety living alone in old age. Barkley and Murray agree that their zest for life, even in their retirement, makes Shady Oaks out of the question.
The two men grow close very quickly, brought together by their mutual disdain for assisted living schemes and the prospect of losing their independence to old age. They have other things in common as well: they have both lost their wives, they have caring children, and they seek new excitement in the monotony of retired life. Still in the Game is the story of their friendship and adventures.
It is well-written and well-envisioned, it addresses important issues of ageism, and it brings cinematic life to characters usually ignored by conventional film. It has some structural problems, however. The film is a comedy, but mostly the screenplay is a string of disjointed gags that don’t quite fit together. Almost the whole work is composed of jokes, and while these are often clever, they are seldom funny as such. Barkley has a punny sense of humour and he’s quick with words; his every other line makes clever use of something that has been said before by someone else, twisted or reworded for comic effect. The sheer quantity of these comedic moments exemplifies the abilities of the screenplay’s writer, George Flowers (himself a retired stand-up comedian), but unfortunately, most of them fall flat. This has partly to do with the speaker of the jokes: Barkley is good, kind, lovable – but also perverse, misogynistic, simple-minded. He has a disgusting sense of humour, and the repetition of puns and sex gags is wearying.
There is not much of a story, either. The pacing of the relationship between Barkley and Murray is immediate and awkward. (Apparently a short conversation on a bench and a couple of telephone calls are enough to make a couple of guys best friends.) There is a forced intimacy in their decisions to spend lots of time together, sleep at each other’s houses, and eventually live together. It’s all so casual and rapid: Barkley proposes that they move in together whilst at a bowling alley.
Murray, I’ve been thinking. Our kids worry because we live alone. We may be the solution to each other’s problem.
Murray replies equally nonchalantly.
I was thinking the same thing, Bark.
The construction of the film around a collection of jokes turns the relationship between Barkley and Murray into a comedian-sidekick relationship in which the latter acts as a unidimensional foil for the former. Their immediate intimacy doesn’t make sense. The purpose of the work also remains unclear for longer than is comfortable; each new gag seems to have the potential to lead to something more interesting, only to be replaced by another joke. The film has its funny moments, but taken together, they form a collection of interesting vignettes rather than a coherent work. ■
Length: 114 pages
Genre: Comedy, Feature, Screenplay
Country: United States
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George R. Flowers is a veteran New York City radio and television broadcaster, voice and stage actor, stand-up comedian, and independent screenwriter. Still in the Game is Flowers’s first feature screenplay.
This critical review was commissioned and sponsored by the filmmaker.
Featured Image: iStock.com/LiliGraphie.