There’s one moment in the hysterical “All of Me” (1984) directed by the late Carl Reiner that is absolutely jaw-dropping. You have to see it for yourself. I beg to wonder if it’s not one of the best sequences in a comedy. Steve Martin is on a sidewalk fighting with the soul of Edwina who is inside of him. She has control of the right side of his body, and he has control of his left side. Physically, Martin articulates – without special effects – this feminine force pulling him in one direction and then – this other masculine side tugging on the other. There’s quite a thrill in witnessing this incredible and totally preposterous situation. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen – recalling the classic silent movie comedic antics of Buster Keaton. One of the reasons that this scene works so well – and the entire movie as a matter of fact – is the commitment of both the performer and the writer/director Reiner to the ludicrousness of the situation. It’s that leap of faith and trust that engenders in us the convulsion of laughter. Carl Reiner launched Steve Martin’s film career with the box office success “The Jerk” (1979) and the two later collaborated on three other projects – “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” “The Man With Two Brains” and “All of Me.” In my book, the latter is the most sublime of comedies – and one I have seen repeatedly. In celebration of Reiner’s 98 years, I sat yesterday to watch it again – and I’m delighted to report it is still as funny as ever – and dare I say it – yes – more poignant than ever. The idea of being trapped in an absurd situation beyond our control like the main character in this comedy is something we can all relate to – and to be able to laugh about it is something we all need.
The plot of the movie is ridiculous – and Reiner pulls it off. While on her deathbed, the rich Edwina Cutwater (Lily Tomlin in one of her best performances) wants her soul to be inherited by her stablemaster’s daughter – so she can live anew in a healthy body. The transferring is being done by Prahka Lasa (I’m laughing just typing his name) who hails from Tibet . Things go haywire and she ends up in her lawyer’s body. And they have to work together to figure out a way to right this wrong.
Steve Martin is a struggling lawyer who longs to be a jazz musician. His lack of success in either profession has come from the fact that he hasn’t fully committed to either. Edwina – mired by her disease and her entitlement as well – hasn’t fully been able to live and enjoy life. They now are sharing one body – and this concept is exploited for all its worth by Reiner and his talented cast. Martin can hear Tomlin inside of him and for most of the film, he finds himself talking to himself/her — doing both voices. Tomlin can be seen whenever Martin stands in front of the mirror. And Richard Libertini as the mostly silent Prakha Lasa is phenomenal. Trust me – it all works. Reiner’s expertise and comedic confidence is palpable in every frame.
The movie has a tenderness about it – as both characters learn things about themselves and most importantly that both sexes – (heck, all of us) – need to work together. You need to stay through the credits – as Martin and Tomlin dance together to the tune of All of Me. It’s heavenly.
Edwina Cutwater: “Guess what I’m going to do?”
Roger Cobb: “What?”
Edwina Cutwater: “I’m going to come back from the dead.”
Roger Cobb: “And what makes you think you can do that?”
Edwina Cutwater: “Because I’m rich.”
Available to stream on Hulu and HBO Go, HBO Now and HBO Max. Available to rent on Amazon Prime, YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play and Microsoft.
Screenplay by Phil Alden Robinson
Based on the novel by Edwin Davis and adapted by Henry Olek
Directed by Carl Reiner
Starring: Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin, Richard Libertini and Victoria Tennant.
Reflections on the Screenplay and Carl Reiner
“The screenplay was written by Phil Alden Robinson, who would go on to write and direct Field of Dreams (1989). Robinson reminisced in a 2002 interview about his experience working with Reiner: “Carl is a lovely guy, very non-competitive…he knew how important a screenwriter could be on the set. Carl is a master at creating an atmosphere on a set in which people can do their best work. He’s calm and confident, he knows what he wants to do and keeps things light. He’s very funny and he has this boyish enthusiasm that’s infectious.” With a comedy career spanning over 50 years, Reiner is an indisputable industry legend: from Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” in the fifties to “The Dick Van Dyke Show” in the sixties to recent work in the hit remake “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001) and its sequel “Ocean’s Twelve” (2004), small wonder that film critic Leonard Maltin referred to him as “a veritable Renaissance man of comedy.” (www.tcm.com)
Bringing “All of Me” to the Screen
“Books do not often become hit movies without having been books in the first place. But that is what happened to ”Me Two,” the novel that is the basis for ”All of Me.” ”Me Two” is the work of Ed Davis, who lives near Seattle and has also written historical fiction and articles about computers. All of Mr. Davis’s book-length works remain unpublished, ”Me Two” among them.
Michael Larsen and Elizabeth Pomada, literary agents representing Mr. Davis, initially sent his manuscripts to book publishers and film producers simultaneously. It was bought by Kings Road Productions for ”less than $100,000,” according to Mr. Larsen, who at that time imagined it might be suitable for Katharine Hepburn and Lee Marvin. The manuscript appeared under the pseudonym Edwina Davis because the author thought it might be more salable if it were thought to have been written by a woman.”All of Me,” which was written by Phil Alden Robinson, shares a basic premise with Mr. Davis’s book and very little else. The author’s heroine, Cynthia Cutwater, is a 99-year-old dowager who dies on the book’s first page and whose soul is transferred to the body of an aging derelict named Al (hence Mr. Larsen’s thoughts of a Hepburn-Marvin casting). The movie uses this idea, the name Edwina (for the heroine, who is played by Lily Tomlin), and very little else. The film tones down the book’s scatological side, turns the hero into a 38-year-old lawyer, spends much more time setting up the premise and lets the characters have a harder (and funnier) time getting used to their new situation. After that, the movie embroils them in an entirely different set of adventures from those of the book, which sends Al/Cynthia off to visit one of Cynthia’s relatives. (The New York Times)
About Director Carl Reiner
“Carl Reiner was a Jewish American stand-up comedian, actor, director, producer, writer and voice artist. Over the years he has won nine Emmy Awards and one Grammy Award. He was born on March 20, 1922, in the Bronx, New York, to Irving Reiner, a watchmaker, and Bessie (Mathias) Reiner. After graduating from Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, he went to work as a machinist’s helper and seemed headed for a career repairing sewing machines. In his early teens, Reiner got his start as a performer in a WPA Dramatic Workshop after his brother, Charlie, told him about a free acting class being offered by the Works Progress Administration.
He was educated at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and served in the United States Army during World War II. During the war he was part of a troupe of touring GI performers. Reiner later performed in several Broadway musicals, including “Inside U.S.A.,” “Alive and Kicking,” and “Call Me Mister.” In 1950, he was cast in Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.” He also worked on “Caesar’s Hour.” He won two of his 11 Emmys (out of 18 nominations) for his on-camera work on “Caesar’s Hour” and as a writer on a 1967 special that reunited the “Show of Shows.” Reiner then worked as the straight man to Mel Brooks’ “2000 Year Old Man” routines. They produced five records, one of which won a Grammy.
In 1961, Reiner created “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” which ran until 1966. The show was inspired by his time working with Sid Caesar and his own domestic life. He played Alan Brady, Van Dyke’s boss on the show. He said the show was successful because of the choice of “somebody with more talent to play me.” The show won 15 Primetime Emmy Awards, with Reiner picking up five as writer and producer. Reiner directed his first feature film, in 1967, an adaptation of the play “Enter Laughing,” which had been based on his 1958 autobiographical novel about a stage-struck delivery boy from the Bronx who decides to become an actor. He wrote two other screenplays that were made into films, “The Thrill of It All” (1963) and “The Art of Love” (1965). In 1970, he directed “Where’s Poppa” and the hugely successful George Burns vehicle “Oh God” in 1977. Reiner also directed and co-wrote four comedy films in the early career of Steve Martin; “The Jerk” (1979), “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (1982), “The Man with Two Brains” (1983), and “All of Me” (1984). In addition to those comedies, he directed “Summer Rental” (1985), “Sibling Rivalry” (1990), and his final film “That Old Feeling” (1997).
Reiner also acted or guest-starred on several television shows, including “House,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Hot in Cleveland” and “Parks and Recreation.” He won his last Emmy for a guest appearance as Alan Brady on an episode “Mad About You” in 1995. He also appeared in “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001) and its sequels “Ocean’s Twelve” (2004) and “Ocean’s Thirteen” (2007). He also appeared in the 2017 documentary “If You’re Not in the Obit,” “Eat Breakfast” about people who remained active into their 90s. Reiner was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1999. The following year, he was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. In 1943, Reiner married singer Estelle Lebost. The couple was married for 64 years until Estelle’s death in 2008. Reiner is the father of actor/director Rob Reiner, poet, playwright and author Sylvia Anne Reiner, and painter/actor/director Lucas Reiner. Reiner died on June 29, 2020, at the age of 98.” (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org)