High-school buddies move into the tough world of the late ’60s in a weakly plotted debut.
Director-screenwriter Levinson returns to Baltimore, the scene of three of his more successful efforts, Diner, Avalon, and Tin Men. As in those films, Levinson remains fascinated with life’s passages, but as a novelist, he fails to bring these moments to poignant life. The narrative shifts clumsily from Bobby Shine’s first-person story to third-person tales from Bobby’s pals. Bobby faces life after high school with some success: he becomes a promising TV director and begins a relationship with his girlfriend Annie. But Annie’s brother Neil reveals a self-destructive streak, letting himself be drafted, then going AWOL. Similarly, drug-dependent friend Ben curdles as his marriage collapses. High-school high jinks remain the order of the day at the local diner, where the guys, joined by immature pals Turko and Eggy, meet to spin tiresome tales of the past that seem like Diner leftovers. There are occasional flashes: when Ben stomps out of his father-in-law’s car dealership, refusing to work there, the moment has the feeling of a good take. But too often Levinson writes flat, even banal prose, as when Bobby observes, “Like tears, laughter often comes when you least expect it.” He never reaches any depth in exploring the changes the war in Vietnam brings to his characters’ world—passages about the conflict read like wedged-in exposition. And even though Levinson, through Bobby, makes the point that accidents shape destiny, the events pushing the narrative forward still seem forced, particularly a riot involving blacks in downtown Baltimore. The closing of the diner at the end recalls Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show, still the benchmark for this sort of coming-of-age tale.
The Baltimore that Levinson evoked so warmly on film eludes him on paper.