By 1986, Neil Simon had already accumulated an incredible amount of awards and accolades for his work as a writer for television, theatre, and the big screen. So what is one to do after more than 30 years of success? Go home. Brighton Beach Memoirs allows many to do just that. Based on the successful play, Shout Select brings the movie to Blu-ray, which hit shelves on March 26 with no bonus material. I like bonus material!
Transitioning a play to the big screen can be challenging as the pace and overall movement tends to be slower than what the average movie-going audience is accustom to. Subsequently, the production has to rely more on the performances and dialog to hold the audience. Based on the financial results, it would appear Brighton Beach Memoirs struggled to hold the audience in December of 1986. Admittedly, the competition was tough. Platoon had opened the week before along with another Broadway hit, Little Shop of Horrors. Three Amigos had a two-week head start.
Nonetheless, Brighton Beach Memoirs should have been a good family choice for a film to see at Christmas. It’s full of well-crafted storytelling and solid performances by Blythe Danner, Bob Dishy, Brian Drillinger, Stacey Glick, and a young Jonathan Silverman, who plays Eugene Morris Jerome, an adolescent Jewish boy growing up in a crowded house in Brooklyn during the depression.
Brighton Beach Memoirs fails to garner the big laughs of its sequel, Biloxi Blues, as it is more about moments within the script that trigger memories and smiles from the audience. The dialog between Jerome and his older brother Jack (Dishy) is clearly the highlight here as Simon manages to weave every teenage male topic into this family story with the skill of a true artist. Ultimately, we are left wanting more of Jerome and Jack, and less of some of the other characters. Biloxi Blues delivers more of that humor with Matthew Broderick taking over the role of Jerome on film (He played Jerome in Brighton Beach Memoirs when it debuted on Broadway).
Recommendation: Neil Simon was a great storyteller and excellent writer of relationships. Much of his skill is on display here in what is a very simple film. Yes, some bonus material would have been nice, but the film looks and sounds great on Blu-ray. Pick it up in December and watch it with the family while enjoying some hot chocolate and cookies. It’ll be fun. Then wrap it up and take it to a Christmas party.