Like most college freshmen, I fell in love with Garden State immediately after watching it. While I haven’t seen it since then, I stand by it being quite the debut for director Zach Braff. I continued to stand by the star of arguably my favorite television series (I’m not here to argue that Scrubs is the best show, but few things have made me as happy) when he went to Kickstarter in order to make his next film the way he wanted. I really liked feeling like I helped make Wish I Was Here, and I thought the film managed to evolve upon his debut’s themes for those in an older group.
I was more than ready to love whatever Braff put out next, even if it continued down the quirky path he was already on.
Well, this isn’t what I had expected at all.
Going In Style is a remake of a 1979 film of the same name. The plot isn’t exactly the same, but the core concept is there: three really old guys decide to rob a bank. In the original, it’s because they’re all bored, but they do it in this film because they’re very poor. A laugh riot, right? I thought so too.
This film stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin, and that is definitely the best thing that the film has going for it. These three are endlessly charming (both on and off screen) and their chemistry is incredible. It feels like they’re genuinely having fun, which makes the audience more likely to have fun with it as well.
The big problem though, unfortunately, is the script. Going In Style was written by Theodore Melfi, who wrote and directed St. Vincent and Hidden Figures. Now while these films aren’t bad by any means, they’re held back by formulaic scripts that prefer the easy way through their conflicts. This film is so full of eye-roll inducing dialogue about how old people don’t like banks and social media, it might as well be another anti-millenial CBS show.
You can tell these lines are designed for laughs, and for everyone in my screening that was a retiree, they were successful. I demand a little more from my movies. Sue me.
Most of the real comedy comes from the three leads never missing a beat in their rapport. Arkin seems to have been comedically cantankerous for what feels like decades, but that’s only because he sells it so well. Freeman is terrific with the concept of “yes and”, always bouncing off of the other two and often improving upon it. Michael Caine balances out the trio by being the perfect “straight man” for the troupe, by finding the joke in a serious or realistic reaction. Even considering the robbery is in itself Caine’s idea, he pitches it as a real thing and never implies that it’s a joke.
One of the biggest disappointments for me was actually that director Zach Braff doesn’t seem to leave much of an imprint on the film. Honestly, it feels much more like Melfi had directed it instead, and he apparently as supposed to. Braff’s earlier films feel much more alike with each other, having much more style and clearly feeling like they belong to him. Going In Style feels more like a film that already existed but just added his namecard to the credits in post.
The real secret weapon of the film is arguably Hollywood’s best kept secret: Anna Swando. Close friend and occasional contributor of The Filmsmiths, Anna Swando is production assistant to the stars. While she is perhaps best known for her work on films like The Big Short, Bridge Of Spies, and Doctor Strange, she acted as the personal assistant to Sir Michael Caine for Going In Style. Personally, I think it shows, and the film wouldn’t survive without her.
I’m sorry if that seems like a goof, but the ever-expanding filmography of Anna Swando is perhaps what I watch the closest, and I’ll be damned if I don’t incorporate that into the very fiber of this thing that Zach and I created. Yes, I’ll calm down and get back on topic now.
Going In Style is a perfectly fine little romp with no real stakes that wraps everything up in perhaps the neatest bow by the end. It was a relatively nice way to spend my afternoon. While I didn’t expect much from it, it fell just a bit short in several aspects. If you were to ask me about this film in a year, I’m fairly certain I’d have to think for a minute or two before I actually remembered seeing it in theaters.
Maybe the film gets better if you view it as the end of a “Morgan Freeman and his old and famous friends do something crazy” trilogy, featuring The Bucket List and Last Vegas. Literally no one knows.
Going In Style: 6/10