an appreciation of: charles grodin

The great Charles Grodin has passed away a couple days ago, meaning the entertainment world lost not only a talented and hilarious actor but also a GOAT-level late night talk show guest.

Following Grodin’s passing the tributes poured in both from fans and from his past collaborators, including Albert Brooks, Steve Martin and others.

Many of those have called out some of Grodin’s most iconic roles such as The Heartbreak Kid, Midnight Run, Heaven Can Wait, Beethoven and, of course, The Muppets Take Manhattan. While I certainly agree with those call-outs, there are three movies that received less attention but to my mind are integral elements in the Grodin filmography.

Real Life

In writer/director Albert Brooks’ debut feature, Grodin plays the husband and father of the Yeager family. They’ve agreed to let Brooks (playing a slightly fictionalized version of himself) follow them around with cameras in an early satire of the reality TV genre, back when it was mostly confined to PBS. As the experiment goes increasingly off-track, Warren Yeager is pulled between his commitment to keep things going as planned and the misgivings of his wife and family, culminating in a crisis involving a horse dying on the table – and on camera – after it’s brought into his veterinary practice/

Yes sir, Aurora’s chicken pepperoni…

The melding of Grodin’s deadpan delivery and Brooks’ deadpan writing was a winning combination, the actor serving as a great outlet for the writer’s style. His ability to sell complete panic without actually losing his cool was perfect for the story, making Yeager into a very relatable figure instead of a caricature, which would have been an easy line to jump over.

Seems Like Old Times

It couldn’t have been easy for Grodin to take his role as assistant district attorney Ira Parks opposite Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn given those two are such “big” comedic actors whereas Grodin was a more subdued performer. But darn if he doesn’t hold his own in every scene, often winding up as the funniest person on screen. Ira has to deal with the fact that not only has his wife Glenda’s (Hawn) ex-husband Nicholas Gardenia (Chase) returned, but that it’s fallen to him to prosecute the crime Gardenia is suspected to have committed.

Neil Simon’s script gave Grodin a chance to play a completely level-headed individual who finds his nice, tidy world suddenly turned upside down, including threatening his career and marriage. He gets to play against the great Robert Guillaume frequently, but one of Grodin’s best scenes is one where his face isn’t seen. When Gardenia is hiding under a guest room bed and Glenda is trying to protect him, all we see are Grodin’s feet, but we know exactly what’s happening because of the strength of his performance.

Dave

I’m sorry, but if Grodin’s performance as Murray Blum, accountant friend of Kevin Kline’s Dave, isn’t on your list of all time greats, we can’t hang out.