Let It Ride (Joe Pytka, 1989) August 5, 2006Posted by Daniel Stephens in : Comedy, 1980s, Drama, I Gotta Get Me One Of Those..., Film reviews , add a comment
Sometimes I think Richard Dreyfuss gets a hard deal when it comes to his films – I mean it was Roy Scheider who got the limelight with his classic lines ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat’ and ‘Smile you son of bitch’ in Jaws, while Dreyfuss had to make the most of his ‘this was no boating accident’ and building mash potato mountains in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, but they just don’t have the savoured iconography of his peers accomplishments. There’s no doubt he’s been in some of the greatest films to come out of modern American cinema, not least Spielberg’s two classics, but Rob Reiner’s simply superb Stand By Me, George Lucas’ early (and arguably best) film American Graffiti, and the Neil Simon/Herbert Ross collaboration The Goodbye Girl. Like the man himself, some of his little-seen gems require some more exposure, and personally I’ve never had as much fun watching such comic-greats as Down And Out In Beverly Hills, Tin Men, Stakeout, What About Bob? and Moon Over Parador. It seems that, like so many, Let It Ride is destined to remain one of those movies that shouts at the top its lungs and yet can’t be heard. A film those lucky enough to have seen, hold dear, and those that haven’t look puzzled when told the title and say ‘Let it what?’ Simply put, Let It Ride is a brilliant comedy that can’t fail to put a smile on your face.
There’s a disturbed logic about the film since it depicts a guy gambling his way to riches, the very recreation that concocts moral ambiguity in the United States. Yet it hardly deplores such activities as our would-be hero Trotter (Richard Dreyfuss) keeps placing bets and winning them, and as he says, ‘he’s having a very good day’. The film tells the story of one Jay Trotter, who happens across his friend’s taped recording of a conversation between two people who discuss a ‘sure thing winner’ in Saturday’s first horse race of the day. Trotter, believing in some sort of divine intervention or just blind luck, takes this advice and places all the money he has on the horse. As the horse he bet wins the race, Trotter can’t believe what’s happening to him and suddenly finds himself having the best day at the races even his wildest dreams couldn’t have made-up.
The opening scene perhaps justifies the film’s stance when Trotter and his wife discuss the merits of fortune cookies in a restaurant, and in no time at all, all the customers are chiming in with their views about fortunes and luck. It seemingly argues therefore, that instead of being a film about the merits and fortune’s of gambling, it’s more a film about the merits and fortune’s of faith. In one scene, Trotter goes to the men’s room and asks God to give him one day, one big win. After all, as Trotter tells a friend, today isn’t ‘gambling’ because gambling is about risk and taking a chance. He so believes he’s on to a winner, he ultimately ‘knows’ it, therefore, eliminating any risk or chance. Certainly, if the film is about faith then it throws up even more questions than if it were not, but its sense of optimism is nothing to be discredited, as any sugary-sentiment is eliminated here, and the idea that everyone can have that one day when everything goes right is hardly deplorable, even with its basis in fantasy.
Based on Jay Cronley’s book Good Vibes, Nancy Dowd’s script stays true to the original material (however the ending is different), with many of the film’s funniest lines coming straight from the source text. Certainly one of the most appealing things about the film is its many supporting characters that perfectly overplay the material, contrasting a terrifically energetic but dry Richard Dreyfuss. There’s Trotter’s neurotic wife (played by Teri Garr who also played Dreyfuss’ wife in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind) who we meet in the opening scene as Dreyfuss and Garr recite scripted lines about what they are not going to do in order to save their marriage (he says he won’t gamble anymore, she says she wont cause a ‘scene’ in public anymore). The clinical way in which the couple go about their relationship (scripted lines at dinner no less), and the running sub-plot of Trotter’s uncanny way of making fast calculations furthers the idea that the film is about faith, given that smart logic and shrewd behaviour hasn’t got him very far before. When Trotter’s at his favourite bar, already having won plenty of money and being treated like a god amongst the gambling proletariat, his question of collectively making a bet with them falls on deaf ears, each person’s smile dropping and their attention turned away – perhaps what they lack is his faith, or at least faith in him?
David Johansen as Trotter’s best friend is great in his role as the desperately unlucky one, while Jennifer Tilly plays the young sexpot who hangs onto old rich man Greenberg played by Edward Walsh. Evangeline (Cynthia Nixon) has her first day at the races, her preconceptions clouded by an over-zealous boyfriend promising fortune that just isn’t there; Tony Cheeseburger (Richard Dimitri) is the resident gambler whose always around wearing his fake gold chains and a tropical shirt (an indication of past glory or a covert exterior to hide his failings perhaps); and the man known only as the ticket seller (Robbie Coltrane), whose passion for his position and wishful stories of horse track history lends himself to the unfortunate crowd of misfits, their enthusiasm a virtue clouding a hollowness within. Richard Dreyfuss carries the film however, with leading-man assurance, but like the many characters he interacts with throughout the day, he’s also as hollow as they are to begin with. It seems that their unfortunate predicaments may have brought them to the track but where he and they differ is ultimately in the message of the film. Evangeline can only see instant gold and riches, while Trotter’s best friend Looney wants to blackmail the men who helped Trotter win the first race, and Tilly’s character Vicki is only there because of the free hands she takes from her rich partner Greenberg. Nothing more than greed on her part, not unlike Greenberg himself who, already rich and powerful, complains when he loses a little money. There’s no logic to winning (Trotter proved that) and there’s no luck (at least Looney doesn’t have any), so in their greed and desperation to rise to the top, Trotter slips quietly by, returning the offending tape to the men that helped him and making-up with his wife. The moral justification of his actions perhaps sets him apart immediately but ultimately he believed in something beyond the financial, and in this case it’s his faith that makes him a winner.
When the betting is done and the last race has finished Let It Ride establishes itself as one of the best of the eighties unknown quantities. Director Joe Pytka never allows the film to get bogged down and with the running time clocking in at under ninety minutes the film hardly outstays its welcome. Nancy Dowd’s script is crisp and has an under-layer (drawn from the book) that provides a little more than the usually superficial commercial comedies of this nature, and with such dialogue as when Trotter asks a rather horny, upper-class lady if she wants a drink, she replies: ‘I don’t see why not, I’m on the pill!’, you know you’re on to something good.