72 – Finding Forrester

Grumpy Old Man helps out Gifted Young Writer. It’s kind of like Good Will Hunting, only without the crisp script or the gorgeous Boston scenery. Sean Connery plays William Forrester, a J. D. Salinger-like recluse who published one book in the distant past. (Salinger published the English-class standard Catcher in the Rye way back when, and has done little since, choosing the life of a hermit instead.) He lives in a tenement building in the Bronx in New York, always peering out from his small apartment at the pickup basketball games below.

One of the kids who plays in those games near Forrester’s apartment is Jamal Wallace (Robert Brown), a talented high schooler who carries a C average. Well, “carries” is the right word, because Jamal is apparently a lot smarter than his grades would indicate; he’s well-read and articulate. But having great grades in an inner-city school is apparently not cool, so Jamal holds back.

So the boys playing their games see Forrester watching them, and they make up stories about the place – it’s the domain of a ghost, of course. And on a dare, Jamal climbs up the side of the building to check out the mysterious ghost – and winds up leaving his bag. Naturally, Forrester goes through the bag and reads Jamal’s latest compositions and marks them all up. And that’s how the two meet – Jamal comes back after getting his bag tossed down at him and seeing the critical comments from Forrester, and they strike a deal: Forrester will help the young lad with his writing, and Jamal won’t mention Forrester’s identity to anyone.

Jamal, on the advice of school counsellors, begins to attend a private college (on a scholarship, of course), and he runs into Professor Crawford (F. Murray Abraham). Anyone who’s attended college has had a teacher like this – pompous, arrogant, snooty. And of course, since Forrester is acting as Jamal’s muse, problems ensue about that oldest of college problems – plagiarism, not alcoholism.

Will the recluse stand up for his friend and leave his apartment building? Will Jamal be vindicated? Will Jamal help the school win the basketball championship? Geez, all this film was missing was a sick mother or a wisecracking best friend. Oh wait – we DID have the best friend, played (and played very well) by Busta Rhymes.

This movie is absolutely exploding with cliches, and most of the characters seem to be one-dimensional. But it’s Brown who stands above everyone else, who makes this more than just another mentor-student movie. His timing is impeccable, his delivery astonishing, and his talents should – repeat, should – take him miles from this movie. He’s so good he makes even Connery look like just another old fart, but I think Connery mailed this one in. Even so, his character is too coarse to be interesting, and I wound up not giving a rat’s ass about him. Unfortunately, his situation is supposed to be one of the driving forces of the movie.

Finding Forrester: 5

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