Bernard & Huey

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 2.08.05 PMBernard & Huey is based on two characters who showed up in Jules Feiffer’s cartoons for The Village Voice and Playboy starting in 1957. The cable network Showtime commissioned, and then declined, a screenplay from Feiffer in 1986; with some semi-topical tweaks here and there (texting, phrases like “scene-adjacent”), that 30-year-old script is what has been filmed here. So it’s no wonder that the movie feels a tad … musty? Beside the point? And is this #MeToo era the worst or best atmosphere in which to release the satirically-styled musings of Huey, an alpha male who says things like “If I had any respect for chicks I’d never make out,” and Bernard, Huey’s beta friend, whose neuroses anticipated the early Woody Allen persona?

It doesn’t help that Feiffer, a playwright and novelist as well as cartoonist, more or less already wrote his Bernard and Huey movie — 1971’s Carnal Knowledge, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Jack Nicholson as Jonathan, the Hueyest Huey imaginable (Art Garfunkel brought up the rear as Bernard — I mean, Sandy). Carnal Knowledge is a bitter classic as well as a useful time capsule; Feiffer and Nichols were grappling sincerely with what it meant to be a man in the time of what was then called Women’s Lib. More recently, too, films like 1996’s Swingers gave us Vince Vaughn as a slickster neo-Huey and Jon Favreau as a befuddled Gen-X Bernard. Swingers even ended on a Feiffer-esque note of embarrassment for the unjustifiably self-confident Vaughn.

Bernard & Huey feels like a throwback in more ways than one; it’s another microbudgeted, Kickstarted indie film that might’ve had an easier time of it twenty or forty years ago. Now here it is, being tossed into an overflowing bucket of streaming content and somehow expected to stay afloat. It’s smoothly helmed, though, by indie vet (and Slamdance Film Festival co-founder) Dan Mirvish, who’s clearly an actor’s director. Not only does he find the perfect Bernard (Jim Rash) and Huey (David Koechner), he finds younger actors (Jay Renshaw and Jake O’Connor, respectively) who match up terrifically with their older counterparts. Mirvish also provides space for smart actresses — Sasha Alexander, Nancy Travis, Bellamy Young, Mae Whitman as Huey’s grown aspiring-cartoonist daughter — to interrogate the men’s antiquated notions.

The movie flashes back to Bernard and Huey’s college days in the ‘80s, which makes for some weird anachronisms; the era is supposedly post-punk, but the attitudes and even some of the dialogue (“I dig it, man”) are clearly ‘60s — when, of course, the flashbacks were originally set. Most of our time, though, is spent in the present day, when Bernard has become a ladies’ man and Huey, a divorced father, is at loose ends. After a 25-year hiatus, a drunk Huey finds himself at the door of Bernard’s spacious but sparse apartment, and soon the men revert back to their younger vibes, Huey sleeping with every woman in sight while Bernard slips into bed with Huey’s daughter Zelda, whose comics are puerile man-bashing until she meets a man who writes better material. On some level, Bernard & Huey still isn’t especially progressive.

Is it supposed to be, though? On another level, it’s a valentine to Feiffer, a near-nonagenarian who’s still going strong (his most recent graphic novel, Cousin Joseph, was published two summers ago) and who has been there for just about every social tremor, earthquake and tsunami that has shaped who we are now. In the philosophically and somatotypically opposed Bernard and Huey, Feiffer had his voices of bewilderment and resentment that both prefigured second-wave feminism and remain relevant in the era of the intersectional fourth wave. Neither Feiffer nor the film has any answers. That’s not for art to provide. We may have many questions, though, starting with this: Why, a full six decades later, are we still meeting the grandchildren of Bernard and Huey in the noxious form of incels and MRAs/PUAs? The OG B&H, here, are made to look sad, scrubby, essentially lonely (though everyone gets a Hollywood ending that almost reads parodically). Maybe that’s the point.

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