When we talk about the worst pop pap from the 1970s, if you don’t have “Muskrat Love” on your list, I can only assume you’ve never heard it.
Muskrat Suzie, Muskrat Sam
Do the jitterbug in Muskrat Land
And they shimmy … Sam is so skinny …
Sorry about that.
In writer-director Noble Jones’ initially intriguing but eventually tedious “The Tomorrow Man,” the Captain & Tennille’s hit version of “Muskrat Love” makes not one but two appearances, in separate scenes — two equally melodramatic and overwrought scenes in which two of our finest veteran actors strive mightily and with grace to plow through, with at best moderate success.
The actors in question are John Lithgow and Blythe Danner. Lithgow plays Ed, a retired, divorced, doomsday conspiracy theorist senior who lives in a small town and spends his days and nights trading opinions with like-minded truthers on the Internet, watching cable news and buying more and more supplies for his already well-stocked fallout shelter.
Other than badgering his grown son over the telephone, urging him to open his eyes so he can see the signs of the coming apocalypse, and chatting with the supermarket cashier, Ed has zero daily human contact — until he spots Blythe Danner’s Ronnie at the store one day, stocking up on batteries and cans of tuna and other items indicating she just might be a like-minded spirit.
Turns out Ronnie’s more of an eccentric — she likes to collect things, lots and lots of things, and just about the only things she watches on TV are war documentaries — than a full-blown tin-foil hat type, but hey, close enough. Ed pursues Ronnie in a manner she finds charming, though the average person might be inclined to look into a restraining order.
Lithgow is so good at playing the disturbingly intense, sometimes delusional Ed (at times he believes the news anchor is talking directly to him, calling him by name and commenting on his life), we wonder why his grown son Brian (Derek Cecil) would even invite Ed to Thanksgiving dinner. (Katie Aselton is wine-numbingly good as Ed’s daughter-in-law, who is clearly miserable and practically crawls inside her glass during the predictably disastrous dinner.)
Danner, a wonderful actress, is saddled with a role requiring her to wear layered, hippie-dippie outfits that would have Carol Kane urging her to take it down a notch, and dialogue making her sound more daffy and childlike than charming. (It doesn’t help when we get unnecessarily “wacky” little notes, e.g., when Ed and Ronnie make the hourlong drive back from his son’s home, and she has a plate of leftovers on her lap — a plate with no covering. Who in the history of ever has left a Thanksgiving dinner carrying a full plate like that?)
For all its eccentricities, “The Tomorrow Man” plays it too safe. Early on, we get a very clear signal Ed is racist. Does his bigotry fuel his paranoia? Who knows. The story goes elsewhere, as if that early moment never happened.
Later, MUCH later, a major development takes the wind out of the story, and not in a good way, and that’s all we’ll say about that.
And let’s not forget about “Muskrat Love.” Twice.
That’s just plain wrong.