Pesci charms as homeless man befriending student
Directed by Alek Keshishian.
Written by William Mastrosimone.
Starring Joe Pesci, Brendan Fraser, Moira Kelly, Patrick Dempsey, and Josh Hamilton.By Kamal Swamidoss
Joe Pesci and Brendan Fraser give a good performance as two people from very different worlds whose lives are dramatically altered by their meeting. Fraser plays Monty Kessler, an ambitious senior studying government at Harvard. The story starts as he is finishing the final draft of his thesis in the middle of November. It looks like he's ready for anything until a power surge destroys everything on his hard drive, including his thesis. On his way to the copy center, he loses his one printout to Simon Wilder (Joe Pesci), a man living in Widener Library's basement. Realizing how valuable his find is, Simon makes a deal with Monty: for every "thing" that Monty gets him (a perfectly-glazed donut, etc.), he will return one page of the 88-page paper. This agreement leads to a life-changing winter for both characters, and a good story for the audience.
Considering the circumstances, one may ask, "why would a bigger, stronger man accept this deal from a smaller, weaker man? Why doesn't he call campus security and have him kicked out?" The situation is well-created and what follows their meeting is believable. At first, Monty cooperates with Simon only because he wants his paper back, but he gradually becomes Simon's friend. The friendship is uniquely valuable to each of them; Simon possesses a wisdom from which Monty learns, and Monty helps Simon to resolve a long-lived inner conflict.
Pesci does his best work in the dramatic scenes. One of the most memorable of these is Simon's meeting with his son. Earlier in the story, we learn that Simon left his family when his son was very young. Now, the son has a family of his own and a really big house in Maine, and Monty takes Simon to visit him. Pesci does an excellent job here of expressing Simon's emotions as events progress. He is as convincing in many of the other dramatic scenes, but he doesn't do as well in the comedic ones. During the dramatic moments he speaks with emotion and he is able to convey the character's serious feelings, but during the comedy he assumes an accent which does nothing for the humor. Perhaps his sarcasm would sound cynical in any other tone of voice, but that accent is a little awkward.
Among the other interactions in the film is the relationship between Monty and one of his housemates, Courtney (Moira Kelly). They have known each other for many years and they have occasionally dated, but they can't seem to express what is apparently their love for each other. Kelly described Courtney and her role in the film in a press conference earlier this month. She says that Courtney is a strong, independent woman who is neither a victim nor a love-interest. Courtney adds a new dimension to the film, but she isn't in enough of the scenes to affect the course of the story. Director Alek Keshishian explained that the main story is about the friendship of Monty and Simon. In fact, that story is so prevalent that it is with Simon's encouragement that Monty finally takes the initiative and expresses his love to Courtney.
One could say that because Simon doesn't have a home, the film is about homeless people. (However, Simon is the first to point out that he does have a home: the library basement.) Some scenes express the film's theme in the context of people's interactions with Simon the bum, but these themes could just as well have been expressed with Simon the businessman, or Simon the college student. The point is this: The important discussion is the value of every person. The fact that Simon is homeless is simply a unique, albeit dominant, characteristic of the film.
The plot is easy to follow and it flows well. This is due in large part to the single prevalent story. Other stories, most of which are intended to be funny, get less screen-time, and they work to more fully describe the two main characters. With this much focus on Simon and Monty, Pesci and Branden Fraser meet the challenge and give good dramatic performances in With Honors.