Blu-ray Review: Mikey and Nicky | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

Mikey and Nicky

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Jan 28, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Nicky has seen better days.

Barricaded in a hotel room, writhing in pain from an ulcer, he calls Mikey, his oldest friend and only person he can trust. Mikey arrives to find Nicky in a state of psychosis, rambling about a local mob boss – and their mutual employer – who wants him dead as he asks his friend to help him get out of town.

So begins Elaine May’s third film, Mikey and Nicky, a one-night odyssey into a crumbling, long-lasting friendship with the seedy criminal underworld serving as a backdrop for the plot. Nicky is the charismatic fuck-up, filled with paranoia and sickness, while Mikey is the amiable punching bag who has presumably put up with his fair share of abuse over the years. John Cassavetes and Peter Falk serve as the perfect vessels to bring those characters to life. Cassavetes is right at home playing a man with dubious moral character who pushes everyone, especially his friends, to the limit while being able to bring them right back into his orbit with a wry smile and a half-sincere apology. Nicky’s naturally charming even when he’s a total bastard.

Falk, with his hangdog expression and general sense of exasperation firmly intact, is the perfect foil. Mikey treats his friendship, at least this later iteration of it, from a distance. He’s been burned before, and he’s cautious lest he get burned again. The specifics of their past gradually get doled out, but that tentative resistance to Nicky, even when he’s broken in a hotel room, is obvious.

The familiarity the two actors have with one another no doubt helped form the intimate core of their on-screen relationship. Falk had appeared in multiple films directed by Cassavetes and acted alongside him in Husbands and their working relationship would continue. There is an inherent comfort and mutual recognition on display that buoys the drama as it becomes clearer that they maybe aren’t as close as they once were. Nicky calls out of desperation and Mikey answers, but things aren’t on solid ground between them and probably never could be again even if they wanted it.

While the performances carry the load, they wouldn’t be in the position to succeed this well without Elaine May guiding the action from the director’s chair and with her pen. Her script is pitch perfect, and offers just the right amount of humor. When Nicky tries to exit a bus by the front door and is prevented from doing so by the driver, he naturally doesn’t simply exit from the back door like he’s instructed (it’s policy!), but turns it into an altercation. Nicky always takes the hard road, either because he can’t help himself or he finds it more interesting, and Mikey is left to smooth things over. It’s a funny scene, especially as the argument gets physical and they eventually reach a compromise.

But it’s worth remembering that neither of these men are good people. They’re criminals and narcissists despite their bubbling internal pain, and no scene exemplifies this better than when they visit Annie, Nicky’s maybe mistress who might also be a prostitute. Things get dark as Nicky coerces her into sex as Mikey hangs around the periphery. Afterwards, Mikey, who up to then has been shown as a more compassionate figure, tries to follow suit and shows his full, more reprehensible colors. It doesn’t go well for him.

Mikey and Nicky also allows these two questionable figures a depth of vulnerability as well. When the two of them first come together there is a moment where the two embrace in a long hug. Though both these men are aggressively masculine throughout, May doesn’t shy away from the intimacy at the core of their connection even if it is ultimately frayed. Her sensibilities to weave a variety of conflicting emotions together into one tapestry help form a complicated and whole portrayal of these two men in a way that feels fresh even now, more than 40 years later. She doesn’t lionize or celebrate these shady men, but she also doesn’t fully cast them into the fiery pits, either. She invites the audience to be critical of Mikey and Nicky, maybe even outright dislike them, but also doesn’t take the easy way out to portray them squarely as villains.

The Criterion Collection edition of Mikey and Nicky is relatively spare compared to some of their more robust releases, but it should serve as a sigh of relief for it to exist at all. May’s films are notoriously difficult to find, and with Mikey and Nicky hitting shelves that is hopefully a sign that A New Leaf and The Heartbreak Kid (neither of which your humble writer has had a chance to see) will follow suit.

May oversaw the Criterion edition, though she is notably at a distance, too. There are no interviews with her included, either contemporary or from earlier periods – there is an older audio interview with Peter Falk included. Otherwise, there’s an essay from Nathan Rabin and a featurette with fellow critics Richard Brody and Carrie Rickey discussing May at large with a focus on this particular entry into her canon.

That May only directed four films is a shame, though with this release it’s possible more people will get the chance to experience her talents.



Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published


Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

Jason Wilson
February 6th 2019

True, but that New Leaf edition seems really bare-bones. I would greatly prefer the Criterion touch.