Sometimes, all an iffy movie needs is a little sweetness to save it from the mandibles of a bad idea. Love Comes Lately is certainly iffy enough, but it has an immensely adorable center in Otto Tausig, an old Austrian-born veteran who makes dottiness and wisdom seem like the world's most natural combination, despite the reality that this project seems ever so unnatural.
The writer and director Jan Schütte has distilled three Isaac Bashevis Singer stories into a mild 80-or-so-minute project whose length matches its hero's age. The idea's not terrible, and no filmmaker has bothered with Singer for years, but this movie reduces the author's soulfulness to mirrored tales of lonely, randy seniors, all of whom Tausig plays.
Schütte has inlaid two of the stories within another. When the well-known New York writer Max Kohn (Tausig) reads at two of his speaking engagements, the tales he tells each involves an old man still at the peak of both his desire and desirability. Max wakes up next to Rhea Perlman, who plays his younger girlfriend and is sensually reupholstered in the stories within the story where Max more or less assumes an alter ego.
In the first he beds Elizabeth Peña, playing a crippled Cuban housekeeper. In the other, movingly, it's Tovah Feldshuh, as a widow who makes the man lunch, then makes a pass. And in between, it's a former student, played by Barbara Hershey, who makes a basic line like "What time's your train?" sound perfectly hot.
The prevailing emotion in most of these encounters is sadness. The prevailing thought is, "What's Schütte going for?" His movie skirts an immersion in real grief by spraying on a shtetl-bound jazziness (there are vibes and violin) and leaving the emotions on the surface.
This all comes close to being unjustifiable as more than an exercise in adaptation. But then, of course, there's Tausig. He gives this stagy universe an authentic center.
Love Comes Lately **1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Jan Schütte. With Otto Tausig, Rhea Perlman, Barbara Hershey, Elizabeth Peña, Tovah Feldshuh. Distributed by Kino International.
Running time: 1 hour, 26 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (profanity, sexual situations).
Playing at: Ritz Five.