Joe Eszterhas (formulaic screenwriter of many overpaid projects, most infamously Basic Instinct and Showgirls) somewhat redeems himself with this semi-autobiographical story. His mouthpiece is Karchy Jonas (Brad Renfro), a... more » Hungarian-born immigrant (like Eszterhas himself) growing up in Cleveland in 1960. His pop (Maximilian Schell) works hard to send Karchy to an expensive high school, where Karchy is ostracized by the rich kids and labors to find acceptance. Into town walks itinerant rock DJ Billy Magic (Kevin Bacon), the quintessence of cool with a dark charm. Magic needs a teen to run errands for him (mostly carrying payola envelopes), so he hosts a "High School Hall of Fame" contest to help him find an assistant. Karchy, who idolizes Magic, wins the contest by forging signatures of his classmates on postcards. Magic knows of Karchy's deception and is intrigues by it, as that is the kind of dishonesty he's looking for in his assistant. Karchy's lying grows into a major character trait, forcing the kid into many difficult social situations, not the least of which involves government officials investigating the slippery Magic for payola and threatening to jeopardize Karchy's family's citizenship status if he doesn't cooperate. Although no less a formula plot than other Eszterhas stuff, this one's lifted a bit by the director's personal connection to the story and by a great, charismatic performance by Kevin Bacon. Much more could be written about the connection between lying and storytelling, and fending for oneself in the mendacious jungles of Hollywood, but suffice it to say that Karchy eventually grows up to write Showgirls. --Jim Gay« less
"When he wasn't writing trashy, empty thrillers (Basic Instinct, Jade, Sliver), Joe Eszterhaz must have been reminiscing about his childhood, modulating what would eventually become Telling Lies In America, a great, tender, beautifully rendered film. Set in the early 1960s Cleveland Ohio, it is the story of Karchy Jonas (Brad Renfro), a 17-year-old son of a Hungarian mill worker (Maximilian Schell) who had been a PHD in law in the old country. Something, Karchy never fails to mention to all the authority figures in his life. All the father wants in life is for he and his son to become naturalized citizens. Duly, Karchy goes to the expensive school the old man has obviously strained to pay for where, unpopular, he bluffs about all the things there are to bluff about. He works nights at a grocery store where Diney (Calista Flockhart) also works in a pained saddened silence. He comes on to her with his obvious bluffs, the little lies that are so obvious to the worldly Diney that she pities him, or is amused by him. At night he comes home to the little house he shares with his father, looks in the mirror and desperately tries to pronounce "the" which without exception always seems to come out "da". Its fair to say that Telling Lies In America has its fair share of cliches. Those little cornets every coming of age film has to play. You have your hypocritical teacher/priest, your unattainable female Diney, her overbearing suitor Henry (Luke Wilson) and most importantly, Billy Magic (Kevin Bacon). Magic is one of those characters most filmgoers could draw from memory; the slicked back hair, the envy inducing array of lady-friends, babbling on his radio show in his all important "slanguage" while he offers his listeners some "ear conditioning" on a particularly hot day. Karchy is in awe of him. Except that the film wastes no time in exposing Magic as damaged goods. And Bacon, in some wry moments lets some of the man's bitterness show. Magic seems to like Karchy too, maybe he sees himself in the kid who can't help but showoff all the time. Or more ominously, he sees a profitable way to employ Karchy's masterful aversion to telling the truth. The director Guy Ferland gives the film a luminous, late 50s early 60s memorabilia rich look. The score by Nicholas Pixe, a trickling of organ, is stated only in the film's key scenes. It's a good sign, especially in a period film, when the direction and the music only impress in retrospect, rather then stick out and draw attention to themselves. They work in congruence with the story. The effect is that of nostalgia. Not hokey nostalgia, but the memories of growing up, with its highs and lows compressed into a hypnotic two hours. The cliches are not cliches if they're happening to and around people you know.Telling Lies in America will touch those nerve endings that responded to Barry Levinson's Diner. Even if this one isn't as witty with its dialogue or as generous with its guffaws, I like it better. I like the way Eszterhas weaves the humor of the Spanish fly episode, the familiar tale of a self-loathing bully into the story of a kid who just wants to be liked, without stepping into one saccharine puddle. Right up to it bittersweet ending, the film never hits a false note. It maybe ironic, that Karchy who is essentially a stand in for Esztherhas learns that he "doesn't have to showoff so much", has spawned the writer who would write a lot of showoffy trash. You'd think that it would take a very special film for me to forgive Showgirls. Luckily for him, this one is."
The immigrant experience in America is updated...
L. Quido | Tampa, FL United States | 06/11/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"from a surprising source! Joe Esterhaz, not a particular favorite of mine, shines in the telling of his autobiographical "coming of age" story as a teenage immigrant in the early 60's. Much has been made of the immigrant experience in the earlier part of the century, but this film gives us insight into what it was like for Europeans to be transported to America's "golden age".Maximillian Schell is back on the screen, and welcome as the father of Esterhaz' alter-ego, Karchy Jonas. He is a bit puzzling until you learn that he was a highly educated man in his native Hungary, forced into menial labor in his new country of choice. He has instilled his belief in the power of being an American citizen in his son, Karchy, played by Brad Renfro. Renfro is believable and gives a delicious naivete to the role of Karchy, both in his words and deeds. His relationship to an older woman, Diney (Calista Flockhart looking real, not just cute) makes sense when you see how much she yearns for his honesty and his sense of wonder. Despite a high ethical standard set by his father, Karchy is a noted fabricator of fibs. Everyone who hears his stock line "Lots of times", knows he is lying.Enter Kevin Bacon, the perfect Svengali for a boy looking to become a man in the "coolest" way possible. Bacon is a hot disc jockey, whose personal code of honor is questionable. There is no question that this is one of his strongest performances ever. From body language to his Texas twang, his regret at how his life turned out (from a brief glimpse he shares late in the movie) makes him a standout playing an early 60's "lounge lizard". Bacon has a fine portfolio of work, but this is his ultimate role.Music and set are perfect for this nostalgic look back to the 60's. A great film, underappreciated by many."
OK, 4 1/2 stars! :)
Sarah | Salem, Oregon, USA | 02/09/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Two words: GREAT MOVIE! Both Kevin Bacon and Brad Renfro (who just became my new favorite actor, I think!) were excelent, and the story is wonderful. Nice to see Calista Flockheart looking relatively normal, and not rail-thin. I really liked the part Brad goes to Calista when his whole world seems to be crashing down around him. Also, when the one woman said that he was "gentle." Very sweet moment. If you haven't already, SEE THIS MOVIE! The only reason I saw it was because Jonathan Rhys Meyers was in it, but he kinda had a small part. I would have liked to see more of him, and I would have liked to see about what he talked about in confession (if you've seen it, you know what I mean). Anyhoo, great flick, and I highly recommend it!"
Excellent acting, gripping story, great sound track
L. Quido | 01/21/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a story of a teenage immigrant who is an outcast is his private school. He receives no encouragement from his headmster, his father or, at first, from the girl he has a crush on. He is told that he is worthless and is tormented by his schoolmates. He lies to get a job with the local disk jockey whom he comes to idolize. Unfortunately, the disk jockey needs the kid to take pay-offs from record agents. But, for the first time, the kid receives encouragement from his mentor and is told, "You can do anything you put your mind to". Kevin Bacon is superb as the disk jockey. The fact that he is a musician as well as a fine actor shows in every move of his body as he listens to music and introduces it to his followers. Note that the song, "Medium Rare" was written by Kevin Bacon. Brad Renfro is also excellent as the kid. Buy this movie and you will find yourself wanting to see it over and over again. This is a movie for all ages. I'm a grandmother of teen agers."
An excellent choice!
L. Quido | 12/28/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film encapsulates the stuggle of the son of immigrants to become accepted into society. He wants to gain notoriety, but gets help from the wrong people. I suppose I am a bit biased (I was a dancer in this movie), but it is truly a heartwarming film."