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  • Benjamin May

Just You and Me, Kid (1979) Review

After his best friend Jack Benny passed away in 1974, George Burns took over his role in Herbert Ross's brilliant adaptation of 'The Sunshine Boys,' winning himself an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the process. Burns enjoyed something of a career resurgence, going on to make five films in the next five years. 'Oh, God!' might be the best of the lot, or Martin Brest's 'Going in Style.' It certainly isn't 'Just You and Me, Kid,' a movie so misjudged, saccharine-sweet and predictable that watching it sometimes feels like a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

Burns stars as a vaudevillian comedian whose quiet life is upended when he finds Brooke Shields in the trunk of his car, who is fourteen, naked and on the run. The kindly Burns agrees to shelter the girl, as the cartoonishly cruel drug-dealers she's escaped from are closing in. The two form a friendship as time marches steadily on, with outside forces constantly threatening to separate them and send Shields back to the criminals. Together, however, they may just take down the drug-dealers once and for all; if Burns and his magic tricks have any say in the matter.

'Just You and Me, Kid' is a poorly written, unimaginative and tonally muddled film that tries in vain to balance drama and light comedy. Leonard Stern's direction is uninspired- in fact, he doesn't seem to have directed the actors at all. Burns really just plays himself, which he's very good at, so it isn't a problem. Shields, though, was very young and could have probably used someone to guide her performance. As it is, she's ridiculously wooden and something of a talent vacuum- it's a pity that she didn't have a more hands-on director to help her, or a good script to work with.

She and Burns have nothing interesting to do together except recite overly cutesy, maddeningly bland lines from the lackluster, predictable screenplay. The comedy is so weak and formulaic that the laughs just don't come. Strangely, the story is full of unnecessary darkness as well- like the inclusion of the drug-dealers- that is at odds with the tone of the rest of the film. There are also many cheap jokes about Burns relationship to Shields, which are really unpalatable, and the dialogue overall is stilted and trite. The supporting characters are all caricatures of little to no depth and the cinematography is flat and ugly.

The most egregious aspect of the film is the fact that Burns is brilliant, and his scenes without Shields have a sad, gentle power. He is effectively playing himself- a widowed comedian in his eighties- and does so effectively. To see him alone going about his business- whether he's remembering his departed wife, visiting a comatose pal, singing a tune or entertaining youngsters with his magic tricks- may not be an original experience, but it is an entertaining one (as well as a glimpse of a better movie that could have been made instead of 'Just You and Me, Kid'). Burns was such a genuinely charming presence that when it's just him, the film almost works.

Why the writers felt the need to destroy what could have been a simple comedy-drama about an aging comedian by concocting this Brooke Shields on-the-run story is unfathomable. Though Burns is terrific, this film is lazy, unfunny and disappointing. While young Shields' wooden performance in the film may not be her fault, it's still a serious problem- though even if she had the talents of a young Jodie Foster the film would still be a dud. The lack of originality from the director- and in the screenplay- doomed this film to the realm of mediocrity long before the cameras started rolling. 'Oh, God!' this is not.


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