Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Amazing Reunion

Back in November I went through a small phase of watching old movies I used to love as a child, and then writing about my findings on here, and what I think. Today, I watched another old movie I loved that had a profound effect on me every time I saw it.


I am unsure of how I first saw it. I think it was a gift, because I never saw it in theatres. I remember somehow acquiring the VHS of it, the cover of which featured a blue-crowned conure parakeet bird sitting on top of a suitcase, a road behind him and two cityscapes on either side, one being of New York and the other being LA.

Postcards on the suitcase featured the other characters in the film, the most important (to me) being the young girl who is his original and only real owner.

Essentially, the story is that of the bird, Paulie, beginning his life living with a young five-year-old named Marie, who has a stutter. He tells his story to immigrant janitor Misha Belenkoff in the basement of an animal testing lab when he catches him singing 'to Marie'. 
During the story, Paulie learns speech through Marie's speech therapy and essentially helps the young girl out in overcoming her stutter. It's all great until her father, a soldier, returns home. He observes his daughter's lack of friends with other children and her dependence on the bird, and after she almost falls off the roof trying to teach Paulie how to fly (knowing they might be separated while overhearing her father rant about this problem) Paulie is ultimately taken away.

After going through several owners that include a magician, he ends up in a pawnshop where he develops an insulting demeanor and is noticed by Benny, a man who stops by one winter day. Before he can buy him however, an elderly widowed artist named Ivy buys him on the pretense of 'teaching him proper manners.'

Ivy offers to take Paulie back to Marie, but unfortunately she and her family have moved across the country to Los Angeles. They end up beginning a cross country drive in Ivy's caravan from New Jersey westward.

Unfortunately, Ivy begins losing her eyesight, and almost collides with a freight truck while driving through the desert. Advised not to drive again, Paulie and Ivy settle down again as she eventually becomes completely blind.

When Ivy dies from a cat attack (not a feline cat, a tiger or something like that) Paulie finally gets up the courage to fly onward, continuing his journey. He continues westward over the mountains, experiences the sunrise over the grand canyon (something Ivy and her late husband had always dreamt of doing with their caravan) and eventually ends up in East LA. Following a beautiful female conure who he later regards as his girlfriend even though she only repeats what he says, he ends up in a trio of dancing conures trained and managed by Ignacio, a chip wagon guy and guitarist played by Cheech Marin. Unfortunately he can't find Marie in the phone book.

During one of Ignacio (and his band's) performances with the conures, Benny (the man originally from the pawn shop) comes to one of the performances and recognizes Paulie. Stunned, he tries to buy him off of Ignacio, who refuses, so during another performance Benny calls the police with fake felonies on the band and the crowd, and uses the confusion and panic to kidnap Paulie.

Finally in the possession of the bird, Benny vows to him they will find Marie, when in fact he intends on using Paulie for personal gain in get-rich-quick schemes (largely motivated by his high-maintenance girlfriend). Utilizing Paulie to remember the PIN numbers of people who use an ATM machine, Benny steals their debit cards and  drains their accounts to make money. Eventually they come up with a scheme to steal jewelry, but the operation is botched after Paulie flies down the chimney of a house in an affluent neighborhood and becomes trapped.

Paulie is brought to an animal testing lab where he is studied and considered remarkable for the way he can talk like a normal person and considerably has a human level of intellect. However, after the scientist in charge, Dr. Reingold, promises to return him to Marie and then later (erroneously thinking Paulie is asleep) confirms on the phone that he is now the property of the institute, Paulie refuses to cooperate with any more tests and tries to fly away. They capture him, clip away his proper flying wings, and inter him in the basement.

Touched by this story, Misha defies his superiors and Dr. Reingold, quits, takes Paulie, escapes institute security, and buses to Marie's address (which he unwittingly found in a book he was studying about conures after hearing Paulie sing, probably having been put there by Reingold before deciding Paulie was the property of the institute). They arrive at a house where an adult Marie happily reunites with Paulie, and Paulie, his wings having grown back, flying again. The movie ends with all three of them entering the house.

It had a very big effect on me as a child, because it was a story of what might as well be considered a person happily living with his best friend and companion, Marie, a little girl, and then losing her and taking many years to reunite with her again as an adult. His determination to be reunited with his one true companion and owner is amazing and enduring, and he sees a lot of interesting sights along the way (as well as does many diverse and memorable things). It's a big journey, and a long one, full of so many life-enriching experiences, from cross-country drives to being part of a singing act in East LA to petty crime and finally to sophisticated experiments.

I'd even have dreams of having unlimited, memorable, loving fun with someone everyday, then suddenly losing them and having to journey far and wide to reunite with them. Unfortunately I'd wake up before I ever did reunite with them.

It's probably one of the best travel stories I've seen, and it takes a lot of influence from things. I can't name any influences, unfortunately (I'm not that well-read a person) but I know there must be influences from the big classic stories out there written by past legends.

Examining the movie now as an adult, it's no less than it was when I was a child. I like Tony Shalhoub's Russian immigrant character, who has a lot of sympathy and determination like Paulie. Cheech Marin does a great job as well, and Jay Mohr (who plays Benny, and also voices Paulie himself) is remarkable. One of his most interesting lines as Benny is about phonebooks: "They're really expensive, I mean it's not like they drop them at your house." It's exactly like that of course, but his motives were convincing Paulie how important and crucial money is.
It was another one of those things where you'd be surprised at who plays who. I didn't expect the Mexican singer/guitarist/chip wagon owner would be played by Cheech Marin, of Cheech & Chong. Nor would I expect Tony Shalhoub to be in there. Jay Mohr was the only actor in which this was the first movie I'd seen him in. I also figured out that the young Marie is played by the younger sister of Jesse Eisenberg, the up-and-coming actor who stared in Zombieland, Adventureland and The Social Network. She is only a year younger than me.

Now that I'm an older adult who sees things in a more investigative manner, there are things about the film that I wonder about that I didn't entertain as a child, and I have my opinions. The only thing I found not particularly good about the film at all was that some (not most or all) of the scenes were a tiny bit too fast in transitioning to the next. That, and because Jay Mohr voices Paulie as well as acts alongside him as Benny in the film, the voices are almost too similar. I also found that Paulie almost gains a different kind of personality type alongside each character he spends time with; while he maintains a general likableness to him after being with Ivy (he was likable and supportive early on with Marie, and only developed an insulting manner while in the pawnshop and until Ivy took him) he develops more of a worldiness about him while with Ignacio, and almost sounds like a silly, slacker kind of person while with Benny, sometimes being flippant or laughing nefariously. He (expectantly) grows distant and inward after finding out Reingold lied on his promise to return to Marie and is interred in the basement.

The film otherwise is a great travelogue of a conure just determined to forever reunite with his original companion, owner and best, true friend, Marie.

Now, I have a few questions and wonderings. For me it's the time period involved and the time interval. I heard Marie's mother in one early scene mention she is five. I have no idea how old she is in the final scene but she looks like she's 22 or 24. Say it ends in the present day, which is 1998 (taking into account when the film was released). If she is 24 in '98, then the film begins in 1979.
That's an incredibly long time for a parakeet to live, though I'm ignorant of the life expectancy of such birds so I don't know. I was very interested in landmarks and what things looked like, and things like cars did not look anachronistic. Before attributing the time period to 1979, I figured vehicles did look like they were either from the late 70s or early 80s.

What about how the timeline was put into intervals? For instance, say Paulie ended up in the pawnshop a few months after he was taken away by Marie's father. Then he spent a couple of days with Ivy before they drove off, and they spent the next couple of months on the road. It should be a year by this point, or, say, 1980.
Ivy then dies in 1982, and Paulie manages to fly to LA over a few weeks afterward. He meets up with Ignacio in early '83, where he becomes part of an act for his band for the next month or so. That autumn, Benny kidnaps Paulie and they start their petty crime, which continues into '84.

In 1985, they botch that jewelry heist, and Paulie comes to the institute. He cooperates with their experiments over the next few months, and by 1986 he realizes they're not going to return him to Marie, so they put him in the basement by '88 when he stops cooperating and becomes more inward, distant, and otherwise useless for research.
Ten years later, Misha emigrates to the United States and starts working at the institute as a janitor. He hears Paulie singing to Marie, and the whole thing comes out.

Of course, this is just pure estimation, and I'm probably wrong. I doubt they'd leave the bird down in the basement for a decade like that, and the movie probably starts in the early 80s.

Overall, the movie is one of those classics from my childhood that still has a lot of sentimentality to it. I'd definitely recommend it. It's very touching and I love the story. The dynamic between him and Marie is adorable and loving and unforgettable.
It's quite funny, too.

If I rated it, I'd probably give it an A. Great story, great direction, and if it has a lasting effect on someone, like it does on me, then it's definitely a great and classic and memorable movie.

Justin C.

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