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Ignored by Oscar, Steve Martin gave 1984’s best lead performance in All Of Me

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Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The Last Exorcism Part II has us thinking about other movies about possession.

All Of Me (1984)
In 1984, the Best Actor Oscar race boiled down to a face-off between Amadeus’ two stars, with the remainder of the category filled out by the leads of serious films about alcoholism (Under The Volcano), alien possession (Starman), and the Khmer Rouge genocide (The Killing Fields). Both the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle, however, bucked convention that year by recognizing a superlative comedy performance, handing their prizes to Steve Martin for his physically astonishing work in a very different movie about alien possession, Carl Reiner’s All of Me. Martin plays an attorney for a bedridden millionaire (Lily Tomlin) who plans to transfer her soul into the body of a young hottie (Victoria Tennant), allowing her to finally experience the vitality she’s always been denied. The mystic she’s hired (Richard Libertini) screws up, however, and Tomlin’s soul winds up in Martin’s body instead—but controlling only the right side, while Martin retains control of the left.


Nothing against F. Murray Abraham, whose Salieri is a splendid portrait of anguished envy, but the critics got it right. Plenty of actors could have shined in Amadeus, but All Of Me would be utterly forgettable without Martin’s bisected duet; with the exception of a young Jim Carrey, it’s hard to imagine anyone who could duplicate his feat. The moment when Martin first discovers Tomlin’s presence, spastically jerking his way down the street like a defective robot, limbs flailing in anti-tandem, ranks among the most gloriously silly—yet also impressively acrobatic—physical-comedy routines since the glory days of the silent era. The movie as a whole is as hit-or-miss as most of the Reiner-Martin collaborations (which also include The Jerk, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and The Man With Two Brains), but the occasional mediocre one-liner is a small price to pay for such an unexpected tour de force. The Academy should (as usual) be ashamed.

Availability: Available on an ancient (and budget-priced) DVD and for digital rental/purchase.