tenBlake Edwards is a good director. S.O.B. (1981), The Party1 (1968), “10”: these are vain comedies about vain people, fed on freedom and the tit of conspicuous consumption. They know how easy it is to love the city of angels. Also, he likes the pratfall — a lot. Physicality begs for attention; surrealism is nascent. He is good at using offscreen space, and if he tries too hard, the comic gift of his actors will sustain him. Finally, Edwards is to Hollywood as Woody Allen is to New York. He comments on the life he lives.2

Soaking up the atmosphere of L.A., Edwards gets the purr and the vapid intellectualism. Films like Switch (1991) and Skindeep (1989) reflect their characters. Slick and raw, they win us over with the levity of self-examination; their pretensions are known to them. The laffs, then, aren’t merely bourgeois. They spell gloom, and they cast affection as a result. The director’s style is a part of his subject.

“10” is a time capsule. It puts the conformity of “hip” at the end of the 70s, but it does not judge. Rather, the film is as lax, spotty and imperfect as the Hollywood toast for whom eccentricity is a veil. This movie is a dual mixture: base and light, serious and profane. And it rises on the performance of Dudley Moore, who plays a rich songwriter going through a midlife crisis. Alcoholic, he dives from women to painkillers to Mexico and back.

Part of what makes “10” is the way Moore plays against his build and the English accent. Short and uncomfortable, he can’t fit into the oasis of the stars. He wants to live a movie (that much his voyeurism makes clear), and Moore sees that the crudeness of the humor is cathartic. Like Inspector Clouseau, he goofs, but there is a touch of despair. He embodies the film’s map of depression.

For Moore each woman is ideal. Julie Andrews is tough and mature, Bo Derek curvy and blithe. Dee Wallace is sweet, sympathetic, and kind. Still, he cannot be with them — not entirely. He must first complete the song in his heart. In its own profound way, “10” confirms nothing. Not peace, not love — nothing. All that’s left for us, and for Moore, is a telescopic view on life, and film, “a la” Rear Window. It’s a dramedy.

The movie is full of good choices. Frank Stanley’s cinematography has a dusk-bitten glow, and Henry Mancini’s score is wistful. As a neighbor with the face of a mutt, Don Calfa gives the film a horny grin. As a gay lyricist, Robert Webber turns a sour role into something poignant. Brian Dennehy, the bartender, is Moore’s foil: witty asides and a sly demeanor, his dry exterior is a mask for pools of compassion.

“10” is a character piece, a teen flick for adults. Because it’s about the arrested development of a bright mind, it’s kiddish. But who’d have thought it would be this funny, or this bittersweet?

1Elvis Presley’s favorite movie.

2“10” and Manhattan (1979) should be seen back to back.

About Jack Cormack

Email Jack at jackyboy916@gmail.com.