Rubin & Ed

Friends, I come to bury Howard Hesseman, not to praise him. Actually, I come to praise him as well- and his co-star, Crispin Glover, in what may be the greatest offbeat un-buddy movie of all time: Trent Harris’ cult 90’s classic, Rubin & Ed.

There are way too many movies floating out there that seemed like a great idea on paper, but almost always ended up a dud when brought to celluloid. The pairing of Hesseman and Glover could have been one of those: the elder comedy statesman, veteran of sitcoms and stage shows, paired with the most brilliant but eccentric actor of our time, riding around the desert, driving each other crazy. It sounds like a clever premise that runs out of gas halfway through the film for lack of, well, a point.

But no- Rubin & Ed is as good as it sounds. Part of this lies in the obvious: Glover and Hesseman are both great comic actors with impeccable timing. Glover basically plays the persona he’s been grooming his entire life, that of the intense loner running around in polyester bell-bottoms and platform shoes. It’s the persona that appeared on Letterman and basically scared its sarcastic host half to death, but now being given full reign in a feature film. Hesseman plays the middle aged sad sack he could have easily become had comedy stardom not been in his future. Together, their chemistry bubbles so well, it really doesn’t matter what the plot is- it’s just a hoot watching them annoy each other.

But the other part of the film’s success reveals its depth: Trent Harris’ penchant for America’s fringes. He’s like a John Waters without the scatological obsession, and he understands his subjects well. When this film came out in 1991, the country was still very much in the grasp of 1980’s materialism, obsessed with getting rich and buying lots of dumb stuff (come to think of it, that’s still how America is today.) Hesseman is the American everyman, brainwashed into believing the American Dream is just a sales deal away while his entire personal life flushes itself down the toilet. Glover is the alienated Gen-X offspring of the Boomer generation, rejecting Reagan and all that he stands for, but not exactly having much of an alternate solution to offer (which is why he still lives with his mom.) They’re two sides of the same coin, and Harris films them with sympathetic love and an appreciation for the absurdity of our dumb, modern American existence.

Watching Glover lugging a cooler all over the desert that houses a rapidly-decaying dead cat inside somehow never gets old; watching Rubin need Ed and Ed need Rubin despite themselves results in a sweet and ridiculous comedy that never gets old either, no matter how many decades have passed.

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