Ever wonder what it would be like to meet yourself at an earlier age? In Returning Mickey Stern, the main character thinks he’s done just that, and he goes to extremes to prevent his younger self from making the same mistake that caused great unhappiness in his past life. Joseph Bologna stars in this bitter-sweet comedy as a 68-year old man grieving over the death of his wife Leah, a woman he loved and lost on Fire Island back in 1950, then found again and married many years later.
Shortly after Mickey Stern (Bologna) and best friend Harry (Tom Bosley) return to Fire Island to pack up Leah’s belongings, Mickey sees a woman (Kylie Delre) who is the spitting image of his wife when he first met her. And wouldn’t you know it? Her name is Leah, too. Later, Mickey meets a young man (Joshua Fishbein) who looks just like he did as a 17-year old. These two even share the same birthday. The young man’s name? Michael, of course. No wonder Mickey thinks he has another chance to put things right. He pushes Leah and Michael together, hoping they will fall in love and live happily ever after – no matter who else gets hurt.
This is a provocative idea for a film, which is probably why other movies, like Disney’s The Kid, have successfully explored a similar theme. In contrast to the fantasy elements in Disney’s picture, Mickey Stern adopts a this-could-really-be-happening approach. Unfortunately, I felt disappointed by the film’s lack of fantasy – but, hey, my inner child must be acting up again. Thankfully, many scenes showcasing picturesque Fire Island did appear magical to me.
Writer/director/producer Michael Prywes, making an impressive feature film debut with The Return of Mickey Stern (winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature at the 2002 Festival Internaziolale Indipendente de Roma), says he decided on Fire Island as a location because he always thought of it as "a place of magic and romance." He and his family usually spent their summers there. "It’s so cinematic, with a certain innocence that has not gone away," he explained to Barbara Delatiner in an interview for the New York Times.
Vacationers seeking "the simpler life" consider this Island (just 50 miles from Manhattan) a haven. Wagons and bicycles, not cars, are used for transportation. Deer run freely; no one tramples on dunes; and the needs of the National Seashore prevail. It’s a perfect setting for a movie filled with nostalgia.
What’s not perfect about Returning Mickey Stern? Too few scenes with the hilarious Renee Taylor ("The Nanny") and lovely Connie Stevens (Palm Springs Weekend). I wanted to see more of Taylor's sexy senior citizen and Stevens' lonely school principal. And Bosley’s Jewish accent sounds forced most of the time -- which surprised me because Bosley is such a fine actor. I absolutely love him in those "Father Dowling" and "Murder, She Wrote" television shows. I also think Bologna, who's been one of my favorites since his memorable Sid Caesar-like performance in My Favorite Year, overplays a couple of scenes. Running around yelling "Leah" at the top of his lungs early on in the film seemed too unbelievable to me. Still, the sadness in his eyes touched my heart during most of the movie, and he’s very funny when playing cards and spying on his character’s matchmaking events.
Unlike so many recent movies, Returning Mickey Stern doesn’t telegraph how things are going to turn out, and that’s refreshing. Sometimes happy endings aren’t what you expect – they’re even better. This is one of those times.
(Released by Metroscope Entertainment and rated "PG-13 for some sexual references.)