MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON works well on several levels: (1) a non-sticky Valentine from writer-director Paul Mazursky to his own family history, (2) a coup for Robin Williams, 32, both as a sensitive dramatic actor and as a dedicated and skilled craftsman, (3) a breakthrough role at 26 for sassy and sexy Maria Conchita Alonso, and (4) a touching, remember-who-we-are tribute to immigrants, as such more poignant now, in a doltish age of bashing the very idea, than it was when the movie came out back in 1984.
“In Moscow we fought for an inch of freedom! Here you take it and pour shit all over it.”
On impulse during a visit by his circus troupe to New York City, ‘Vladimir Ivanoff’— talented saxophonist, kindly son of a spirited family and oppressed citizen of the repressed U.S.S.R.—bolts for freedom as a defector in the middle of Bloomingdale’s. As he weathers the bizarre and tasking, promising and rewarding life in the USA, he forms friendships, earns keep in a blizzard of ways and has a lusty but open-ended romantic whirl with another immigrant; sexy, feisty and determined ‘Lucia Lombardo’, late of Italy.
A good many chuckles and some dollops of pain mark Mazursky’s compassionate screenplay (co-written by Leon Capetanos). Williams shows a fine rein on playing it straight (the character has good humor, but wisely Robin barely cracks his manic side, and all the better) and Alonso (hailing from Cuba & Venezuela) is forthright, flashy and funny, delightful to look at and listen to. The rocky journey of Vladimir and company is accompanied by a score of vignettes of new and hopeful Americans from around the globe. Our strength is revealed in our differences, and Mazursky does justice to what ought to be an obvious truth without dousing you in sap or banging you over the head. Not a complete success—some tone shifts are uneven— but in the main a warm 115 minutes to spend with some likable people, working diligently at The Dream.
Featuring Cleavant Derricks, Elya Baskin, Saveliy Kramarov (a Soviet actor who had defected; here he plays a skeezy KGB stooge), Alejandro Rey, Alexandr Benyaminov (wild as Williams life-loving grandfather back in the USSR: “There are whores in Gorky Park who have carved my name into trees!”), Olga Talyn, Oleg Rudnik and Tiger Haynes.
It was a sign of his focus and commitment that Williams spent months learning Russian (from scratch) as well as learning to play the sax. The $13,000,000 effort earned $25,100,000, 41st place for the year. The Statue of Liberty holds a torch, not a flamethrower.