To call this movie enjoyable is to do a great disservice to the English language. At heart a comedy from 1982, this wistful tale relays in pictures one young man’s fascination with the glory days of the motion picture industry. Mark Linn-Baker plays Benjy Stone, who also happens to be the narrator of this engrossing story. Stone is a junior comedy writer for a variety show starring Stan ‘King’ Kaiser. As a special upcoming guest, they find the famous (though largely washed-up) Alan Swann (portrayed by Peter O’Toole), a swashbuckling actor from Hollywood’s golden era. However, when Swann shows up, they realize that he is roaring drunk. Kaiser is all set to dump him when Benjy intervenes and promises to keep him sober during the week leading up to the show.
As Benjy watches out for Swann (or at least tries to keep up with him), the two learn much about each other, including the fact that they both have family they try to hide from the rest of the world. In Benjy’s case, it’s his Jewish mother (Lainie Kazan), who is married to a Filipino former bantamweight boxer, Rookie Carroca (Ramon Sison) and Benjy’s embarrassing relatives. For Swann, it is his young daughter, Tess. who has been raised entirely by her mother, one of his many ex-wives. He stays away but continues to keep tabs on her secretly, frustrated that he cannot muster the courage to reconnect with her. Still, Swann manages to pull off that antiquated Hollywood persona. While en route to a rehearsal, Swann is greeted by a station employee, who says, “Nice to see you, Mr. Swann!” To which Swann replies, “Nice to be seen.” Something to think about in our post-modern age!
Since this is live television, it only seems natural that Swann suffers a panic attack when Benjy informs him that the show is broadcast live. (He is accustomed to getting many takes to get his lines right, exclaiming, “I’m not an actor. I’m a movie star!” So, Swann gets drunk and bolts from the studio, but is confronted by Benjy, who angrily tells him that he always thought of Swann as the swashbuckling hero he saw on the big screen, and that deep down, Swann possesses those qualities as a person. As Benjy puts it, “Nobody’s that good an actor!”
As the narrative winds down, Benjy relates (in voice-over) that Swann, his confidence bolstered, finally gets up the nerve to visit his daughter the next day and the two apparently have a heartfelt reunion.
What makes My Favorite Year such a joy is the interplay between the grizzled show biz veteran and the wide-eyed innocence of the young writer assigned to watch his shot glass. The pair learn much from each other, though it is not always clear who, in the end, has the upper hand. Director Richard Benjamin captures a classic slice of American pop culture with this engaging and very enjoyable story.