Portney’s Complaint (1972)

“Don’t throw away a brilliant future on a Blondie.”

The disappointing comedy film Portnoy’s Complaint is based on the Philip Roth novel. The film centres on the life of Alexander Portnoy (Richard Benjamin) as he tries to maintain some sanity through sessions with his therapist. In his sessions, Portnoy describes his fantasies with an unknown redhead named Monkey, and his life with his impossible, controlling, suffocating Jewish parents. Alexander’s father, Jack Portnoy (Jack Somack) suffers from chronic constipation, so much of his life centres on the bathroom (“C’mon, give someone else a crack at that bowl”). Lawrence’s mother, Sophie Portnoy (Lee Grant) treats her son as if he’s an imbecilic eight-year old.

33-year-old Alexander lives in New York, and his parents are safely stashed in New Jersey. He placates them with a once-a-month visit, but when they learn through friends that their son is dating a “blondie” (Karen Black), the uneasy truce between parents and son explodes.

Portnoy’s Complaint was made in the early 70s, and it seems terribly dated. The script is also rather tame, and the film inevitably seems like a long, predictable depiction of Jewish stereotypes. The film’s treatment of sex is a pale shadow of a low-budget teen comedy. There’s no wicked satirical bite, no audacity, no originality–just a few cheap giggles. While the first few scenes of the Portnoys nagging Lawrence are amusing, the joke becomes tired and palls before long.


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