Synopsis by Mark Deming
Al Pacino made a rare return to the stage in 1994 when he starred in a Broadway production of Ira Lewis's play Chinese Coffee. In this film adaptation of the drama, Pacino recreates his performance and also directs. Harry Levine (Pacino) is a writer in his early fifties who has published two novels, but never enjoyed enough literary success to leave his job as a doorman. Harry has just finished a third book, and is waiting for his close friend Jake Manheim (Jerry Orbach) to read the manuscript and give him his opinion. Harry is already edgy as he awaits Jake's verdict, since his longtime girlfriend, artist Joanna (Susan Floyd), has just called an end to their relationship. Jake, on the other hand, broke up with his wife Mavis (Ellen McElduff) when he decided to abandon his 30-year career as a photographer in pursuit of a (thus far unsuccessful) career as an actor. At first Jake tells Harry he hasn't yet read his new book, but in time he confesses that he has and that, from a literary standpoint, he thinks Harry simply doesn't have the talent to be a success; he also feels hurt and betrayed as a friend that Harry used sensitive moments from Jake's private life as plot points in his novel. Chinese Coffee was Al Pacino's second effort as a film director, following Looking for Richard, his semi-documentary look at staging William Shakespeare's Richard III.