One-Trick Pony (1980)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Rock Musical  |   Release Date - Oct 3, 1980 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 98 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Mark Deming

If first-time screenwriter Paul Simon hasn't insisted upon casting first-time leading man Paul Simon in the film One Trick Pony, the results would have probably been a bit more impressive, but as it is the movie is an under-appreciated look at the music industry and one man's struggle to keep his life together, both as a husband and an artist. Simon isn't exactly bad as Jonah, a one-hit wonder whose current music bears previous little resemblance to "Soft Parachutes," a folk-rock antiwar number that charted in the late '60s, but Simon simply lacks the charisma or emotional range to carry the film on his shoulders, which up to a point is what the script (and Robert M. Young's direction) demands of him; he's fine in low-key moments, or when he interacts with his band (played by fellow real-life musicians Steve Gadd, Eric Gale, Tony Levin, and Richard Tee), but when the narrative demands a real performance from Simon, it's clear he doesn't have what it takes. His script, however, is an often witty and incisive look at the casually sleazy world of the music business, not to mention a plausible scenario at how Simon's career might have gone if he'd never been able to follow up "The Sound of Silence." And the film's supporting cast often picks up the slack for Simon, including Rip Torn as a phony-hipster record company executive, Allen Goorwitz as an egocentric radio programmer, and Lou Reed as an especially slimy record producer (and for better or worse, both Simon and Reed have been in the business long enough to understand the character all too well). The always charming Blair Brown gives her all as Jonah's wife Marion, but sadly her leading man isn't at the same level she is in bringing their crumbling relationship to life, though she gets high marks for effort. And Robert M. Young obviously understands that this is a music film where the characters really are more important than the music, and ultimately it's the people who make this film interesting, even if the material deserved a more seasoned actor in the lead.