An immensely charming, intimate little character comedy that almost everybody missed when it graced a handful of theater screens in late November 1985, The Gig won the hearts of devoted American television viewers (and earned its place on more than a few recommendation lists) when it made several appearances on the pay-cable station Bravo in the early '90s. The film reunited Wayne Rogers (of television's M*A*S*H) and the immensely talented belletrist Frank D. Gilroy (Pulitzer Prize winner for his stage play, 1965's The Subject Was Roses) who had previously worked together on 1978's Once in Paris.... In The Gig, writer/director Gilroy again reveals his love for paying homage to the unadorned and insignificant life -- embracing the small guy and revealing his dreams, his hopes, his disappointments, and sorrows -- the fellow so often overlooked by other directors. Here, Gilroy turns his gaze to a group of aging amateur Dixieland-jazz musicians who have met weekly (sharing a jam session and a deli supper) for years.
Cross-cutting fluidly between lives, Gilroy brings us into the world of each player, as the band prepares for its first public appearance (at a Catskills resort) one weekend in late August, with the summer coming to a bittersweet, melancholic end. Gilroy's revelations are quiet and understated but never trite. Few American directors are so apt at blending the comic and the tragic (as during the men's bus trip together, when the half-soused bunch toot merrily on a children's instrument and belt out "Down by the Riverside") or at pulling such depth from small-scale revelations. (Witness one of the final scenes, when the lackluster cornetist Aaron Wohl (Jerry Matz) bitterly attacks his band member, Gil Macrae (real-life jazz pro Warren Vache) for wasting his musical brilliance.) The late Cleavon Little offers a fine performance as Marshall Wilson, a professional player who sits in for an ailing member of the ensemble, while Jay Thomas and Joe Silver deliver funny turns as -- respectively -- an egomaniacal chanteur and the resort's irritating proprietor. A bouncy yet subdued Dixieland score is the one element that lifts the film above greatness and into the realm of the sublime. The Gig is thoroughly engaging and highly recommended; it is also a fine companion piece to Vache's Concord album Easy Going, released within a year of this film, which features a number of low-key jazz tracks that stylistically mirror the pieces played by the ensemble in the film.