This is a light-hearted romantic comedy that is amusing to watch mostly due to Tim Robbins performance and the antics of the Einstein Cohorts! The plot is a fictionalized version of Albert Einstein and his famous physics compatriots living in Princeton, along with his niece, Catherine Boyd, who did not exist in real life.
Walter Matthau is endearingly funny as the very old Albert Einstein, who lapses into German and has a crazy head of hair. The only weakness in his strong intellectual faculties, is the love for his niece, Catherine, and his belief that his niece is marrying the wrong man, who will turn her into a hausfrau (housewife) and make her unhappy.
Meg Ryan is Catherine Boyd, the geeky but very pretty niece of Einstein, whose brainiac head is filled with so many math equations, that practical matters escape her. Her thoughts race faster than her mouth can voice them. Meg is young and pretty enough to carry this off, but she is still the same Meg Ryan as in all her roles. A cute tilt of her head, a pert toss of her hair, quizzical expressions, a comic grin, a lip curling in derision, speaking girlishly fast, giggling like a teenager, and flouncing off, are her stock in trade. It is her startling blonde beauty that has carried her off to Hollywood and numerous films, and this is the only thing she has to offer. If she were not so pretty or so blonde, she may have had to learn to act to get parts and would have not had it so easy to get roles opposite major male stars.
Stephen Fry is very droll as the stuffy English Psychology professor and fiancée of Catherine, who does experiments on rats genitals and primates. Stephen is variously known as Monkey Lips, The Chimp Pimp, The Excremental Professor, The Rat Man, and The Rodent King! He plays a nice foil with his bookish knowledge to Tim Robbins’ street savvy mechanic character, and showing a jealous mean streak as the jilted boyfriend when his attempts to win Catherine back are foiled.
Tim Robbins is the love-struck blue collar mechanic Ed Walters who is suddenly thrust into intellectual circles far beyond his level of education, due to his attraction to Einstein’s blonde niece. Fortuitously it turns out that he is endowed with a higher than average intelligence which explains his voracious appetite for science articles and his genius with the mechanics of motor cars. He befriends Einstein by giving him a joy ride on his motorcycle, and is commissioned to chop off the top of Albert’s car to create a convertible. This allows him access to Blondie, and a romance begins. Ed Walters has emotional intelligence known as EQ, and this is complements Catherine Boyd’s IQ or rational intelligence. They are almost two pieces of the same puzzle.
There is humor in the juxtaposition of Ed’s coworkers and boss versus Albert’s physicist friends. The era is 1950’s, cars are big, women wear skirts, men are gentlemen, and romance hangs in the air. There was one major mistake made in the film. Ed Walters imitated Marlon Brando as The Godfather, to make Catherine Boyd smile. The Godfather role played by Marlon Brando premiered in 1972. Albert Einstein died in April 1955. This made me wince and feel very manipulated by the movie. Such an obvious error discredits the entire film. Come on! Don’t make chimps of us all.
If Meg Ryan has been a better actress and carried her part, this would have been a good film. She is the only female shown, and the film revolves around her character. Sadly, she was not, and Meg’s head tosses and insouciance make you want to smack her into a reality check!
However, this is light entertainment, and it succeeds on this level as the humor created by Tony Shalhoub (Ed’s mechanic boss in the garage), Tim Robbins, Walter Matthau, and the rest of the cast make you chuckle and warms up a cold night. Good for relaxing with the family or picking up your spirits after a tiring day.