Angelo Manglehorn is a lonely locksmith who yearns for his long-lost love Clara. His profession is significant: he only opens up to Clara, in hundreds of letters that always come back to him unopened. (There is a beehive hanging on Manglehorn’s mailbox, meaning he can get stung every time he opens it.) With everyone else, he is an affable and likable but spurns anything other than superficial interaction. When Dawn (Holly Hunter), the teller with whom he chats about their pets every Friday at the bank asks him out on a date, she discovers that Manglehorn has no intention of pursuing her romantically. Dawn is everything that Manglehorn has closed himself up against: she is bright, optimistic and brave. This contrast is shown in their homes: hers so warm and homely, his all beige, brown and barely habitable. In fact, most things are beige, from his home furnishings to the food he eats.
His son Jacob (Chris Messina) has become rich, harsh and distant. In contrast to Jacob, local entrepreneur Gary (Harmony Korine), an erstwhile protégé of Manglehorn’s in junior baseball league – has nothing but affection for him. Although Manglehorn has little patience with Gary, he also seems drawn to him, perhaps as a surrogate son in his life. Gary mentions is a little miracle that Manglehorn performed when he was coaching the team. A further miraculous story is told by Jacob’s daughter’s nanny, and later Jacob tells us another. Where have these magical, miraculous abilities gone? Did they disappear along with Clara?
One of Manglehorn’s most loving relationships other than with his granddaughter, is with his cat. And it turns out that this cat is – quite literally – the key holder to the compartment that Manglehorn must open in order to free himself of his past.
Green has filled his film with meticulous attention to detail, from Manglehorn’s oily fingernails, always bearing a plaster, to an operation on the cat. We have a real sense of these people existing, of coming across them in our daily lives (Gary excepted), and Green has achieved this by his use of real homes rather than built sets and by using non-professional actors. There are some great scenes, such as when a man comes into the bank to serenade one of the tellers. That this occurs when Dawn and Manglehorn are tentatively approaching the idea of a date is like a sign and portent of their romantic future. Other visually interesting scenes include a car pile-up involving watermelons and the dumping of a boat.
Despite this, there are flaws, such as the confusing voice-overs, and Manglehorn and Gary’s relationship seems pretty implausible. However, as with Joe (which showed in Venice last year) Green has created a visually interesting film with a likable main character. And again, he has garnered rich and compelling performances from his actors, in particular his leading man.