In the summer of 1950, after graduating from high school, seventeen year old Michael Joshua “Mickey” Stern (Mr. Fishbein) has come to Fire Island, with his best friend Harry, to enjoy one last summer of fun before joining the service to fight the commies in Korea and then to a career playing for the New York Yankees. Stung by a jellyfish while walking on the beach, Mickey is cared for in the local doctor’s office by Leah (Ms. Delre), a beautiful young lady who will be leaving for medical school come fall. Despite a wonderful summer together, the two go their separate ways.
Fifty years later, Mickey (Mr. Bologna) is a bitter, dejected man. Wounded in Korea, Harry never did play for the Yankees, playing part of one season with the Red Sox before his career ended due to a wild pitch that went a little too wild. Harry also finally got together with Leah after more than forty five years apart, only to watch her succumb to cancer shortly after their wedding. Along with Harry (Mr. Bosley), Mickey returns to Fire Island for the first time in a half century, to retrieve his wife’s remaining belongings from the doctor’s office they first met in. While going through her things, which include a bag filled with a number of Mickey’s one and only baseball card from his playing days, Mickey spots a young Leah outside the office window walking towards the beach. With an old photo of them in hand, Mickey tries to find his love, who is sunning herself on the beach with her boyfriend. The girl’s name is Ilana (Ms. Delre again) and she does look exactly like Leah. More surprisingly, Ilana’s boyfriend, not understanding what is going on, wants to know what Ilana is doing in a photo with that kid from the local store. Heading up to the Seaview Market, Mickey finds seventeen year old Michael Joshua Stern (Mr. Fishbein again), who not only shares a name with Mickey, but looks exactly like Mickey at that age. And, we discover, shares the same stubborn temperament. Seeing his chance to write the wrongs of his past, Mickey does everything he can to get Mickey and Ilana together. For the remaining week he and Harry are on the island, Mickey will stop at nothing to “straighten things out” with the two doppelgangers.
Joseph Bologna is one of the best and most underused comedic talents of today. Fans might remember Mr. Bologna as Adam Sandler’s father in “Big Daddy,” or his work on the cult favorite “The Big Bus.” Mr. Bologna was also nominated, along with his wife and co-star Taylor, for an Oscar in 1970 for adapting their hit Broadway play “Lovers and Other Strangers.” As Stern, Mr. Bologna delivers a nuanced, controlled performance which rivals his turn as the Sid Caeser-esque King Kaiser in “My Favorite Year” as his best to date. He understands Mickey is a selfish person acting on selfish impulses, but knows better than to overplay the role. We should be so lucky to see this film be the start of a Bologna renaissance in cinema. Mr. Bosley also turns in a beautifully sweet portrayal as Mickey’s best friend, although he has been saddled with a slightly disorienting accent of possibly Russian origin which adds nothing to either the character or the story. The newer actors, cast in their roles by Internet visitors to Cast Our Movie.com, are all great finds. As Mickey’s muse in two generations, Ms. Delre exuded a sexy charm that could tempt a man to chase her through time. Mr. Fishbein is so believable as the cocky younger Stern, one might wonder if he is acting at all. Mention should also be made of Sarah Schoenberg, who plays Dina, the younger Michael’s modern day secret admirer and co-worker at the market. Ms. Schoenberg is a fresh new presence who deserves to move on bigger and better things.
Writer/director Prywes originally wrote the screenplay for “Mickey Stern” as his thesis project while attending UCLA, rounded up the million dollar budget with Mr. Bologna, who takes a producer credit, when there was no interest in the project through traditional productions means. Perhaps the film is too good natured for mainstream audiences today, but those who are looking for something a little old-fashioned will be greatly rewarded by seeing “Returning Mickey Stern.” I give the film and A for effort and a B+ for execution.
“Returning Mickey Stern” Scorecard
Director: Michael Prywes
Writer: Michael Prywes
Producers: Jason Akel, Joseph Bologna, Victor Erdos, Michael Prywes
Featuring: Joseph Bologna, Tom Bosley, Kylie Delre, Joshua Fishbein, Connie Stevens, Renee Taylor
MPAA Rating: PG13 for some sexual references
Running Time: 93 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Sound Format: Dolby SR, DTS
“Returning Mickey Stern” official web site