Tom Hanks’ ‘Nothing in Common’ is uncommonly good

Tom Hanks in “Nothing in Common”

When the resumes of Tom Hanks and filmmaker Garry Marshall are considered, “Nothing in Common” usually isn’t one of the first titles to come to mind. And that’s a shame.

Currently streaming on Crackle, the 1986 movie is equal parts comedy and drama — and it was an early indication of the performance depths Hanks could go to, since he generally was known just for providing laughs at that point. He plays a fast-rising star on the Chicago advertising scene, self-assured enough to harangue his boss (Marshall-movie regular Hector Elizondo) about being given a partnership at their firm.

Work-driven as he is, that’s where the focus of Hanks’ David Basner largely stays, until he suddenly has a personal crisis to deal with. His mother (a wonderful Eva Marie Saint) has walked out on his father (the ever-great Jackie Gleason, in his final role), as David is caught in the middle as he tries to tend to their separate needs. Mom is a lot happier with her new status than stubborn Dad, who always has had a strained relationship with David.

Back on the work front David is vying to land a major account that involves catering to another difficult fellow, an airline executive (“Northern Exposure’s” Barry Corbin) who has his super-sharp daughter (Sela Ward) as his main counsel. She cleverly checks out Basner before he knows who she really is and her presence makes for some tricky moments he has with an old flame who has remained a close friend (a charming Bess Armstrong).

There’s clearly a lot to “Nothing in Common,” and certain reviewers unfairly carped at the time that it played out like one of Marshall’s television sitcoms. Admittedly, the principal characters become familiar on that level as the picture unspools, but there’s a lot to them … even the ones who might seem one-note early on.

As might be expected, that’s particularly true of David, giving Hanks a terrific showcase to utilize every mood and trait he’s known for. He’s a whirling dervish of hilarity in the opening scene as he returns to the office after a vacation, but especially as the on-screen relationship with Gleason develops, he also displays anger, desperation and poignancy. And his scenes with Armstrong are so wonderful, you’ll wish there were more of them.

Looking at “Nothing in Common” as a formative chapter in Hanks’ career and the capper to Gleason’s work aren’t the only reasons to see it, but they are very good and valid ones nevertheless.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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