GARBO TALKS says nothing. It is a callow confrontation with death that pretends to grieve for its plucky heroine, an endearing eccentric who is dying of brain cancer. It is a well-acted and well-meant but empty comic drama.
Anne Bancroft stars as Estelle, a fiftyish crusader who missed her only son's wedding when she refused to cross a picket line. She protests everything -- including a lousy contract for hospital workers -- even on her death bed. "Garbo Talks" is named for Estelle's other passion, the films of Greta Garbo, especially "Camille."
Director Sidney Lumet might have learned a lesson from the latter, a tragedy that suffered with its heroine. But Lumet sanitizes the death process and we can't feel a thing. It's not that we want to wallow in misery or be manipulated, but only to be moved by life's greatest challenge to ur courage.
The film runs away like Estelle's son Gilbert, a middle-class nebbish, who hides from death and from his mixed feelings for his mother. He runs after the elusive Garbo, hoping to satisfy his mother's last wish, a visit with the reclusive star. There's rich stuff here -- Gilbert's fear, Estelle's courage, even Gilbert's relationship with his shrewish wife (Carrie Fisher) -- but the filmmakers never mine the ore. The resolutions are petty -- Gilbert tells off his boss and visits his mother's empty hospital room.
And when Estelle finally meets "the Garbo," she asks her about her shoe size and whether she prefers cold chicken or salami. Bancroft naturally rushes this uncomfortable monologue with a silent Garbo -- what looks like a dummy in a sloop-shaped hat. It is abrupt and incomplete like so many of the scenes in this listless film.
Catherine Hicks, Harvey Fierstein, Hermione Gingold and Dorothy Loudon contrast as bright, amusing spots in "Garbo Talks." Incidentally, she doesn't. GARBO TALKS -- At area theaters.