Today, I’m kicking off my holiday review season with 1994’s dark comedy, Mixed Nuts.
Mixed Nuts was co-written and directed by Nora Ephron, whose other credits include Julie & Julia, Michael, Sleepless In Seattle, and You’ve Got Mail. Her co-writer on the film was Delia Ephron, her sister and frequent screenplay collaborator, who also served as a producer.
The cinematographer on Mixed Nuts was Sven Nykvist, who also shot What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Persona, Chaplin, and Sleepless in Seattle, among many others.
The editor for the film was Robert Reitano, who also cut the movies The Juror, True Colors, My Blue Heaven, and Sleepless In Seattle.
The team of producers for Mixed Nuts included included Tony Thomas (The Golden Girls, Insomnia), James W. Skotchdopole (True Romance, Django: Unchained), Paul Junger Witt (Three Kings, Dead Poets Society), and Joseph Hartwick (Striptease).
The musical score for Mixed Nuts was composed by George Fenton, whose other credits include Groundhog Day, The Fisher King, Hitch, and You’ve Got Mail.
The significant cast of Mixed Nuts boasts the likes of Steve Martin (The Jerk, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Bowfinger, Sgt. Bilko), Madeline Kahn (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Clue), Robert Klein (Primary Colors, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days), Anthony LaPaglia (Empire Records, The Client), Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers, From Dusk Till Dawn), Rob Reiner (The Wolf of Wall Street, Primary Colors), Adam Sandler (Going Overboard, Jack & Jill, The Waterboy, Mr. Deeds, Pixels, Grown Ups), Parker Posey (The House of Yes, Josie & The Pussycats), Rita Wilson (Jingle All The Way, Auto Focus), Joley Fisher (The Mask), Steven Wright (Son of the Mask, Natural Born Killers), Haley Joel Osment (A.I., Tusk, The Sixth Sense), and both Jon Stewart (Death To Smoochy, The Faculty) and Liev Schreiber (Scream 3, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Sphere, Goon) in their first theatrical roles.
The plot of Mixed Nuts is summarized on IMDb as follows:
The events focus around a crisis hotline business on one crazy night during the Christmas holidays.
The production budget for Mixed Nuts was $15 million, on which it grossed only $6.8 million in its lifetime domestic theatrical release, making it a significant financial loss. Likewise, critics openly ripped into the movie, making for a Rotten Tomatoes aggregate score of 7%. Audiences were more charitable to the movie, but only slightly so: currently, it holds a Rotten Tomatoes audience aggregate score of 47%, along with an IMDb user rating of 5.3.
The sheer talent on display in Mixed Nuts is immense, which adds to how incredibly disappointing it is that the movie is so poorly constructed. While Steve Martin isn’t on top of his game here, Madeleine Kahn is fantastic, and Liev Shreiber, in spite of his character being somewhat poorly written, is a highlight of the movie. On the flip side, Adam Sandler is roughly as unbearable as he ever is in comedies.
The tone of Mixed Nuts is undoubtedly its central problem, and can best be described as incredibly bizarre. This is a rare film that tries to be both dark in its comedy and physically zany, with rapidly recited dialogue and physical comedy interspersed with incredibly dark themes and situations. This is a combination that has rarely, if ever, proven effective, as they two styles mix about as well as oil and water. The only example off the top of my head that pulled this off well is Death to Smoochy, which looks like a downright even-keeled feature next to Mixed Nuts, which is really saying something for a Robin Williams movie. Even then, there are plenty of critics who disagree, and vocally attacked that movie for the same reason.
On top of the odd tone, Mixed Nuts is also one of the strangest-paced movies I have ever seen. For most of the story, the dialogue and music moves at a frenetic, break-neck speed. However, it sputters at random points down to a crawl, then idles for a few minutes before hitting the gas again. The result is that the movie would have been uneasy to watch and follow, even if the tone and story hadn’t been massive issues.
Overall, there aren’t any particular redeeming values to Mixed Nuts if you ask me. I know that the movie has some die-hard fans out there, but I just don’t get it. Outside of a handful of performances that aren’t terrible, there isn’t anything fun going on here, and that’s coming from someone who usually enjoys dark comedies. Unless you happen to be a die hard Steve Martin fan or are desperate from an obscure comedy for your holiday watch list, I wouldn’t recommend digging up Mixed Nuts.
For more thoughts on Mixed Nuts, you can check out Janet Maslin’s coverage in the New York TImes, Roger Ebert’s review, or the combined video skewering by both Siskel & Ebert.