Pennies from Heaven (1981)

There are few movies quite as original as “Pennies from Heaven.” Set during the Great Depression, the movie follows Steve Martin as a failed sheet-music salesman who loses himself in musical fantasies in order to deal with his reality. Things go from dreary to bleak quickly for Martin, and he’s entirely believable every step of the way: There’s a certain familiarity to Martin that he subverts here with an unsettled performance that’s surely his best dramatic work. In addition, the movie is blessed with a number of impressive musical numbers that deliberately contrast the movie’s overall tone, and the effect is so jarring that their impressive technical precision is nearly overshadowed by their structural use. Director Herbert Ross manages to pull off an impressive feat with an endeavor like this, and the finished movie is a memorable experience.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)

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