» » Joe Gould's Secret (2000)

Short summary

Around 1940, The New Yorker staff writer Joe Mitchell meets Joe Gould, a Greenwich Village character, who cadges meals, drinks, and contributions to the Joe Gould Fund, and who is writing a... See full summary
Around 1940, The New Yorker staff writer Joe Mitchell meets Joe Gould, a Greenwich Village character, who cadges meals, drinks, and contributions to the Joe Gould Fund, and who is writing a voluminous Oral History of the World, a record of twenty thousand conversations he's overheard. Mitchell is fascinated with this Harvard grad, and writes a 1942 piece about him, "Professor Seagull", bringing Gould some celebrity, and an invitation to join the Greenwich Village Ravens, a poetry club he's often crashed. Gould's touchy, querulous personality and his frequent dropping in on Mitchell for hours of chat, lead to a break-up, but the two Joes stay in touch until Gould's death, and Mitchell's unveiling of the secret.

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  • comment
    • Author: Manesenci
    It's no accident that the opening scene of "Joe Gould's Secret" is an all-American family having a normal conversation over breakfast. The head of this household, author Joseph (Joe) Mitchell (director Stanley Tucci) is about to have his world turned upside-down by a person whom he's at first merely intrigued by, but then finds himself friends with: Joe Gould, a homeless beggar who "speaks seagull." Gould (Ian Holm) is himself an author, claiming to have recorded a staggering volume recounting the conversations of strangers he calls the 'Oral History' or simply 'O.H.' One portion of the OH is his own thoughts on these conversations, which he keeps with different people he knows all over New York City. The other is the actual conversations, which he claims to have hidden away under lock and key. Gould won't let anyone read it because it's too personal to him. Over the course of the story, Mitchell starts to suspect that these writings don't even exist. He also finds that he's got a lot more in common with this mentally ill tramp than he'd care to admit.

    The heart of the story is the friendship between Gould and Mitchell. Both men are well portrayed and given great depth by the actors who play them. That the script is the best of any produced this year doesn't hurt either. Mitchell treats Gould as a story he's writing, as merely an interesting character for people to read about, and not a human being. Mitchell thinks he's done Gould a great service, but finds that all he's done is take away even more of Gould's humanity. Most of his `friends' treat him in a similar fashion: they love how he entertains them with his craziness, but when it comes to helping him, the most they're willing to do is make a contribution to the "Joe Gould fund." Holm's performance is mesmerizing. Behind all of Gould's ravings is a sadness that he always manages to keep just below the surface. Holm brings across several levels of a man's personality, sometimes in no more than a glance. His work here is a perfect, once-in-a-lifetime achievement I hope he is remembered for.

    There is much more to Joe Gould's Secret than a message about how we treat the homeless in America. It has so many levels, you could watch it several times and find a different story in it each time. Tucci has several points to make, but doesn't do it at the expense of storytelling. His love and understanding of the story and characters shines through, like a kid finding a stray puppy, running home with it, and announcing, "look what I found!"

    Grade: A
  • comment
    • Author: Feri
    With all the garbage that's been coming out in the theaters recently, I've taken to staying home and renting movies that never made a big splash at the box office. With Joe Gould's Secret, I lucked out and enjoyed a movie that was better than I could have imagined.

    All the performances, most notably Ian Holm's, are stellar. The scenes of 1940's New York will fill you with nostalgia, even if (like me) you were born well after that time. Occasional appearances by the always wonderful Susan Sarandon and Steve Martin only heighten the pleasure of a perfectly-acted, -filmed, and -directed gem of a movie.

    But, in the end, it is the character of Joe Gould -- brilliant, mad, heartbreaking -- that makes Joe Gould's Secret so perfect. He is the farthest thing imaginable from the "cute homeless guy" stock character of your typical insulting Hollywood script.

    Do yourself a big favor and see this movie.
  • comment
    • Author: Pameala
    What a line that was.

    Likely the best movie I've seen in ten years. Joe Mitchell's clear, lucid writing comes through so well one wonders why this hasn't been done before. Being familiar with the stories on which this film is based helped.

    Ian Holm brings Gould to life, and Tucci plays the bemused, then overwhelmed journalist wonderfully well. (I could quibble about his "generic southern" rather than North Carolina accent, but that really is just a quibble.)

    It made me think (always a sign of any good work of art) about the brief celebrity brought onto persons by well-meaning journalists. We see a slice of their lives, their 15 minutes of fame, but their lives continue on, following their daily routines, which may now be altered by their brush with fame.

    It also brings out the dance between madness and genius. How many mumbling street people have we seen and passed, never realizing that there is a life, perhaps wisdom, lurking beneath the tattered clothes, sheltered in their cardboard boxes?

    I like movies that are well-written, and this one certainly is. And the New York of the 40's and 50's is a character in the film to. To see the Village Vandguard's sign, knowing that beneath this sign passed Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Coltrane...

    Highly recommended.
  • comment
    • Author: Thetahuginn
    This is a well made and acted adaption of Joseph Mitchell's two pieces on Joseph Ferdinand Gould,a New York character from the 20's into the early 50's who claimed to be writing the "longest book in the English language,Joe Gould's Oral history." He haunted Village bars and coffee houses cadging drinks and handouts to sustain his existence.He says "We all suffer from delusions,his is the delusion that he is Joseph Ferdinand Gould.Tucci is excellent as Joseph Mitchell,but Ian Holm steals the show as Joe Gould,although he looks a little too well fed.Trivia:early in the film when Tucci is in the Minnetta Tavern,we see a painting of the REAL Joe Gould! What a shame this movie didn't get a wider audience,which it richly deserves.
  • comment
    • Author: Uylo
    This is one of those marvelous movies where almost nothing happens. Noone dies, noone gets blasted by aliens, noone get mushed by Bruce Willis or Harrison Ford. Just a quiet movie about an interesting guy (damn, Ian Holm is good) who doesn't do much. The scenography is awesome, and the details of the surroundings are pretty good. Anyone with an understanding of the pre-beat scene in NYC (or curiosity, ferchristssake) will love this quiet, interesting movie. Some of the characters could have been painted with a little more color. One becomes curious about the photographer-wife, the beat-artist (Saranden), and the sleazy publisher (Steve Martin, ferchristssake), but our questions remain questions.

    If you like quiet movies, thoughtful movies, you'll thoroughly enjoy this one. Rent it.
  • comment
    • Author: Faezahn
    Joe Gould's secret, for me, regardless of what it was for the real-life or the movie JG, is this: nobody wants to be a nobody. We want our banal conversations and interactions--the stuff of our lives---to mean something, we want there to be a connection between ourselves and what's labeled "history", the big picture.

    In this film from a real life story, everyone wants Gould's oral history of the little people to exist--to thrive, to be published. What a grand idea! The nobodies will be somebodies and their words will form a picture of their times from the street level, rather than the lofty perspective of the usual published histories.

    The poignancy in the film is double-barrelled. When Joe Mitchell's character confronts Joe Gould about his self-deluding ways, questioning whether his oral history is a fabrication, he punctures the man and his entire mode of existence, calling cap in hand on any and all sympathetic souls for contributions to his "fund." The capper, however, is that once Mitchell himself finally reveals Gould's secret, writing about him years after his death, he himself is silenced as a writer.

    The suggestion from scenes in the film is that Mitchell may have found too much in common between himself and the madman/would-be artist whose grandiosity he documented. In the film, Gould says to Mitchell, in his sadly sane time in a mental hospital, "it was never a question of laziness", trying to refute Mitchell's harshest accusation. He needs to assert that even if he has failed, it's not for want of trying. In a sense, every artist has to be a little mad, to hold onto a vision of their work and a sense of self-importance stronger than the barriers the conventional world erects to creative endeavour. The possibility of failure has to be thrust aside, a kind of delusion has to be maintained, that denies the possibility of failure.

    The fact that Mitchell was silenced by recording Gould's colourful and memorable failure is a shocking footnote in the closing moments of the film. Gould's laughable claiming of Mitchell as his biographer early on not only becomes the truth, but the biographer appears to be brought to ground by the subject of his biography. Gould's secret becomes Mitchell's denouement, "nobody wants to be a nobody, but everyone actually is a nobody, and what can I say to you about anything, as a nobody?" Joe's secret is everybody's secret, his history is ours, it's Mitchell's, and it's an everyman tragicomedy.
  • comment
    • Author: Ubranzac
    Was he a brilliant and misunderstood bohemian, or merely a mentally deranged hobo with scant moments of lucidity? This is one of the questions broached by this thought provoking period piece based on a true story. Joe Gould (Ian Holm) became a local legend of sorts in the 1940's and ‘50's as he lived on the streets of Greenwich Village in Manhattan during that section's most outlandish and offbeat era. According to the legend, Gould was writing the `Oral History of the World' supposedly scratching down his thoughts and the conversations of common folks in composition books. This story follows the relationship developed between Joe Gould, a Harvard graduate cum decadent; and Joe Mitchell (Stanley Tucci), a prominent writer for New Yorker Magazine during the period, who wrote the book on which this film is based.

    Gould was generally well liked, and he could be charming and engaging when doing his bohemian act for the locals, who were wont to enjoy the raw humanity of it. Thus, despite his disheveled and odoriferous attributes, he was often welcome at parties given by affluent socialites. He had a symbiosis with the neighborhood, a mutually parasitic relationship where he used them for their money and they used him to indulge their desire to consider themselves avant-garde by consorting with free spirits.

    He easily manipulated various residents into contributing significant alms, which he would promptly squander on alcohol. This became even truer after Mitchell wrote an article about him in New Yorker Magazine and his celebrity mushroomed. The film tells his story without over-romanticizing him and unabashedly presents his dark side (bordering on sociopathic) marked by alcoholism, temper tantrums, belligerent outbursts and generally disturbed behavior.

    Stanley Tucci's direction of this film again bears his trademark attention to human details, presenting a very perceptive look at the human condition. As always, his work with the actors to get the right feelings on film was excellent. He also captured the period precisely in his use of costumes, props and Greenwich Village locations, most of which are unchanged from 50 years ago. He does a good job of peeling away Gould's façade, which begins with a look at him as a colorful and interesting character and reveals him ultimately as grossly imbalanced.

    If there were criticisms of Tucci's presentation, they would have to be about pace and content. The film isn't excessively long, but at times, it feels that way. Though this was a wonderfully in-depth character study, it trod over the same ground repeatedly, rather than offering an array of fresh perspectives.

    The acting was exceptional. Ian Holm gives a brilliant performance as Gould. It is difficult to imagine a more complex and demanding character. Holm was engaging, charming, cantankerous, belligerent and occasionally insightfully deep. Holm was fully immersed in his character and he gave a truly inspired portrayal. Stanley Tucci was also very good as the sullen and impassive journalist. His southern accent was only passable, but his genteel southern style was excellent and his conflict and concern came across as genuine.

    This film requires a patient and intelligent viewer. I rated it an 8/10 on the strength of the acting and the insightful character study, despite its sluggish pace. If you enjoy human-interest stories and probing character studies, I would recommend you try it.
  • comment
    • Author: Mikarr
    Starring one of the best actors in the world, Ian Holm; and Stanley Tucci, who also does a great job in this period drama based on a true story about one of the most unusual New York writers in modern history (Joe Mitchell), and his attempt to write a feature story on one of New York's most notable philosopher characters- a street person who is well-known in writer circles. Joe Gould claims to have written a massive volume that is the complete history of the world based on countless conversations he has heard from people- overheard in the street, and in conversations with friends and strangers. It is never revealed whether Gould really ever had such a manuscript, or if he was a total hoax- possibly somewhere in between. But the effect he has on Joe Mitchell (an actual top feature writer for the New Yorker during the 1940s), is profound. This is an outstanding drama- one of the best of a couple years ago (2000).

    As reported on NPR after this film release, Joe Mitchell later unexpectedly stopped writing anything, and became a recluse himself. He would never reveal Joe Gould's secret to anyone. Now this film is inexplicably out of print on DVD, which adds a touch of irony to this important piece of American literary history.

  • comment
    • Author: Goltikree
    This quiet and gentle movie sneaks up on you and by the end you are left with an appreciation of how little difference there is between the quite disparate lives of the two protagonists. With a few differemt turns, circumstances, and choices an intelligent man can easily become a bohemian. I think it is for this reason that Joseph Mitchell, a staff writer for "The New Yorker" magazine, became drawn to Joe Gould, a somewhat mad homeless man with occasional flashes of unique insight and a flare for histrionics. Gould claims to be writing an "Oral History of the World." Mitchell admits to sympathizing with Gould's statement that he is at home "among the cranks and the misfits and the one-lungers and the has beens and the would-bes and the never wills and the god knows whats." Indeed, how could you not be a little interested in a man who could write that? And Mitchell comes to identify with Gould in another significant way, and that way is in fact Joe Gould's secret.

    In the process of writing a profile of Gould for his magazine Mitchell develops a relationship with Gould that results in Gould's ultimately becoming somewhat of a pest. As Gould says, "When you lie down with dogs, you have to live with fleas." In a dramatic scene Mitchell gives Gould an honest appraisal of the status of his "history" that creates a rift in their relationship. But the bond is never completely severed as some of the final scenes indicate.

    The period setting of New York City in the early 1940s lends an air of nostalgia. This is a movie that Woody Allen could have made if he could ever dial his nervous anxiety back several notches. The music is suitably subdued and melancholic. The casting is perfect and the performances are excellent. Every aspect of the filming gives evidence to a loving commitment.

    This is a movie about dreams realized and unrealized. In a letter to Mitchell, one of Gould's friends states that, "the City's unconscious may be trying to speak to us through Joe Gould. The people who have gone underground in the City, the City's living dead. People who never belonged any place from the beginning, people sitting in dark bar-rooms, the ones who are always left out, the ones who were never asked." Such words leave you with an unspecified yearning. Maybe a yearning to read Mitchell's original "New Yorker" articles "Professor Seagull" and "Joe Gould's Secret" upon which this movie was based.
  • comment
    • Author: Jan
    I just caught this "little" gem on the IFC. They are currently showing it in heavy rotation, around the dinner hour.

    Other reviews have given a great overview, so no need to repeat. If you enjoy intelligent movies that actually have something to say, DO NOT pass this one up. -And don't worry, this is not a dry, artsy-fartsy movie. There is quite a bit of subtle comedy. In fact, the movie could correctly be classified as a comedy, although miles away from any Jim Carrey effort.

    If you are a huge fan of said Mr Carrey, then you will likely hate this movie. It is quite deep, and demands a lot of attention and thought from its audience.

    One thing I want to mention, that I haven't seen written previously, is how brilliant I think the whole concept of Joe's "oral history" is. This concept is spot-on. Formal history is simply a glorified, selective record written by the powers that be. It's written by the winners and often bears little resemblance to the truth. True history is the collective thinking, over time, of the general masses. What we think is what is, and that's different for everyone. Wonderful.
  • comment
    • Author: Exellent
    Great acting, great directing, fine cinematography, good plot, and excellent lighting! A great little movie..comparable to Big Night in many ways. Stanley Tucci is emerging as a great artist. A thoroughly enjoyable film. If you are into intelligent, humane humor with strong irony mixed sure to see this movie.
  • comment
    • Author: Rleillin
    Warning, spoiler here . . .

    I thought this was quite good - much better than I expected - but I think my

    appreciation of it was based on the fact that it was a faithful and sincere

    condensation of the book by Joseph Mitchell, which I had read several years

    before. The fact is that the book is a non-fiction memoir written by one of the best news writers this country has ever seen and it is very hard to transfer

    Mitchell's miraculous voice to film, though Tucci does an admirable job. The fact is, some people have said it has no ending, but I would argue that dooming a

    man like Mitchell to a psychological prison where his written word - the only way he could truly express himself and chronicle the world around him - no longer comes out is a pretty eventful ending. As a writer, I see the loss of your craft and your voice as devastating. But this is a subtle, inner turmoil, and if you can't see it as valid as a dramatic ending, then you can't. I would urge everyone who has an interest to read the book. It will fill in the spaces that the movie does not answer and it will also serve as a springboard to more of Mitchell's work. He is one of the finest writers this country has seen, up there with Mark Twain, and he deserves some attention beyond the scope ot the literary world that adores him. Maybe this movie will at least afford him that.
  • comment
    • Author: Whitemaster
    A very artfully done film, along the lines of Big Night. Great script, excellent acting, great casting. The cameos by two big stars were great. I am sure they were probably prouder to have cameos in this flick, than some of the other feature films they have been in lately. Go see this movie if you like, character development, realistic dialogue and extraordinary lighting/directing.
  • comment
    • Author: Matty
    This is a story of one very unusual and several fairly interesting characters - no more and no less. Some reviews talk about how well the film captures the look and feel of 1940 New York, but Tucci kindly does not hit you over the head with atmosphere; there are no "do you get it? You realize who that was supposed to be?" scenes. Instead he merely nails down the milieu so precisely that it becomes unobtrusive, and allows you to focus entirely on the characters and their story. Likewise he seems to ignore who in the cast is a star, in favor of who is right for each role. The result is not quite a touching story, nor an inspiring one, nor a tragic one, but a satisfyingly believable as well as intriguing one. Not a documentary, by any means - it is far more creative than that - but fine story-telling. No individual and no event is larger than life, but all are handled with respect and just enough affection. The fact that the story is true is almost incidental; from what I can tell, memorable characters such as Harold Ross (and of course Gould) are portrayed with great accuracy, but what really counts is that they work as characters.

    Don't worry about what the secret is. Just get to know these people. You'll like them.
  • comment
    • Author: Rose Of Winds
    This story of how a writer for the New Yorker encountered Joe Gould and was ultimately overwhelmed by him is true. I quite liked the film while watching it (Ian Holm is great, as is Susan Sarandon), but the more I thought about it after the fact the more I liked it. That's a good sign, I think. It makes an oddly good pairing with "Cradle Will Rock".
  • comment
    • Author: Wiliniett
    The movie was wonderfully thought provoking. We'd like to see it again because this is one of those movies that would offer you something new each time you watched it. The range of human emotions seemed wide but well contained in the 1950s setting with the most fascinating assortment of characters...Stanley Tucci was uniquely easy to observe. We seemed to compare him and his actions with every other character..the sober but hilarious boss, the high strung secretary, the street person named Joe Gould, his wife, Joe's other benefactors. Were we supposed to think this movie was about Joe Gould?
  • comment
    • Author: Katishi
    Joe Gould's Secret was a very well acted and thought provoking movie. It makes one stop and contemplate you place in life and the direction you are headed. Your accomplishments, your failures and your unfinished dreams.
  • comment
    • Author: Goltigor
    What a beautifully crafted cinematic experience this is. Joe Gould, as played by the inimitable Ian Holm; is at once sweet, crass, full of rage, and teetering on the edge of madness. While Gould stands front and center,his "secret" is much, much more than we are led to believe. While wandering the city in quest of an "oral history" from thousands of New Yorkers, Joe Gould meets Joe Mitchell, a writer with the New Yorker magazine. Mitchell is drawn to this strange man who strides through Greenwich Village demanding donations to his "Joe Gould Fund". While we have to wait until the very end of the movie to find out Joe Gould's Secret, it's worth the wait. Director and Star, Stanley Tucci(Joe Mitchell),has evoked pre-WW2 New York as we would want it to be. His actors are first rate and fill out their characters to perfection. As the movie progresses, we become aware of the sadness and anguish that leads to the final understanding, and the clues we didn't see along the way.
  • comment
    • Author: Quphagie
    I found this to be an affecting and absorbing film, highlighted by the work of the two leads. Tucci seems to fit into virtually any context, and is what I think of as a "high-efficiency" actor--he packs a great deal into the most economical gestures, inflections, expressions. As for Ian Holm, I've been a fan of his for ages, and hope he gets an Oscar nomination for this one. He creates an unforgettable portrait here; Tucci wisely lets Holm take center screen much of the time. New York of the post World War 2 era is beautifully evoked, and some of the secondary performances are also outstanding. I especially liked Patrick Tovatt's work as Harold Ross. It's worth hunting this movie down--it won;t be easy to find--but it should work as a rental on a smaller screen.
  • comment
    • Author: Fast Lovebird
    This is truly a beautiful film. From the opening voiceover and the shots of 1940's New York the movie reaches and touches the heart of anyone who cares about the enduring qualities of beauty and love on the streets of the city. As a tenderhearted portrayal of the extremes of human love and endeavor, and of a man whose integrity remains absolute in the face of impossibility, it is without equal in any film I can recall. A loving evocation of a world which, though harsh, is ultimately forgiving and supportive of a beautiful and tragic man; while films like this continue to be made, there is always hope.
  • comment
    • Author: Nuliax
    This is a lovely, touching film based on two stories Mitchell wrote for the New Yorker, with a little of his life for filler. I have always loved Mitchell's ... humanity, for lack of a better word, and feel it was translated well for the screen. Mitchell loved New York with the ardor only an immigrant to the city can possibly feel. As one myself, I have been eagerly awaiting this film since I first heard it was being produced.

    The street scenes, the shots of ordinary people, are arresting. One walks out of the theater with a heightened awareness of--rather, appreciation for--the individual faces in the teeming masses of the street. I was lucky enough to walk out of the theater directly into a Greenwich Village night, so this effect was heightened (although the mobs of frat boys lining the beer bars of Bleecker Street did their unwitting best to dispell the mood).

    Tucci conveys the gentleness and sadness of Mitchell with great delicacy; he's quiet and speaks volumes with his eyes and shy smile. Holm performs a balancing act in Gould, alternating intense, scenery-chewing diatribes with a serious, intelligent melancholy. One is repulsed by Gould's belligerence, yet cannot help but feel for him.

    Does anything "happen" in this film? Not in the sense that one IMDB reviewer clearly expected. To review it based on its narrative action and movement is to miss the point entirely. It's based on two non-fiction stories about character development and the effect Gould has on those around him. One might as well ask whether anything "happens" in life. " doesn't stop because the writer finishes writing," Mitchell's wife tells him. He's completed his story and can't shake Gould, whose life has been changed because of the story.

    Please see this movie. Love New York or hate it, you will be moved. And you may hesitate before you dismiss a grizzled panhandler.

    Read a collection of Mitchell's work called "Up in the Old Hotel" (Vintage) if the spark has caught you.... and I hope it has.
  • comment
    • Author: krot
    The subdued temper of this film will appeal to enthusiasts of 82 Charing Cross Road, and the homage to the New Yorker is explicit. Beyond this, it must be seen by those - like myself - who have found themselves dissappointed by the work of Ian Holm, whose promise has always seemed greater than his very English voice and style. When - as in Wetherby - he is well cast, he can be a gem; but in so many films he has seemed to the English ear of this writer to be like Hopkins weakly cast, and unpersuasive in his adaptation to the role.

    It is therefore an occasion for cheering to see Ian Holm at full, serious professional power, extremely well rehearsed for his part. Here his performance has the spontaneity and vigour one expects from the Russians; it is hard to imagine he achived this without a study of the manic, disturbed characters of which his subject is one.

    He moves a notch up the ranks; let us hope he is now offered a belated accumualation of serious work.
  • comment
    • Author: Monam
    Joe Gould's Secret, based on the story of the relationship between Joseph Mitchell of the New Yorker and a familiar figure on Greenwich Village Bohemian scene, when there still was a Bohemia in the Village, marvellously evokes a time long gone when there was a community of artists, poets, and writers who recognized one another as comrades in a struggle against conformity and what they would call Philistinism. Joe Gould, who claimed to speak the language of seagulls and to be writing the "Oral History of the World" was maintained for years by this community though he never published a word. Ian Holm's portrayal is absolutely convincing as is Stanley Tucci's Mitchell, the New Yorker writer who found his life altered absolutely by his involvement with Gould. The Village looks pretty good too. For younger viewers who may have heard about the Greenwich Village art scene but who cannot imagine what all the fuss was about, this film is must viewing.
  • comment
    • Author: Fordrellador
    This movie was certainly one of the best I've seen recently. Ian Holm, whom I've always liked, is amazing. I love Stanley Tucci's films and I can think of nothing I'd change with this one. Without being sappy, Tucci manages to show a time and place where people generally cared for one another and it made me sad to think that this story might not happen today. A beautiful, strong end and I absolutely think everyone should see it. I will always look forward to seeing anything new by him and his jolly troupe.
  • comment
    • Author: Brariel
    All of us have, at one time or another in our lives, lowered our eyes and walked a little faster to avoid the penetrating eyes and outstretched hand of a homeless panhandler. We often treat them like they're little more than an urban nuisance best left ignored, like pigeons or graffiti. Still, if we actually stopped for a moment to talk to them, to hear their side of things, what could they tell us? What could we learn?

    "Joe Gould's Secret" is based on the true story of a man who stops to listen, and learn. The man is Joe Mitchell (Stanley Tucci), a Southern-born reporter for The New Yorker magazine in the 1930s. His stories frequently chronicle the disenfranchised and unrepresented, but even he has never met someone quite like Joe Gould (Ian Holm), the disheveled street philosopher who draws Mitchell into the mystery of his life's work: an oral history of the world, transcriptions of the words of the "shirtsleeved multitudes" that will tell the true history of the human race, so far a million and a half words' worth. He hides the work all over town with people who support him by donating to "the Joe Gould fund", and he insinuates himself into Mitchell's life with an insistence that borders on the fanatical. Mitchell tries to ignore Gould, tries to fob him off on publisher friends, even tells him off. But he can't ignore the essential truths of what Gould and his work mean to the world, even after Gould's secret is revealed.

    Stanley Tucci also directs the picture, and he keeps his focus squarely on the characters without forcing the essentially universal nature of the themes he is grappling with. He also turns in an understated performance as a wordsmith who nonetheless finds himself unable to communicate all he has to say to the world. Gould has no such problems, and Holm plays the man as a force of nature, a creature of great appetites and angers, who hides his personal demons behind dreams of perennial significance.

    The two Joes are brothers in more than name. Both are men guided by a desire to prove their personal worth by sharing the worthwhile stories of the world with others. It almost doesn't matter how successful they are; the attempt is all, the defining action of their life, and it gives both men a nobility and importance that belies their relatively small-scale existences.

    As I think back on "Joe Gould's Secret", I am reminded of several experiences in my own life. The time I had barbecue with Homer, a panhandler who begs for change around downtown Pittsburgh, and who wears a powder-blue sombrero wherever he goes. The day I played my harmonica with two street musicians, one of whom told me, "Keep working at it. You'll get there." Like a lot of small stories about small people, "Joe Gould's Secret" contains universal truths. Every now and then, it's important to just look, and listen, and learn what we can. All of us, the fortunate and the disenfranchised, are part of the same game, co-authors of the oral history of the world, and it is essential to the survival of humankind that we not allow any chapter of that story to go untold.
  • Cast overview, first billed only:
    Ian Holm Ian Holm - Joe Gould
    Stanley Tucci Stanley Tucci - Joe Mitchell
    Hope Davis Hope Davis - Therese Mitchell
    Sarah Hyland Sarah Hyland - Elizabeth Mitchell
    Hallee Hirsh Hallee Hirsh - Nora Mitchell
    Celia Weston Celia Weston - Sarah
    Patrick Tovatt Patrick Tovatt - Harold Ross
    Susan Sarandon Susan Sarandon - Alice Neel
    Patricia Clarkson Patricia Clarkson - Vivian Marquie
    John Tormey John Tormey - Harry Kolis
    Jack O'Connell Jack O'Connell - Chef
    Jerry Mayer Jerry Mayer - Minetta Bartender
    Nell Campbell Nell Campbell - Tamar (Hostess)
    Ron Ryan Ron Ryan - Jack
    Allan Corduner Allan Corduner - Francis McCrudden
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