Georgie Soloway (Dustin Hoffman) is a successful singer and songwriter whose love life has not been blossoming the same way his career has, something he puts down to his collection of girlfriends being put off him by the machinations of a mystery man calling himself Harry Kellerman. Who is Harry Kellerman and why does he keep calling up his acquaintances and badmouthing him, to the extent that they don't want to see him anymore? The situation has gotten so bad that Georgie has decided to commit suicide, with his psychiatrist (Jack Warden) no help in spite of years of service, but it seems Georgie cannot even do that right...
Actually what starts off this curio is Hoffman's character writing his suicide note, not liking what he has written and gone back to change it, whereupon it is blown off the rooftop of his penthouse apartment and he reaches out to catch it, thereby falling off. This is where we get the title sequence with the star floating in space as he plummets off the skyscraper, looking for all the world like Jane Fonda at the start of Barbarella, except he does not perform a striptease in the process. If nothing else, this sets the scene because Georgie doesn't splat onto the ground below, but instead lands on his psychiatrist's couch as if he had only just arrived for a session. From this we can tell we are in no ordinary plot.
But the trouble is, we pretty much are, and if it was not for the frequent and alienating craziness thrown at us by director Ulu Grosbard and writer Herb Gardner, both of them veterans of theatre where they had their biggest successes, then this would be fairly straightforward in its telling of the hangups of your average rock star of the day. Some are of the opinion that it was Bob Dylan who was being lampooned, but the comparisons were superficial: Hoffman carries a guitar, he's kind of folky, he has curly hair, stuff like that, and there are few solid parallels with Dylan's life here. We do see Hoffman take to the stage at the Fillmore with Dr Hook and the Medicine Show, a real concert designed to convince us that Georgie is the real deal as far as his talent goes.
Whether that does convince you is another matter, as Hoffman looks more discomfited than in his element, and is far more suited to the endless navel gazing that the role consists of. Trouble is, Georgie isn't quite as fascinating as the filmmakers evidently hoped he would be, and on its release between the two hits of Little Big Man and Straw Dogs, Who Is Harry Kellerman...? was a notable flop that few took to their hearts. After a while, the ridiculously long and unwieldy title became the best known thing about the movie, which is doubly unfortunate because the Kellerman aspect comes across as a bigger issue than it actually plays out in the film, which is more concerned with dipping in and out of Georgie's life from his teenage years to the age he is now.
That age being the familiar "not getting any younger", which bothers him, even though he has achieved so much in his time, probably because his love life fell apart a long while ago. We see in one of the flashbacks his first girlfriend leaving him when she fell pregnant and a marriage that was a disaster due to his philandering and never being around his wife often enough, but at an audition for a show he is involved with, he meets another character who is seeing life pass her by as she is growing too old for the profession she wished for. She is Allison, a nervous wreck sensitively played by Barbara Harris (who alone was nominated for an Oscar amongst the cast), and she might be Georgie's last chance at happiness, you know that old cliché, but Harris makes us believe in her with just a few short scenes near the end. If this is more conventional than it meant to be, the liberal wackiness employed will either put you off in the first ten minutes or make you want to persevere - if you stick around for Barbara, your time might not be entirely wasted. Music by Shel Silverstein.