Film / Nobody's Fool

Beryl: Doesn't it bother you that you haven't done more with the life God gave you?
Sully: Not often. Now and then.

Nobody's Fool is a 1994 comedy-drama based on the novel by Richard Russo, written and directed by Robert Benton, and starring Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, Melanie Griffith, and Bruce Willis.

Donald "Sully" Sullivan (Newman) is a 60 year old construction worker and Lovable Rogue who, when not working the occasional job with his friend and partner Rub (Pruitt Taylor Vince), spends his time bitching about his work to Carl (Willis), his boss, drinking with his friends, flirting with Carl's wife Toby (Griffith) and occasionally helping Beryl Peoples (Tandy), his landlady and former English teacher. Then, one Thanksgiving, Sully's estranged son Peter (Dylan Walsh) comes to town, and Sully tries to repair their relationship, as well as be a grandfather to Peter's son Will.

This film was well received by critics, and Newman's performance is considered one of the best of his career.

Not to be confused with the 1986 romantic comedy starring Rosanna Arquette and Eric Roberts.

This film contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Sully's father was like this to Sully, which is why he doesn't want anything to do with his childhood home. It's part of the reason he quit being a father to Peter, afraid he might be just as abusive.
  • Academy Award: Newman was nominated for Best Actor, and the script for Best Adapted Screenplay, but both of them lost.
  • Adaptation Distillation: A couple of subplots, including Sully's girlfriend Ruth (and her daughter, a single mother), and the owner of the diner and her mother (the one who wanders out onto the street) are dropped entirely or condensed drastically, and a couple of the relationships are changed, but the movie basically captures the essence of the novel.
  • Angry Guard Dog: At least until Sully gets through with him...
  • The Atoner: Sully tries to bond with Will to make up for the fact he was an absentee father to Peter.
    Peter: So, if you're not a father to me, how come you're a grandfather to Will?
    Sully: Cause you gotta start someplace.
  • Berserk Button: Rub hates being called Sancho, but he especially hates it when Peter does so.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Rub, when he thinks Sully is treating him as The Unfavorite when Peter shows up, and the way he thinks Peter treats him is even worse.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Inverted; Wirf isn't really that good at his job, and Sully grouses he only has him around because he can't afford a two-legged lawyer (Wirf has a prosthetic leg), but they do seem to enjoy each other's company.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The trifecta ticket Sully buys, and his childhood home.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sully, Carl, Toby and Judge Flatt all qualify.
  • Disappeared Dad: Sully was like this to Peter, walking out on him (and Sully's wife) when he was a year old, which is the cause of their estrangement.
    • Sully almost becomes a disappeared Granddad, about to run off with Toby and leaving Peter and Peter's son just as Scully was getting to know them. But he realizes he's better off staying and repairing his own family, letting Toby flee by herself which was probably also good for her.
  • Dr. Feelgood: Jocko is a mild version of this trope; he gives Sully samples of pain medication for his bum leg. They do help Sully, but they're more successful in dealing with Carl's Angry Guard Dog.
  • Fanservice: Sully jokingly tells Toby during one of their many flirtations that Carl's secretary would flash him whenever he shows up at the office. One visit, she's there handling paperwork and before Sully leaves Toby pulls up her sweater to reveal she's completely naked otherwise.
  • Fatal Flaw: Sully would be a wealthier man or a more prominent leader of the community if he weren't so stubborn and fearful that he'd turn out as violent as his father.
  • I Have No Son: Played for laughs; at the Thanksgiving dinner Clive Jr. takes Beryl to, the chief investor says Beryl must be proud of Clive Jr. She claims Clive Jr. isn't really her son, because the hospital switched bassinets. Clive assures the other man his mother is kidding, but looks worried.
  • Imagine Spot: Every time Sully throws a brick onto the back of his truck, he imagines throwing Carl out through his office window.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Carl is rude and a relatively horrible boss, but he correctly calls out Sully on the older man's foolish stubbornness and knows full well that Sully won't really run off with his wife Toby when she finally walks out on Carl.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Sully. There's a reason why Beryl calls on Sully to go out and rescue the dementia-suffering neighbor while her own son is standing there.
  • Lawful Stupid: Officer Raymer, all the way.
    Ollie: Your honor, Officer Raymer is currently under suspension.
  • May–December Romance: Ultimately averted.
  • Meaningful Echo: Twice, Toby calls Sully a man among men; the first time, it's not a compliment, but it is the second time.
  • Morality Pet: Apparently, Beryl is this for Sully, as Clive Jr. finds out when Sully finds out Clive Jr. (who wants Sully out of Beryl's house) was poking around in his room:
    Clive Jr.: My mother...
    Sully: Is the only reason I don't kick your ass!
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Sully. Only Beryl calls him by his first name (or, often, just Mr. Sullivan).
  • Running Gag: Sully stealing Carl's snowblower, and Carl stealing it back.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Sully's response to any situation he doesn't want to be a part of. It's why he abandoned Peter and his wife early on.
  • Shout-Out: Sully and Wirf bet on the outcome of an episode of The People's Court.
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: Played with; Bruce Willis appears in the trailer and has a decent-sized supporting role in the film, but the studio was afraid people would assume it was an action film if he was in it, so he doesn't receive any billing in the print ads or posters.
  • Strip Poker: Carl and his latest mistress seem to have lost their clothes in the poker game near the end. Also, Wirf loses his prosthetic leg.
  • This Is the Part Where...:
    Sully: This is where a smart person would get out of the car.
  • Too Good to Be True: During the final third of the movie, Sully goes through one hell of a lucky streak as he finds out his trifecta horse finally won - although he was in jail and unable to buy the ticket in time - and later gets out of jail free when the judge dumps on the Lawful Stupid deputy. Sully's antagonist Clive Jr. has fled town rather than face angry investors in his failed land development. During the weekly poker game, Sully has the best night of his life, even beating everybody at Strip Poker including his Bad Boss Carl. And when Carl's wife Toby storms in finding Carl with his naked mistress, Toby proposes to flee with Sully with all of her soon-to-be-ex-husband's money for a Caribbean holiday.
    • And it all comes to an end when Toby breaks down in tears in the car, and Sully realizes she's better off fleeing by herself. He also admits to her he needs to stay behind and repair his relationship with his son and grandson.
  • Waxing Lyrical: When Carl's secretary/mistress Ruby walks away from the poker table because she's pissed, Sully says to her, "Ruby, don't take your love to town", and the others sing it to her.
  • Worthy Opponent: Despite their constant snarking at each other, Sully and Carl seem to consider each other this, especially where the snowblower is concerned.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: How Beryl sees Sully.
  • You Need to Get Laid: After Officer Raymer writes him a ticket, Sully says to him, "Boy, I hope you get laid sometime soon."