Stanley, an illiterate cook, wins the affections of the newly widowed Iris, who gives him nightly reading lessons in her kitchen after he is fired.
Stanley (DeNiro) is an illiterate, Iris (Fonda) the careworn widow he admires at the bakery where he slings hash in the canteen and she wraps cakes. Intended to draw attention to the problem of illiteracy (27 million American adults can't read or write, we are not surprised to learn), Ritt and his screenwriting collaborators pile up Stanley's constant humiliations and misfortunes into a long and tedious chronicle.
Naturally, pitying Iris takes on his tutelage and Stanley makes the leap from c-a-t to l-o-v-e, effecting a change of fortunes to rival Cinderella's. Despite the bathos all around him DeNiro is very moving as this humble, hard-working outcast, although Stanley articulates some startlingly pithy bans mots for an unlettered man. Fonda really works at being one of the haggard proletariat, but it is hard to forget she is, after all, her highly toned and assured self.
Bizarre little plot gaps - like hey, where'd the sister go? - and continuity puzzles - like Iris's disappearing and reappearing perm - suggest that panicky cutting and re-editing went down on this, too late to do anything but more damage. The best scenes are between De Niro and Chaliapin as his poor old dad, which are heartbreaking. Much of the rest is well-meaning, social-problem-of-the-week sludge.
Although the construction is somewhat haphazard, the intention is well meaning and DeNiro gives a characteristically sensitive rendering