Nothing in Common: Jackie Gleason and Tom Hanks in Sentimental Father-Son Melodrama

Nothing in Common, one of Garry Marshall’s least commercially successful films, is also one of his best artistically.

An unabashedly literal and sentimental father-son melodrama, the film boasts two great performances, by Jackie Gleason, as the depressed father, and Tom Hanks, as his initially uncaring son.

The film represents a turning point in Hanks’ career, marking transition from roles in often silly comedies to lead parts in more serious stories and prestige films by major directors.  This was the final screen role of Gleason, who was suffering from terminal colon cancer; he died in 1987, a year after the movie was released.

The film was marketed with the tagline “On his way up the corporate ladder, David Basner confronts his greatest challenge: his father.” And indeed, when first met, happy-go-lucky advertising exec David Basner (Hanks), has been recently promoted at his Chicago ad agency, returns to work from a vacation.

He is carefree until his parents split up after 36 years of marriage.  Suddenly, David has the responsibility of caring for his aging father Max (Gleason), as well as supporting his emotionally fragile mother Lorraine (Eva Marie Saint). Max is angry and bitter after getting fired from lengthy career in the garment industry.

At work, David is developing a commercial for Colonial Airlines, owned by the rich and demanding Andrew Woolridge (Barry Corbin). A successful campaign would make David a partner in his company, and it doesn’t hurt that he is attracted to Woolridge’s daughter, Cheryl Ann Wayne (Sela Ward).

Both parents begin to rely more heavily on David. His mother needs help moving to a new apartment, while his father needs to be driven to the doctor. Late one night, David’s mother calls from a bar, where her date tries to impose himself on her. At the bar, David’s mother confides that his father had cheated on her in their marriage.

The enraged David then confronts his father, claiming, “Tomorrow I’m shooting a commercial about a family who loves each other, who cares about each other. I’m fakin’ it.” Further distracted by problems with his father, David offers to take his dad to a jazz club, where the latter confesses about his deteriorating health caused by diabetes and foot gangrene. His mom’s complaint of the way David treats her reducing him to tears (while he is by himself).

When Woolridge insists that David accompany him to New York to promote the new ad campaign, David refuses due to his father’s surgery. Losing his temper with this important client costs him his job.

David accompanies his dad to the operating room to amputate his toes. When he goes home from the hospital, he’s the one to push his wheelchair, which shocks the older man: “You were the last person I thought would ever come through for me.” In the predictable, TV soap-like ending, the two men get to know each other better and David proudly recovers his job.


Tom Hanks as David Basner

Jackie Gleason as Max Basner

Eva Marie Saint as Lorraine Basner

Hector Elizondo as Charlie Gargas

Barry Corbin as Andrew Woolridge

Bess Armstrong as Donna Mildred Martin

Sela Ward as Cheryl Ann Wayne