Scottie Templeton can't pass up an opportunity for a joke. Upon leaving an elevator full of sour-faced strangers, he chirps, "Let's all get together a year from now." His life has been a smorgasbord of possibilities is show business most of them blown. Now in his fifties, Scottie is a Broadway press agent living in Manhattan. One day all the laughs are interrupted by some grim news; the funny man finds out he is dying of cancer.
When his former wife Maggie drops by with Jud, their 21-year-old son, Scottie realizes it is time to make amends for the past namely 13 years of ignoring the boy. During Jud's stay, he sets him up with Sally, a model, and even dresses up in a chicken suit to recapture the boy's laughter of years gone by. But these manipulative efforts fail; Jud lashes out at his father, calling him nothing more than a glorified pimp and a court jester.
Everyone else seems to adore Scottie. His boss Lou says of him: "He's misused his talent, avoided responsibility all his life, loused up every chance he's ever had, squandered all his money and there's never been a time I didn't look forward to seeing him." Hilary, a call girl for whom Scottie throws a retirement party attended by all her clients, feels he is her only friend. And his doctor holds a special place in her heart for him. When Jud learns of Scottie's illness, he convinces him to return to the hospital for treatments. During the hospital stay, father and son grow closer to each other. Jud takes pictures of his dad (he's an avid photographer) and plans a tribute for him by his friends in a Broadway theatre.
Jack Lemmon's performance as Scottie, the man who has "this marvelous gift of being able to take a hamburger and make you think you are at a banquet," is a tour de force. His excellent dramatic timing makes the most of both comic and emotionally raw lines and moments. Like the lead character in Herb Gardner's A Thousand Clowns, Lemmon's Scottie is a likeable charmer who is nevertheless difficult to be with for any lengthy period of time.
Robby Benson as his introverted, judgmental, and resentful son Jud is a suitable foil for the kidder. Neither is very good at letting anyone known him. Lee Remick as Scottie's former wife, Colleen Dewhurst as his maternal physician, and John Marley as his boss are convincing in their roles. Kim Cattrall gives a crisp and appealing performance as Sally, the model who tangles with Jud and loosens him up a bit.
Tribute played on Broadway in 1978. Bernard Slade's drama has two affecting themes: a middle-aged man's sudden confrontation with his impending death and the rue every parent and child feels at the prospect of rectifying a troubled and unloving relationship. While some may find the film's ending a bit too tidy, others will appreciate the messy humanism of the characters who struggle to get there.