It seems harsh to be critical of a movie that is all about women’s rights, noble sacrifices, death and the pointless horrors of World War I and has a nice British cast and period costumes, but I got the feeling this should have been a one-hour TV show, rather than a two-hour movie. Alicia Vikander was fine in the lead role, but not quite Carey Mulligan or Reese Witherspoon all-the-time watchable, and for me the plot, always over-obvious, tended toward maudlin. I daresay this was more a woman’s movie.
I’m not sure this movie would be of interest or make sense to anyone who hasn’t followed Brian Wilson’s career, but that’s still a pretty big market. And even for those like me who have been fans forever, the movie left some pretty big holes – like how he came under the control of his Svengali, Dr. Eugene Landy, and what happened during all the years it took Paul Dano to become John Cusack. And speaking of Dr. Landy, why do directors keep casting Paul Giamatti in these roles, where instead of the character you just see Paul-Giamatti-in-a-bad-wig? The best bits are in the studio, where the young Wilson crafts his music, and the fake “archival” shots of 1963, the beach and “Fun Fun Fun.” Some truths are stranger than fiction, and this is one of them.
We have spent five weeks in New York going more to the theater than movies – especially since we were shut out of the Apu Trilogy on Memorial Day – so I thought I could use this space for a brief recap of what we’ve seen on the boards in a variety of venues: Broadway, Lincoln Center, Public Theater, Circle in the Square, Playwrights Horizons, New World Stages – four musicals, three dramas, all worthy, only one disappointment (Grounded, with Anne Hathaway).
Far and away our favorite was Hand to God, the story of a repressed Texas boy and his sock puppet. Every moment was hysterical, the acting was uniformly stellar, and we were overwhelmed by the creativity of the puppetry. It was a little like Ted, if it were live and Mark Wahlberg played Seth MacFarlane’s part as well as his own.
More conventional but just as funny was Qualms, Bruce Norris’s new play just about to open. Jeremy plays the odd-man-out in a get-together of swingers at the beach. It recalled a Terence McNally ensemble piece, with sex the only topic on the agenda.
As for the musicals, Fun Home deserves all the accolades it is getting, but I was only 3/4 engaged, maybe because of the unfamiliarity of the music, the staginess of the production in the round, or the lead character’s announcing the ending at the play’s start. The King and I was a total delight. Perhaps no one could have matched Kelli O’Hara’s brilliance, but Ken Watanabe was a puzzlement: he had great stage presence but came up short in the acting, singing and speaking English departments.
An American In Paris featured extraordinary dancing, but a little dancing goes a long way with me, and the story – never a strong point – reminded me too often of the movie, which I saw recently and didn’t like. The familiar Gershwin songs were wonderful; the less familiar ones not so much. We also saw Clinton The Musical, which I would describe as a hoot. Written by an Australian Ph.D student living in England, it felt more like a Hasty Pudding theatrical than Broadway production, but the songs were cute and the portrayal of a bouncy, perky, power-hungry Hillary was charming.
The only disappointment was Grounded, Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of a fighter pilot reduced to running a drone at an Air Force base in Las Vegas. Her performance was a tour-de-force; the problem was the play. I never figured out what its point was. It was better, in any event, than The Heidi Chronicles with Elisabeth Moss, which was the other play of this season we saw on our previous visit.
In honor of the recent, rather boring Tony broadcast, I will herewith hand out my awards for the above shows, which don’t vary much from the official results.
Best Actress in a Musical: Kelli O’Hara was transcendent. I melted every time she sang, above all on “Hello, Young Lovers.”
Best Actor in a Musical: Robert Fairchild’s effortless dancing, fine singing and pleasant personality made me forget Gene Kelly’s smarmy original.
Best Actor in a Play: Steven Boyer gave the most moving performance we saw, and the performance of his hand puppet Tyrone was not far behind.
Best Actress in a Play: Geneva Carr gave a performance beyond her years as Boyer’s mother, expressing a gamut of emotions as widow, mother, teacher, lover, confused Texas blonde.
Best Featured Actress in a Musical: Sydney Lucas and Emily Skeggs were nuanced, age-appropriate Alison Bechdels.
Best Featured Actor in a Musical: Brandon Uranowitz did well with the sympathetic underdog role in American in Paris.
Best Featured Actress in a Play: Sarah Stiles made homely beautiful and had the season’s best sex scene.
Best Featured Actor in a Play: Jeremy Shamos and John Procaccino stood out, but not too much, in the wonderful ensemble cast of The Qualms.
Best Set Design: The ship in The King and I.
Such a quiet movie: for maybe ten minutes it proceeded without a background soundtrack, except for the explosions from San Andreas in the theater above us and the screeching of hearing aids from the elderly crowd around us. Ironically, the best moments in the movie came from music: Blythe Danner’s karaoke version of ‘Cry Me A River’ and a long montage of Danner wandering after her lover’s death, accompanied by my favorite song of 2015, ‘Let’s Be Still.’ Otherwise, it was a pretty forgettable film, with lots of acting by Danner, which seemed more acting than real, perhaps because of the flimsy story and hokey characters around her.
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