John Turturro's sophomore directorial effort is an ambitious though flawed film about the nature of love and the blurred lines between real life and theatrical life. Although it sports some fine performances, it is a jumbled period drama/comedy that never quite jells and only rarely reaches the level of entertainment it hopes to achieve. It begins in New York, around the turn of the last century, with the opening night of an unfinished play written by a somewhat successful playwright named Tuccio (John Turturro) and the ensuing mess that the night brings when one of the characters not only forgets his lines but collapses on stage.Over the period of the film the theatre managers of the struggling repertory company, the director and the other actors try -- with difficulty -- to revive the play for a second night. As in most stories about plays, the backstage drama far outweighs the one on stage, yet despite the brushes with disaster everything comes together by the end.
The film -- based on a play written by Brandon Cole -- is directed, acted and edited with a high amount of theatrical energy as well as with the kind of spirit of spontaneity and improvisation one finds in the staged theater, but it doesn't translate too well to the screen. Partly it could be the mood -- at once campy, schizophrenic and passionate -- that Turturro tries to capture. The point of the film is that it's supposed to be a complete mess, but Turturro doesn't yet have the talent to pull off the pace and mood of the various subplots nor tie them together as a Jean Renoir (who's an obvious inspiration) would. Consequently it feels stretched out thin and has many flat moments.
Despite the weak scenes it does have some genuinely humorous bits, especially a loony middle section where each of the characters pairs off for a festive night of infidelity, which includes really wild seductions and sexual encounters. The best involves Christopher Walken, who plays a flamboyant gay theatre critic who tries to woo a young actor.
The film has some delightful theatrical moments too. In particular are those scenes with Katherine Borowitz, who plays (and in real life is) Turturro's wife; Rufus Sewell, a frustrated actor who really wants to play the lead; Ben Gazzara as a senior thesp who is losing his memory; and Susan Sarandon, who plays a seductive star who wants to take Tuccio away to Paris.
The way the film balances theatrical reality with reality is indeed interesting, but after a while Turturro seems to be hitting the wrong key again and again and expecting the audience to enjoy it. The best that can be said about the film is that it is probably a better play.The film is distributed by Artisan, the little company that could with its smash hit THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, so with all the fortune that film has brought it gives them room to release a few weak ones. ---Matt Langdon - iF Magazine (http://ifmagazine.ifctv.com)