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Review: Sondheim’s Company, She Stoops to Conquer, A Dangerous Method, The Most Fun You Can have Dying and The Lucky One

By April 26, 2012June 26th, 2012No Comments

Sondheim's Company posterThe most pleas­ure I have had in a cinema so far this year wasn’t at a film. In 2011, the New York Philharmonic pro­duced a brief con­cert reviv­al of Stephen Sondheim’s mas­ter­piece about emo­tion­al oppor­tun­ity cost, Company. For three per­form­ances only, they assembled a star-studded cast of well-known tele­vi­sion faces includ­ing Stephen Colbert, Jon Cryer and Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks, along­side Broadway vet­er­ans like Patti LuPone, and the show was filmed in high-definition for dis­tri­bu­tion to cinemas around the world. Several Wellington pic­ture houses are play­ing this sort of altern­at­ive con­tent these days – the Metropolitan Opera etc – so, even­tu­ally, this stun­ning pro­duc­tion was likely to arrive here and, golly, I am so glad it did.

In Company, Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) plays Robert – a 35 year old con­firmed New York bach­el­or sur­roun­ded by mar­ried and soon-to-be-married friends. Throughout the show they give him some good, bad and indif­fer­ent advice about the import­ance of rela­tion­ships versus free­dom and inde­pend­ence versus – well – com­pany. This is a con­cert pro­duc­tion so the orches­tra is on the stage rather than tucked away in a pit, and dir­ect­or Lonny Price does mar­vels with the shal­low area that remains. Transitions are invent­ive and smooth and the char­ac­ters some­how man­age to relate to each oth­er des­pite being – as Sondheim would have it – side by side.

But it’s the music and lyr­ics that tri­umph in this pro­duc­tion, show­cas­ing Sondheim’s geni­us for word­play and char­ac­ter. I found myself shed­ding tears of hap­pi­ness sev­er­al times, and when Harris fol­lowed LuPone’s showstop­ping – dev­ast­at­ing – Ladies Who Lunch with the glor­i­ous Being Alive you really feel ten times more alive yourself.

She Stoops to Conquer posterIf you’re one of those people who for one reas­on or anoth­er doesn’t go to theatre, you could do worse than try­ing Company, or one of the bril­liant NTLive pro­duc­tions beamed in from the National Theatre on London’s South Bank. Unlike ‘real’ theatre you don’t have the excite­ment of shar­ing the same room with the act­ors but you do get to sit in a more com­fort­able seat – with some room to fid­get – and you will get to see pro­duc­tions of a scale and ambi­tion that loc­al com­pan­ies are unable to match.

There’s no New Zealand pro­fes­sion­al theatre com­pany that would dream of mount­ing She Stoops to Conquer – Goldsmith’s 1773 satire on class, gender and age con­flict – but you can trot along to your loc­al cinema and see the won­der­fully funny cur­rent pro­duc­tion for approx­im­ately 1% of the cost of a return flight to London.

A Dangerous Method posterCoincidentally, David Cronenberg’s new film A Dangerous Method star­ted life as a stage play. It was called The Talking Cure and has been adap­ted for the screen by its ori­gin­al writer, Christopher Hampton (Atonement). The play was, in turn, based on a book by John Kerr called A Most Dangerous Method which told the story of the rela­tion­ship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and the birth of psy­cho­ana­lys­is at the begin­ning of the last cen­tury. This is poten­tially fas­cin­at­ing ter­rit­ory – par­tic­u­larly when you intro­duce Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a young woman who is ini­tially treated by Jung for sexu­al neur­os­is and then becomes his col­league, his lov­er and finally his ex-lover.

Unfortunately, poten­tially fas­cin­at­ing is where A Dangerous Method remains as the film itself nev­er quite climbs off the page. Cronenberg’s com­mon theme of body-horror – “the self-annihilating nature of the sexu­al act” as Freud puts it – is giv­en a psy­cho­lo­gic­al twist so you can see why he was inter­ested, but the clos­ing title cards seem to imply that most of the drama hap­pens to the char­ac­ters after the film has finished.

The Most Fun You Can have Dying posterNew Zealand dir­ect­or Kirstin Marcon’s debut film The Most Fun You Can Have Dying is visu­ally assured but fails the plaus­ib­il­ity test on almost every level – so much so that I’m inclined to think of it as the morphine-induced fantasy of a dying young man rather than try and take it at face value.

Matt Whelan (My Wedding and Other Secrets) plays Michael, from Hamilton, who is told that liv­er can­cer means he has only a couple of months to live unless he can find $200,000 for a dan­ger­ous exper­i­ment­al treat­ment with only a 10% chance of sucess. His com­munity raises him the money but – feel­ing manip­u­lated and used – he takes the cash and heads to Europe for a wild last-chance OE.

The film feels dis­join­ted – like there are pieces miss­ing – and Michael’s selfish­ness and nar­cisissm would be pretty hard to watch for 90 minutes if it wasn’t for Whelan’s pres­ence. He’s going places this one – our next Cliff Curtis, mark my words.

The Lucky One posterFinally, the truly ghastly The Lucky One which asks you to believe in Disney song and dance man Zac Efron as a trau­mat­ised Marine vet­er­an of the Iraq War. Efron’s char­ac­ter Logan is a par­agon of a man: an anim­al lov­er and human­it­ari­an, war hero and philo­soph­er, musi­cian, engin­eer and handy­man. The kind of man who would give the rest of us a bad name if he, you know, actu­ally exis­ted. His love interest, Taylor Schilling, does a lot of mouth-open act­ing and is shot – like everything else in the film – to look as pretty as pos­sible regard­less of the needs of story or character.

The Lucky One is some knucklehead’s idea of a dra­mat­ic situ­ation – that knuck­lead being Nicholas “Dear John ” Sparks – but Sondheim’s Company has more drama, more char­ac­ter, more spir­it, more life, in one lyr­ic than you’ll find in this entire feature.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 25 April, 2012.