Skip to main content

The 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.

If 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.

Coincidentally, 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.

New 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.

Finally, 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.