Sunday, November 25, 2012

Just 45 Minutes from Broadway

For a quarter-century, Henry Jaglom has toiled in relative obscurity, L.A.’s underfinanced answer to Woody Allen. The best of Jaglom’s films (“Eating,” “Venice/Venice,” “Deja Vu,” “Last Summer in the Hamptons”), with their upper-class subjects and American-songbook soundtracks, do bear Allenesque touches: sardonic wit, emotional sensitivity, great... writing for women. Unfortunately, Jaglom’s entered another phase of Woody, making his current lady love, actress Tanna Frederick, the star of all his recent pictures (“Hollywood Dreams,” “Irene in Time,” “Queen of the Lot”), and Frederick is no Mia Farrow. It’s been a straight downward trajectory for Jaglom over the past decade (from a 65% fresh Rotten Tomatoes rating for 2001’s pleasant trifle “Festival in Cannes” to just 29% for “Queen”), and the fever-pitch hysteria and histrionics of “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway” (13%) represent a new nadir.

In the annoyingly handheld-camera-filmed “Broadway,” Frederick plays Pandora(!), the acting daughter of a family of veteran stage actors who congregate at her parents’ tree-lined country house in New Rochelle (which only in Jaglom’s world would be referred to as “rundown”; most folks would gladly move in tomorrow). Pandora’s sister, Betsy (Julie Davis), knew from puberty that she wanted off the stage, choosing a career in investment banking, and brings her new fiancĂ© (Judd Nelson), also a “civilian” (he practices law, and not even entertainment law), home for the weekend. Over the next two hours, everyone will bare her soul, let out every hitherto repressed childhood resentment, and otherwise emote from here to Mamaroneck.

Frederick is not – and never has been – quite as bad as you might think (hope?). But for those of us not romantically entangled with her, it’s very difficult to understand Jaglom’s singleness of focus (she just wrapped his next movie, “The M Word”). It’s tempting to compare Nelson’s work here to, say, “The Dark Backward,” but the truth is that he’s sort of indistinguishable and doesn’t make much of an impression either way. I’ve long had greater appreciation for Jaglom than have most of his dwindling audiences (enough to know, for example, that “Irene in Time” is appreciably better than the other Frederick pictures), but here’s hoping he heeds the call of another muse sooner than later.

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