The actor species gets the satirical skewer and an admiring embrace from writer-director Henry Jaglom in “Just 45 Minutes From Broadway.” In both arenas, the movie flops.
An overly theatrical treatment of viable comic material dooms the film, which Jaglom adapted from his play. What is intended as a valentine to the acting profession and psyche becomes a turnoff.
Jaglom, whose films include “Venice/Venice,” “Deja Vu” and “Last Summer in the Hamptons,” makes movies about showbiz life and soul-mate connection, many with hints of Chekhov, Robert Altman or Woody Allen, along with Jaglom-specific brands of non-Hollywood iconoclasm and self-absorption.
This time around, his problems prove particularly counterproductive.
The story is in the vein of dysfunctional-family indies that transpire at holiday gatherings. Substitute Passover for Thanksgiving.
The setting is the country home of a pair of older New York stage veterans, the Yiddish-theater-rooted Grisha Isaacs (Jack Heller) and his palm-reading wife, Viviene (Diane Salinger). Quintessential actors, the Isaacs believe that full and constant self-expression is the highest form of being.
The dramatics center on the pair’s two 30-something daughters.
Pandora (Tanna Frederick), also an actor, truly feels at home only when among her thespian family. Betsy (Julie Davis), a nonactor (“civilian”), views her relations as crazies who threaten her need for normalcy.
Viviene’s actor brother, Larry (David Proval), and a boarder, Sally (Harriet Schock), complete the group.
The comedy consists of ripples of conversation, often theater-related, alternating with sequences of dramatic thrust. The latter involve sisterly friction and an attraction between Pandora and James (Judd Nelson), Betsy’s fiance.
The material does contain potential, and Jaglom delivers a few choice moments. The seder sequence, in which the traditionally religious ceremony is led by an atheist and treated as a contemporary, relevant celebration of Jewish history, is a highlight.
Also notable is Grisha and Vivienne’s description of how intense devotion to the theater affects one’s children.
Yet while these are people who seem to treat life as if it were theater, Jaglom’s decision to present a lot of the story as a highly dramatic filmed play simply bombs.
Unlike Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina,” which also suffers from excess theatricality but is cinematic, this film’s movement and performances are incompatible with the camera. As the characters engage in various histrionics, the cast members, many reprising stage roles, overact to the point where their stories aren’t inviting.
Frederick, fine in Jaglom fare such as “Hollywood Dreams,” is most in need of a tone-down. Nelson, as the story’s only stranger to actorville, is refreshingly down to earth.
Jaglom dedicates his film to actors and actresses everywhere and to the “families that have refused to disown them.” It’s hard to share his love.