“Ovation” is writer-director Henry Jaglom’s latest film about showbiz life, in which the characters demonstrate dramatic tendencies backstage as well as thespian prowess under the spotlight. It’s an agreeable but unremarkable mix of art-versus-commerce and romantic comedy, buoyed by a stellar lead performance but marred by an uneven story.
Jaglom makes personal movies containing hints of Chekhov, Robert Altman and Woody Allen. They tend to be loosely flowing family affairs ranging in quality from the winning “Last Summer in the Hamptons” to the misfiring “Just 45 Minutes From Broadway.”
Cowritten with Ron Vignone, “Ovation” falls somewhere in between, as, in a slightly screwbally and semi-farcical tone, it presents a tense week in the life of an artistically vital but economically ailing Southern California theater.
A production of N. Richard Nash’s “The Rainmaker” has been drawing sizable crowds and earning rave reviews. The attention has largely focused on Maggie Chase (Tanna Frederick), the play’s talented star.
If the show’s producer (Cathy Arden) can’t find a financial savior by the end of the week, the show, and the theater itself, will close.
Filled with anxiety, cast and crew handle professional and personal dilemmas disastrously.
Most pivotally, Maggie receives a dressing-room visit from Stewart Henry (James Denton), a charismatic TV actor who has a fiancée but clicks romantically with Maggie. He tries to lure her away from “The Rainmaker” with a lucrative offer to star with him in a new TV series.
Maggie gets flirty, and then recedes, and drives Stewart to places that first irk and eventually surprise him. His bosses are not amused.
Subplots include a love triangle, a fortune teller, and a possible corpse in the closet.
Jaglom fans and avid theatergoers will likely enjoy this movie, which, while no “Birdman,” vividly embraces the invigorating world of live theater. Like many Jaglom films, it puts some true emotion on the screen.
Much of that is due to Frederick, who, in real life, is married to Jaglom and is his frequent artistic collaborator. Stellar as a smart, talented artist who enjoys being pursued, she and the charm-oozing Denton, for a spell at least, generate chemistry that enables the ludicrously improbable rom-com formula to unfold almost believably.
Unfortunately, the story hits far too many flat points. Some plot threads — boyfriend problems of actress Zoe (Sabrina Jaglom), for example — are simply tedious.
“Ovation,” which is screening at the Opera Plaza, is passable fare that might suffice for a rainy-day matinee. But it can’t complete with superior films playing around town now, when the year’s top movies at last are in theaters.
two and a half stars
Starring Tanna Frederick, James Denton, Sabrina Jaglom, Cathy Arden
Written by Henry Jaglom, Ron Vignone
Directed by Henry Jaglom
Running time 1 hour, 42 minutes