by Greg Muskewitz
The first film in almost a decade from Peter Bogdanovich is a giddy lollapalooza of a not-so-fictional backdrop, with questionable veracity, reframed and styled in a calculating effort to concoct an authenticity from the Golden Days.“This is the whisper most often told,” cautions the voice-over at the film’s start, which is in reference to the mysterious occurrences that took place on a yacht trip destined for San Diego, containing the world-weary likes of William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin, Elinor Glyn, Louella Parsons, and tragically, Thomas Ince. Given the round-up, or here, the unintentional line-up, the camera has a wide range of faces, places, and corners to roam over in order to rouse suspicion and interest. Bogdanovich makes no mistake in letting the tail wag the dog there, but the steady and well-paced flow is aptly derived from Steven Peros’ stage play. One of the benefactions in this transition is the room from which the camera has to proceleusmatically roam and revolve about in, and despite that the interior of the yacht serves as the easy confines of a stage, Bogdanovich allows little room for theatricality. As a portrait of Hearst, it paints him as a very insecure, and ergo, childish man — beholder of so much, but unable to control that which he desires most. As a portrait of Davies, it paints her as a twitty, confused girl, too easily wooed by any form of affection. And so the caricatures and biased suppositions go. The exposition is unequally divided by scenes of delicious information (or gossip) and pertinent insights (such as why “WR” has prevented his paramour from appearing in comedies — “I don’t want people laughing at Marion”), and to a lesser extent — a benefit in most likely cases — the malapropos visual examples lacking the grace and subtlety that should suffice through the spoken word. (One scene that particularly jumps to mind is amidst a game of Charades, where Marion and Chaplin team up to re-enact “man discovering reflection.” Is it vanity that prompts Charlie to kiss “himself,” or the lusty prospect of what was at the other end of the looking glass?) The film’s décor, which includes the cast, contributes to the controlled atmosphere and period by keeping the order of storytelling on track and in line. Several good turns are permitted, especially from Edward Herrmann (as the pacing, brooding Hearst), Joanna Lumley, Victor Slezak, and most surprisingly, Kirsten Dunst. A recent favorite of mine, Claudie Blakely, is also given time to demonstrate her scale of talent and presence within a small amount of space — a skill on her résumé that speaks for itself. (As a side note, a large oversight was the absence of Davies’ stutter, the one which prevented her from becoming as successful an actress during the transition of film from Silent to Talkies; on the other hand, the inclusion of the stutter in the play and even perhaps the film, would tend to clutter the deck.)
"Purrrr-colating with fun."
With Eddie Izzard, Cary Elwes, Jennifer Tilly, Claudia Harrison and Chiara Schoras.[Worth-seeing.]
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5876&reviewer=172
originally posted: 12/20/03 15:11:13