CAPSULE: British director Malcolm Mowbray (best known for 1984's A PRIVATE FUNCTION) gives us a one-setting, real-time film that could really have been a stage play. A once-great Broadway director is trying to get a gem of a play produced on Broadway and finding everything good about the play has to be compromised. The material Mowbray's film is familiar and the characters are thin, but the dialog is crisp and witty. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Just like people like to talk about their own ailments, people in the film industry like to talk about what is wrong with the film industry. Not infrequently they make films on the subject. People in theater like to talk about what is wrong with Broadway. One of the best-known exposes of the film industry is Robert Altman's THE PLAYER. My personal favorite, a little less familiar, is Christopher Guest's THE BIG PICTURE. In it, Kevin Bacon is a promising filmmaker who lets a successful film producer modify his idea little by little until it becomes unrecognizable and incidentally also a piece of trash. That same corrupting dynamic moved to the Broadway theater environment is working in MEETING SPENCER. The film is set in Frankie & Johnnie's (a real theater- district steakhouse) where once-great theatrical director Harris Chappell (played by Jeffery Tambor) is trying to get a serious piece of theater (as opposed to show business) produced and financed. The play is the last work of a Pulitzer-prize winning playwright, now deceased, and its original idea is dying a death of a thousand cuts the more Chappell is being asked to make changes. The play is a tragedy of an elderly man, but a bit at a time it is turning into a musical comedy starring the callow Spencer (Jesse Plemons). Actors, agents, and investors each want to add their own spin to the play as less and less of the original vision remains. It is like subverting DEATH OF A SALESMAN into HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING.
The point of MEETING SPENCER is made early on. Art suffers when it becomes too much of a business run like a corporation. With too many people serving their own ends making decisions about the production of a play or film, only mediocrity can follow. Tambor's character is a pleasure to watch. He is a little pompous and a little corrupt, but he remembers how to give a good play the production it deserves. Years ago he had been a great theatrical director, but when he went to Hollywood he undoubtedly faced the same sort of deal-making pressures he is seeing here in the theater, and his seed of corruption probably led him to compromise. He knows that he has a vision for this new play, but every instinct he has about the play is being undermined a bit at a time. There is sympathy for the play's fate, but Chappell is a little too haughty to earn much sympathy himself.
Andrew Kole, Andrew Delaplaine, and Scott Kasdin wrote MEETING SPENCER. Having three writers for a film can be a problem. While it is not obvious from the final result, three different viewpoints on one script is perhaps at least one too many. While Tambor takes his role and runs with it as Chappell, the other characters go under-developed. One could choose a single adjective for each and it would fairly well cover their characterization. Nevertheless frequently the dialog is nimble.
Mostly this film shows off Jeffrey Tambor's comic art. I suppose I could say that I knew exactly what it would take to make this a boffo comedy with just a few little suggestions from me. But the point of the MEETING SPENCER is that it is better to ignore suggestions, so I will just rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1486186/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/meeting_spencer/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper