Monday, December 5, 2011

SEDUCING CHARLIE BARKER: Amy Glazer's film of Theresa Rebeck's script/play opens

Normally TrustMovies opts for touting the director over the writer of a film because, from what he knows of the industry and how it works, the director has most of the power and control. In the case of SEDUCING CHARLIE BARKER, however, he's going to concen-trate more on the screenwriter, on whose play the movie is based: Theresa Rebeck. Ms Rebeck, shown below, has never been a darling of New York critics, in the manner, say, of Wendy Wasserstein. And yet her work certainly rivals, and in TM's humble opinion outdoes that of the late Ms Wasserstein. But because, he suspects, this writer hails first from television and then made her foray into legitimate theater (Aaron Sorkin, on the other hand started in theater, then movies and then TV), she has not been taken as seriously as she deserves.

The first theater piece I recall seeing of hers was a terrific political comedy about behavior in our capital city entitled View from the Dome, given a smart, sleek staging back in the late 1990s by the New York Theater Workshop. Roundly (and unfairly) dismissed by The New York Times critic, the play pleased only the audiences who were lucky enough to see it. Currently on Broadway, her latest play Seminar, with Alan Rickman in the lead, is again pleasing audiences (and some, if not all, of the NY critics). And now we have this new film that she's written, based on her 2006 plays The Scene (unseen by me).

Directed by Amy Glazer (shown at left), whose work is completely new to me, Seducing Charlie Barker is only Ms Glazer's second full-length film (her first -- Drifting Elegant from 2006 -- never made it past a few smaller film festivals around the U.S.) and it is an odd duck indeed. Never less than interesting and often quite funny, still, the movie doesn't seem to ever quite gain the proper balance. My one scribbled note, after viewing it, was, "What is this about?"

On one level, it's very clear what it's about: the actor's ego. The titular Charlie, nailed quite well by leading man Stephen Barker Turner, above, is one of these New York actors so full of himself and his talent that he can't lower his sights to pursue a TV job that might help pay the rent. He's talented, all right, but so are so many others here in NYC.

His wife, Stella (nice to see Daphne Zuniga, above, back in the movies again), a successful career woman in TV, puts up with him, and the couple appears to have a pretty good marriage. Until Charlie and his best friend Lewis (David Wilson Barnes, below, left) get a look at an enticing ass (below, center) during a party at which Charlie is supposed to be chatting up a TV producer.

The ass belongs to the young lady, Clea, who takes on the movie's titular endeavor, and also to the very unusual, beautiful and talented actress who plays her: Heather Gordon (shown above and below). The entire cast is very good, but Ms Gordon is the main reason to see the movie. Her performance is by turns bizarre, hilarious, utterly truthful and just as fake as can be, all of which describes quite well the character she's playing. One minute you're thinking Clea's unhinged, the next that she's merely the smartest person in the film.

This young lady knows what she wants, and she is going after it full-speed -- using behavior and body to keep the males in her purview consistently off-balance but coming back for more. And so the movie is also about an ambitious young lady who knows how to get ahead in the entertainment industry. But it's also about Stella and Charlie, who are (mostly on her part) planning to adopt a foreign-born baby. Oh, and best-friend Lewis, below, who turns out to be carrying a long-time torch for Stella.

The movie's also about the entertainment business -- the workings of television, movies, legit theater -- of which Ms Rebeck by now must understand quite a lot.  (Her original play, after all, was titled The Scene). And she does bring a "knowing" blend of incident and character to the proceedings.

All of this is is believable enough but little of it is expanded upon or developed past the point of simple exposition. Ms Rebeck is certainly a talented writer who knows what she's doing, and so I fear some of blame must be placed on Ms Glazer, who captures fine performances from the talented cast and has her camera pointed properly (cinematography by Jim Orr) but perhaps is lacking the sense of style and/or snap, not to mention the ability to mold the disparate strands of a story into some kind of organic whole that might have brought the project to greater fruition. (Or perhaps Ms Rebeck, in this case, needed another set of eyes to better shape this particular property.)

I enjoyed Seducing Charlie Barker -- its humor, locale, performances, and particularly the fact that most of the characters believably grow and change in small increments from beginning to end (no big, seeing-the-light moments here). But I still wanted more. The film opens this Friday, December 9, for a run at New York City's Quad Cinema.

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