Saturday, November 10, 2012

Seidelman/Madden's MUSICAL CHAIRS gets encore via Int'l Film Fest Manhattan

If you missed, as did most of us, the latest Susan Seidelman offering, MUSICAL CHAIRS, which opened for a brief theatrical run this past March, the movie's back for a one-performance stand at New York's Quad Cinema this coming Thursday, November 15, at 9pm, as the closing night presentation of International Film Festival Manhattan. I will make no claims for the movie being very good, let alone great, but its gener-ally vibrant New York setting, brought to life by Seidelman, the film's writer Marty Madden, and a competent cast, make this one a relatively painless watch for folk interested in ballroom dancing, the wheelchair handicapped, and/or further examples of the "other" -- with which Seidelman has peopled her films since her career began.

While this director's biggest hit was Desperately Seeking Susan (from 1985 and which holds up well and was only her second film out of more than 20), my personal favorite is one that wasn't much seen, Gaudi Afternoon, in which she has a delightfully odd story, set in a gorgeous Barcelona, and four class actresses to keep it firing. Here, as elsewhere -- just about everywhere -- in her work, the "other" is front and center. So it is with Musical Chairs, in which one prominent character (played by a sassy Laverne Cox) refers to her/himself as "a black, transsexual cripple."

The film follows a NewYoRican extended family (shown at left) comprised of a suc-cessful restaurateur, his wife and son, and some of their relatives/workers, including the girl to whom mom want to see her son hitched.

Mom is played by Priscilla Lopez (shown at left, front row, and below), whose career pretty much began and hit one of its high points in the original production of A Chorus Line.

A none-too-subtle actress who can be very effective at times, Ms Lopez tends to go for a single note and play it repeatedly. Here, she's the controlling mom par excellence, and when (spoiler ahead!), for the sake of a happy-ending/feel-good-finale (shame on the screenwriter here), she has a out-of-the-blue change of heart, the movie registers as utterly false.

Fortunately, there are some genuinely charming and enjoyable scenes and actors on view in this likable story of the family son (E.J. Bonilla, above, right), who loves both ballroom dancing and the girl he sets his eyes and heart on -- who does, too (Leah Pipes, above, left). Ms Pipes is lovely, and Mr. Bonilla is even better. Sporting a great body and face, as well as good acting chops, this young performer, who was excellent in the still unreleased Four, should only get lucky and be able to give one of his excellent performances in a hit movie for a change -- and thus ensure a lengthy career. Till then, we'll have to hope.

Meanwhile, Ms Seidelman -- whose penchant for feel-good films hit its nadir with Boynton Beach Club -- clearly needs not just good actors but a good script to bring home the bacon. Musical Chairs, while occasionally too ham-fisted to make the grade, is still often surprisingly enjoyable -- especially if you're an aficionado of ball-room dance, Mr. Bonilla and Ms Pipes. So if you're around Greenwich Village this coming Thursday evening, Nov. 15, stop by the Quad and enjoy. Otherwise, I expect a DVD or maybe VOD/digital platforms will be in the cards at some point down the line.

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