Monday, July 22, 2013

Henry Jaglom's best? JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY is waaaaay up there!

Families. Theater folk. Families full of theater folk (plus an outsider or two). Jews around a table. Quirkiness squared. These are often the ingredients of a Henry Jaglom movie, but I don't recall another piece of Jaglometry in quite a few years being this much fun, this well-made, and especially this well-written. Maybe ever.

Is it because JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY is based (and pretty closely, I'd suspect) on Jaglom's own play produced for the legitimate stage that the screenplay is so clever and straight-forward (gheesh: you could practically call this a "well-made play")? I'd say so. Dialog is much more important in legitimate theater than it often is in film, and the dialog here -- compared to what we sometimes get from this creative but maybe not-terribly-disciplined filmmaker, shown above right -- is authentic, smart, funny and moving, and then made real by his well-chosen actors, who tear into his script with everything they've got.

They're got a lot. This is by far the best cast I've seen in a Jaglom movie in a long time, and even though many of them are more-or-less regulars in his stable -- from David Proval to Diane Salinger, Harriet Schock, Michael Emil and his latest muse, Tanna Frederick -- each actor absolutely owns the role. Their intentions are clear, their charisma is in full swing, and perhaps because many of them must have also performed the role on stage (projecting their voices well), we barely miss a single word of dialog.

In fact, the film -- a kind of Royal Family, low-end version -- is an ode to actors (it begins with a dedication to them, and to the families who have not abandoned them), but it doesn't gloss over their faults or make them seem like god's gift to the rest of us suckers. Further, the outsider here (Betsy, one of the family's two daughters) is no piker in the mix. As played by the wonderful Julie Davis (above, left, and herself a noted film director), Betsy is given an abundance of smarts, feeling and caring -- even if all this often comes out the wrong way. Jaglom is wise to let us sympathize with Betsy, just as he does with the family into which she doesn't fit.

Mom and Dad (Ms Salinger and the very fine Jack Heller, above, right, with Mr. Proval), mom's brother (Mr. Proval), and a boarder in the house (Ms Schock) are all brought to lovely life. But it's the two sisters, Betsy and Pandora (played by Ms Frederick) and Betsy's fiance James (Judd Nelson, below), doing a more-than-creditable job among all these Jaglomites) who are the focus of the film.

Ms Frederick (below, right) is relatively low-key here -- except in her late entrance to the Seder, which almost-but-not-quite goes over the top. She puts her usual my-emotions-are-all-on-the surface to good use; she's odd but always believable.

As it proceeds with its paean to actors, the movie also considers certain current quandaries in which some of us find ourselves, such as what to do with aging parents and how to treat the Jewish tradition as important -- even if you're an atheist at heart. I may be over-praising the film a bit, due to my shock at seeing Jaglom functioning so well in what looks suspiciously like a near-standard genre piece. But if it is that, the movie's still got those indelible Jaglom fingerprints all over it.

Furthermore, the filmmaker, in bringing his stage play to movie life, does a number of funny and charming things to remind us of its stage-struck roots. The movie often looks like a stage set, and in the end, the director makes sure we get the point. For folk who have long resisted Mr. Jaglom's work, this might be the movie to change their mind. For the rest of us, it's a don't miss.

Just 45 Minutes from Broadway (the title is taken from an old George M. Cohan song), from Breaking Glass Pictures, made its DVD debut this past week, after a limited theatrical release in late 2012 and a VOD debut this past June.

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