Movie Reviews

Drive My Car & Other Movies On The Making Of Stage Plays

Stageplays have thrilled and entertained audiences centuries before the cinematic medium could. But with movies surpassing the reach of plays, the two realms have still been united with movies that particularly deal with the making of plays. A good recent example is the Oscar-winner Drive My Car, which involves a side plot focusing on a multi-lingual production of Anton Chekov’s Uncle Vanya.

Then, there are movies that execute a fact-based approach to tell real-life stories in such contexts. For instance, Me & Orson Welles deals with the titular actor’s experiments with Shakespeare. Given that Shakespeare is arguably the most popular playwright to date, his plays can also get absurdist modern treatments such as the narrative in Hamlet 2.

Ryosuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car is one of the few foreign-language films nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.  Clocking at three hours, it is an exploration of human sadness, infidelity, and the aftermath of death. While such themes are explored from the pent-up persona of Hidetoshi Nishijima’s protagonist, they also come out with his attempts at method acting.

Seen first performing a rendition of Waiting for Godot, the remainder of the movie deals with the widowed stage actor dealing with his wife’s loss and directing a multi-lingual take on Uncle Vanya. His rigorous methods annoy his cast but also brings out fears and thoughts that he would otherwise never reveal. From one perspective, Drive My Car can be viewed as a pained artist’s journey who dedicates himself fully to his art in order to run away from the solitude that plagues him.

Choreographer and director Bob Fosse was a Broadway visionary but also quite a turbulent personality off-stage, with a life marked by toxic relationships and alcoholism. Work seemed like a good escape even though it heavily drained him. A case in point can be the time when he directed the musical Chicago as a Broadway show while also overseeing the editing process of his Hollywood movie Lenny.

In All That Jazz, Fosse creates a meta-narrative, with Roy Scheider playing a fictionalized version of himself during this chaotic phase, also touching upon how the multiple women in his life stopped him from spiraling down. The semi-autobiographical movie also depicts the claustrophobia of the stage and Fosse’s unpredictable direction in anchoring the musical to its future greatness.

Hamlet 2 can be seen as an “R-rated version of School of Rock” as Steve Coogan plays an incompetent ad actor-turned-drama teacher at a school full of equally incompetent students. However, when the school scraps drama class, he decides to direct a play that would revive the subject and give his students some purpose.

The result is an absurdist sequel to Hamlet, complete with a guest appearance by Jesus Christ and lightsaber duels. The ridiculous levels to which they go down to get the play on stage makes it one of the wildest movie adaptations of the Shakespeare play.

Like most of Charlie Kaufman’s screenplays, his directorial venture Synecdoche New York is hard to explain in words. In its essence, it deals with a lonely theater director who creates a life-size replica of the city in which his next play will be set in. He then goes on to order his actors to live in this mock-up world in order to yield more realistic results in their acting.

Kaufman’s writing coupled with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s lead performance yields an introspective touch on human loneliness and the art of performance itself.

Riggan Thomson, a former superhero star, gives up on Hollywood and plans to return to a New York stage to adapt one of Raymond Chandler’s short stories. But in this process, the director/actor must deal with his own former glory, the attitude of his actors, and the strained relationship that he shares with his daughter.

It is interesting to note how the lead role also emulates actor Michael Keaton’s real-life career. For new generations, Keaton was seen as Batman from the 1980s but with Birdman, his career too got a revival and now he is back in popular culture. As for his acting, it perfectly emulates Riggan’s obsessive nature and eccentric acting methods, coupled with a few imaginary conversations with the titular superhero.

This period romance might not go down as one of the best Oscar Best Picture winners, but it is still an interesting watch for fans of the Bard and his plays. In this fictionalized take on Shakespeare’s life, Joseph Fiennes stars as the playwright who is looking for a muse to inspire his next play. When he meets Gwyneth Paltrow’s Viola, sparks of romance start flying, and the earliest rehearsals for Romeo & Juliet commence.

Shakespeare In Love also depicts the nature of performing theatre in Victorian times. For in that period, only men were allowed to act, with them even doubling for female characters.

Al Pacino’s best movies make for essential viewing for anyone who needs an insight into Hollywood acting. But the Godfather star has also been an avid theater aficionado, having played the titular role in a famous adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III. In his directorial debut, Pacino creates a narrative that follows a documentary approach to understand his acting style as a theater artist.

Not to be totally self-indulgent, Pacino also features interviews with everyday people and actors like Kenneth Branagh and Alec Baldwin on their views on Shakespeare’s plays.

All About Eve starts off in the world of Broadway and transcends towards the glitz and glamor of the Golden Age of Hollywood. The titular antiheroine is Eve Harrington, an aspiring actress who serves as an assistant to seasoned theatre veteran Margo Channing.

But as time passes and Margo worries for the longevity of her career, Eve rises through the ranks to surpass her idol. Eve’s transition from theater to 1950s-era cinema as Margo continues to hold on to her theatrical legacy, which also serves a metaphorical purpose. Margo’s stage has evolved over the years but it is Eve’s realm that has gone to fascinate the masses.

One of Richard Linklater’s underrated movies, Me and Orson Welles covers the early years of Welles’ pre-Citizen Kane career. With Christian McKay playing Welles, the actor gathers a bunch of unknowns for a 1937 production of Julius Caesar. As the production unravels, the young artists get a glimpse of the ambition and egos of the stage performers.

For fans of cinema too, it is an interesting watch as the narrative serves as a prologue to the stellar career of its theater director. Zac Efron’s performance as a teenage actor and his romance with a production assistant is an interesting alternate plot that takes place in the backdrop of the play.

Annette Bening plays Julia Bennett in Being Julia, a moving portrayal of a middle-aged theater actress’ self-exploration. While Julia is established in the British theater circuit, she questions her relevance and suffers from a marriage that lacks passion. Enter a young American actor with whom Julia has an affair, and she finds a new purpose to act.

However, this unexpected guest in her life has his own professional motivations leading the actress into a downward spiral. In a tragically beautiful manner, the movie goes on to show how the personal turmoil of a performer can affect their on-stage persona, for good and bad reasons alike.

NEXT: 10 Must-See Movies That Are Actually Based On Plays

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button