A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Producers (2005)

August 27, 2010

The Producers (2005)

I wish we owned the original Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder Producers. I’ve seen it before of course, but it has been many, many years since I last did. I see the echo of Wilder’s performance in Matthew Broderick here (particularly when he’s shouting) but I can’t really address how this show works as an adaptation. Neither have I seen the musical on the stage, so I can’t even review it as an adaptation of the stage show. Maybe I can summon some thoughts on it as a film musical in general instead.

The plot of the musical echoes that of the movie it is based on. Max Bialystock is a down on his luck Broadway producer whose productions are famed for being unbelievably bad. Leo Bloom is an accountant who shows up one day to examine his books and comes to the realization that given a sure-fire failure a producer could raise all the money he could want and just keep the extra when the play flops. So the two of them find the worst play they can find, the worst director and the worst actors they can. The play, of course, is Springtime for Hitler, an ode to Nazi Germany during World War Two, and the rest is history. Probably the most memorable part of the original movie is the big Springtime For Hitler musical number, so it almost makes sense that Mel Brooks would re-visit the movie thirty years later to create a huge Broadway hit musical about making Broadway hit musicals.

What’s odd about the movie is that it’s a strange kind of hybrid of a stage show and a movie musical. It clearly has a much bigger budget than even a Broadway show would, but it also has a sense a lot of the time that it would rather be a stage play than a movie. For example: Max’s office, where a great deal of the action takes place, has the feel of a stage set. There is no fourth wall. Director Susan Stroman makes an effort to move the camera around and cover the room from several angles, but it never really feels like a room, because the side opposite the window is never shown. (Because it never existed in the set, I suspect.) All the furniture in the room is arranged facing towards that non-existent wall.

Some of the bigger dance numbers in the movie also feel as though they would be better on stage. In particular Bloom’s big “I Want To Be A Producer” number with the chorus girls emerging from file cabinets in his work place and the transition to the brightly lit Broadway of his daydreams is cool, but would have been cooler live.

Another example: Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick play their roles with the well-oiled ease of people who have read these lines and crafted these performances over the course of hundreds of shows. If you listen to Susan Stroman’s commentary you hear about how some of the gags in the movie evolved from flubs and ad-libs on stage that the actors chose to keep because they got a laugh. One result of this is the way they play to the camera, breaking the fourth wall to encourage a laugh. It’s a very live theater thing, and it feels odd and out of place sometimes in a movie format. Another result is that their timing is sometimes strangely… off. It was only as I was watching it again tonight that I realized that this is because they are pausing from time to time, probably subconsciously after months of practice getting the maximum audience response to their portrayals, for laughter or applause that are not there in a movie.

On the other hand you have clear attempts to make the show more Hollywood. There’s a big soundstage set of Broadway and the theater marques which is used in the opening and closing numbers and the “Break a Leg” number. And of course a few of the larger parts in the movie have been given to Hollywood talent. Will Farrell hams it up wonderfully as Franz, the author of Springtime. Uma Thurman looks to be having a terrific time playing the oversexed Ulla. Both of them are so very, very tall. Susan Stroman also tries to make the movie more movielike by shooting a couple scenes outside in the real New York and Central Park.

The end result is a movie that feels strangely fractured. At times it’s almost as though they brought a camera onto the stage at a performance of the play. At other times it feels as though it’s trying to be something bigger. I found the mix of styles distracting, which is sad because the musical itself is so much fun. I almost wish they HAD just filmed a stage show. There’s more wonder in cool practical props and mobile scenery than there is in special effects and clever editing.

I cannot find flaw with the play itself though. I can clearly see why it won all those Tonys. I bought the soundtrack right after watching the movie for the first time, and it lives on my iPod. It’s funny, irreverent, silly and basically an ode to everything Broaday. If you need more proof of Mel’s love of the theater you need look no further than the number sung over the movie’s closing credits about how there’s nothing like a Broadway show. (And once more I must admonish viewers to stay right to the end of the credits because Mel has a fun little ditty in there after the credits are over and a cameo appearance for himself.)

As a movie I can’t say if this is truly a success. It’s an odd mix of styles and at times I wished that I could have seen real Broadway performers in the roles that were given to big name Hollywood folks in an effort to make the movie more commercial. (It was a little bit like watching Ellen Degeneres dancing Alex Wong’s part in the last episode of the most recent season of So You Think You Can Dance.) If, on the other hand, this movie is intended as a love letter to Broadway and it’s supposed to make me want to turn of the DVD player and go buy a ticket for a live play or musical, well then it succeeded in that.

August 27, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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