...nothing here is promised, not one day... Lin-Manuel Miranda

Wasting time and guilty pleasures
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Wow, what a disappointment. I finally finally got the Altman film “The Company” from the library and watched it last night. It was, I was so sure, bound to be a movie I was going to love; Robert Altman being one of my favorite directors and it was about a ballet company. Seemed perfect.
Wow, what a drag.

I get Altman, I really do. I know his strengths and I’m very used to the overlapping dialogue, plot jumps, occasional lack of clear ending. But “The company” was so flat. MAN. I mean lots of things worked – the reminder that dancers are expendable – there’s one effective scene where a dancer just stops, sitting on the stage without a word (she’s just snapped her Achilles tendon) and just knows what it means without tears or panic. Just that sort of dead feeling. And the artsy bullshit of “Mr. A”, the company director played by Malcolm McDowell and his insufferable yellow scarf and his “I need this room, clean it up what are you still doing here?” attitude is plausible. But nothing new. And done repeatedly.

Neve Campbell is a convincing dancer – apparently because she was a convincing dancer with national Ballet of Canada, a really good company – before becoming an actor. I have never seen her act but her dancing skills worked. Much of the attraction of the film for me was the dancing – there were some really cool bits, and as always, watching the work that goes into something backstage – whether it’s Cirque Du Soleil or a theater or dance company and watching the seamlessness of it out front interests the hell out of me. But oh, come on. The relationship in this film is baffling; I have no sense of the boyfriend except that he pouts when he’s ignored. And he’s cute. I guess. The promo stuff of the film claims that Campbell’s character “Ry” is on the brink of becoming a featured performer in the company. I don’t know where they get that; she’s part of the company, yeah, and gets some good roles but there’s nothing ever said, so where did that come from? And the “Altmanesque” stuff which I love in the everything from “Nashville” to “Gosford Park” was largely absent in this movie. The drama queen crap of the mother, who is still being a stage mother for her daughter, and the “we’re filing a lawsuit” scene when a dancer is told he’s not to appear in a performance (cuz he’s crap and he’s several beats behind everyone else) is pointless. The Christmas party jokes were okay, but pretty obvious, quoting Mr. A’s instructions that we just saw minutes ago.

Damn, damn, damn. I expected a real solid Altman film here and do not get what the fuss was. It’s the weakest of his films I think. There was some great choreography and film work – seeing the dances from off stage and above at times was very interesting (and at times a little dizzying). Ry’s Chicago apartment was weird as HELL – in some ways a very sitcom city apartment – the thing was really big, although apparently a loft of one big studio. Dancers don’t make decent money, everyone knows that, which is why the character works odd hours in a club (the scenes there too dark and pointless) so how did she manage this huge place with it’s sunken tub. Okay, true the El goes past the window, so I would guess that brings the price way down. I wonder if you ever get used to that. Shudder.

There just was not the development of the multiple plot lines or the intriguing dialogue that make Altman films so engaging. And I really expected that in a film about something like a dance company – there are so many levels, more than just “you went out with someone else” or “how do we find the money to do this ballet”? Darn. I mean hell, it was free, right? I got it from the library but I’d been looking forward to the thing and ended up fast forwarding at the end because I so hated the big deal dance number about the Blue Snake. I somehow missed something that happened to Ry toward the end but it no longer mattered. I thought it was a horrid quasi- parody of some of the early Paul Taylor stuff, with awkward costumes, dancers prancing and leaping rather than dancing and way way way too much stage stuff with a snake head that opened and dancers came out of it. At the JOFFREY? Maybe at the Joffrey’s Vegas company.

So there goes that. I had hopes of a guilty pleasure dance movie down the line. I’m going to have to stick with “Center Stage” as my guilty pleasure dance movie; it’s obvious but it’s meant to be. And that’s….okay. Sigh.

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