Apr 29, 2011

[Movies] Noises Off (1992)

Noises Off (1992)I love how every now and then, my partner and I stumble across a movie that we both enjoyed a lot even though we assumed that no one else liked it. With so many movies out there in existence (and that's a LOT), there's a very large number of possible films that seem like things that no one else have has ever seen and thus they become sort of guilty pleasures. And then you go on for years never expecting someone to like this one movie that you really liked.

And then one day you stumble across that one movie that you share an interest with someone else. And lucky for me, there appear to be a larger than average number of relatively obscure movies that my partner and I share as interests. And they don't have to be great movies or award-winning movies. Many times they're relatively bad movies or even total flops at the box office. You can't even call them cult classics unless this cult only involves me and my partner. That's a pretty small cult.

This movie combines a lot of things that I like including the theater, witty comedy, the whole play within a play dynamic and Christopher Reeve. Oh come on, you just have to appreciate some Christopher Reeve being an idiot sort of action, right?


Noises Off is the movie adaptation of the play of the same name that was created by Michael Flynn. The movie was directed by Peter Bogdanovich and the screenplay was written by Marty Kaplan.

Photo to Christopher Reeve being interviewed a...Image via WikipediaThe movie is based around a fictional play called Nothing on, that is essentially a play in the old sex farce style including scantily clad women. Here the director of the play is one Llyod Fellowes (Michael Caine) who is preparing the modest little theater troupe for eventually taking this play to Broadway. The cast of the farce includes Dotty Otley (Carol Burnett) who plays Mrs. Clackett the housekeeper, Garry Lejeune (John Ritter) who plays Roger Tramplemain and the near-sighted Brooke Ashton (Nicollette Sheridan) who plays his on-stage girlfriend / mistress. Frederick Dallas (Christopher Reeve) who plays Phillip Brent, and Belinda Blair (Marilu Henner) who plays Flavia Brent and hard of hearing Selsdon Mowbray (Denhold Elliott) who plays the burglar. Together with the stage crew Poppy Taylor (Julie Hagerty) and Tim Allgood (Mark Linn-Baker), they make up pretty much for full cast of this movie and at the same time the play.

First we get to find out more and more of the story of the actual play (or at least its first act) and as we go through the rehearsal we learn more about the characters. Llyod clearly has personal history with a number of the women on the show. Brooke keeps losing her contacts on-stage. Frederick can't stand any violence of any kind and the mere thought of it gives him nosebleeds. And Selsdon has a bit of a drinking problem to the point that it clearly affects his acting. And as they go from town to town until the big Broadway debut, the relationships between the cast members continue to degrade until it seems next to impossible for them to actually stage the big event - or will they? For that you just have to watch the movie to truly find out.

A lot of the critics' reviews for this movie criticize the movie for being such a terrible translation of the play into film. And I suppose that's a natural concern - you just can't quite recreate the full theater experience in the context of a movie since you mange to get up close and personal with the actors in a way the theater does not allow. But then I'd like to think that the translation effort should still be measured as a movie instead of being directly compared to the source material since it becomes an apples and oranges discussion.

The movie, at least for me and my partner, was pretty darn funny. A lot of the backstage antics worked out pretty well and I liked how they try to maintain the slapstick of the stage play as a whole while giving us a bit more depth given the whole movie styling. And the action can be pretty quick, requiring audience members to be a bit more on their toes as things play out.

Sure, the movie does have some slow moments when it's clear that they weren't quite sure how to bridge some of the events to one another. The premise of the play being on tour sort of helped but given it was a movie, we could have had a bit more incremental development along the way. Instead we got some pretty cold transitions from one event to another and the relationships just seem to get worse without giving you a clear idea why. While there was the effort to slowly reveal what happened over time, the methodology may have been a bit too theater for it to work as a movie. At least, this is how it came across to me.

The cast was a nicely quirky group that had a pretty good dynamic going. Sure. Carol Burnett is comedy cold almost any time you have her playing a quirky character actor but the rest of them were pretty good too. Or at the very least, they played off one another rather well and that's really what's crucial to this story - the cohesive comedy effort of the ensemble. And yeah, Christopher Reeve was nicely a-dork-able throughout the movie, too. He should have done more comedies.

Noises Off is not a great movie but it's a light fun one that can be enjoyed by theater geeks like me (and my partner as it appears). It gets 3.5 plates of sardines out of a possible 5.


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