39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Mamet and Malle make a winner!,
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This review is from: Vanya on 42nd Street (DVD)
I remembered loving this "small" film when I saw it in the theater, so I knew I'd be happy with the DVD, whether it had any extras or not (it doesn't). Although Julianne Moore has made it big since making Uncle Vanya ("Boogie Nights," "Nine Months," "The End of the Affair"), and her lovely face dominates the DVD cover, "Uncle Vanya on 42nd Street" is truly ensemble acting at its best. Wallace Shawn as the title character does a powerful job of holding the viewer's interest, even though his Vanya is riddled with smugness, envy, self-pity, and lethargy. There are things about his performance that make you wonder if Louis Malle wasn't thinking of "Uncle Vanya" as a sequel to "My Dinner with Andre" (especially since Andre Gregory plays the director who has gathered his troupe of actors to rehearse Uncle Vanya in the falling down New Amsterdam Theater in New York City). In both movies, Shawn plays a man facing a mid-life crises, plagued with self-doubt and floundering around, looking for reasons to go on.
What struck me on my recent viewing of the film was how timeless Checkhov's story really is. Like Jane Austen, he has a great ability to find the universal in the pettiness of highly-controlled domestic life. In comparing Mamet's rendering with Paul Schmidt's excellent recent translation, it seems Mamet did a good job of crafting speakable lines. He modernized the play without wrenching it from its original time or setting. Since the performance we see is a final run-through, not a dress rehearsal, we receive no visual clues as to when the play within the movie actually begins. Malle's light hand in this regard only reinforces the dubiousness of the distinction between theater/art and reality (a much discussed subject in "My Dinner with Andre").
The decision to film "Uncle Vanya" in the decaying New Amsterdam Theater was an inspired one. When Dr. Astrov (Larry Pine), the play's most forward-looking character, bemoans the cultural and spiritual devastation caused by deforestation and human indifference to the environment, one can't help but think of the plight of 42nd Street itself. The New Amsterdam's resurrection--thanks to Disney dollars--as the current home of "The Lion King" is not without it's ironies. As all of the characters in "Uncle Vanya" are painfully aware, our futures are always purchased at a very high price. And the losses we are likely to experience as we move towards those futures may be greater than any of us will be able to bear.
"Uncle Vanya on 42nd Street" is one of those great works of art, like Eugene O'Neill's "A Long Day's Journey into Night," that makes you stop and take stock of your life.