By Richard Winters
My Rating: 8 out of 10
4-Word Review: Celebrities in a room.
Inside a New York hotel room is a professor (Michael Emil) working on some calculations until he gets interrupted by The Senator (Tony Curtis) who tries to get him to appear before the committee trying to expose communists inside the U.S., which will be held the next day. The professor refuses and sends the Senator away, though the Senator says he’ll be back. Outside the hotel is a film shoot where the Actress (Theresa Russell) is performing a scene where a gush of wind blows up the white blouse she is wearing while standing over a street grate. After the shoot she has her chauffeur (Patrick Kilpatrick) take her to a toy store where she picks up some gadgets, which she takes to the hotel room for a visit she has with the professor where they discuss the theory of relativity. Later her husband the baseball player (Gary Busey) shows up and the two argue while the professor leaves. The next morning the senator returns to find the actress alone in bed, who he mistakenly thinks is a prostitute made-up to resemble Marilyn Monroe. When he threatens to seize the professor’s papers she agrees to have sex with him as a bribe, but the senator has a violent outburst just as the professor and the baseball player return to the room.
The film is based on the stageplay of the same name written by Terry Johnson that was performed onstage at the Royal Court Theater in London in 1982. The inspiration for the play came when Johnson found out that amongst Marilyn Monroe’s belongings that were retrieved after her death was a signed autograph picture of Albert Einstein and the idea of what the meeting between these two would’ve been like intrigued him enough to write a whole play around it. Director Nicholas Roeg saw the play and thought it would make for a great movie, but he wanted to expand it by entering in the character of Joe DiMaggio, who was Monroe’s husband at the time as well the senator, which represented Joe McCarthy.
Roeg’s superior use of visuals and non-linear, dream-like narrative is what keeps it interesting. I also liked the way Roeg had flashback scenes, which were not a part of the play, but added into the screenplay at Roeg’s request, showing traumatic moments in each character’s childhood that had an emotional impact on them and ended up defining who they ultimately became. These moments, as brief as they are, end up leaving the most lasting impression.
The acting is quite good particularly from Curtis whose career had waned considerably by this point, but his perpetual nervousness and the sweat that glistens off of his face is memorable. Busey is solid as a man who initially comes-off as a bully, but ultimately reveals a tender side. The lesser known Emil, who is the older brother of director Henry Jaglom and mostly only appeared in movies that were directed by him, completely disappears in his part until you can only see the Albert Einstein characterization and not the acting.
The only performance I had a problem with was Russell’s who goes way over-the-top with her put-upon impression of Monroe and comes-off like a campy caricature. Her breathless delivery sounds like she’s trying to hold in her breathe as she speaks and is quite annoying. Johnson had wanted Judy Davis, who had played the role in the stage version, to reprise the part for the movie, but Roeg, who was married to Russell at the time, insisted she be cast despite the fact that Russell really didn’t want to do it. While I never saw the stage play and have no idea if Davis would’ve been good I still feel anyone could’ve been better, or for that matter couldn’t have been any worse.
While the film does have its share of captivating elements it does fail to make the characters three-dimensional as they play too much into the personas that we already have of them while virtually revealing no surprises. It’s also a shame that the four are never in the room at the same time. There is one moment where the senator, the baseball player, and the professor meet in the front of the room, while the actress remains in the back behind the closed sliding glass doors, but this doesn’t count because she never interacts with the others during this segment, which is something that I had wanted to see. Overall though as an experimental, visual time capsule, it still works and the unexpected, provocative montage that occurs at the end makes it worthwhile.
My Rating: 8 out of 10
Released: May 11, 1985
Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes
Director: Nicholas Roeg
Studio: Island Alive
Available: DVD, Blu-ray (The Criterion Collection)