Who Am I This TIme?

07 Mar

Who Am I This Time? — Directed by Jonathan Demme — Comedy. Amateur theatricals enliven the lives of two shy leads. 60 minutes. Color 1982.

* * * * *

Jonathan Demme is around 28, Susan Sarandon is around 36, and Christopher Walken is around 29, and it’s curious to see how their developments differ. Demme had already made Melvin And Howard and a variety of other pictures by this time, but the work here seems rather ragtag, a consequence one might ascribe to the ragtag conditions of filming this American Playhouse piece by Kurt Vonnegut. However, it serves the amateur, hometown material which is itself ragtag, since it deals with the workings, personalities, and performances in a small town community theatre. Susan Sarandon is an actor almost incapable of giving an emotionally coherent performance. Sometimes she is very real and true; sometimes, she is just putting out the soap opera style in which she began her career. Here her problem may lie in being ten years too old for the part. She doesn’t look too old at all, but she is 36 playing a 26 year old, and it appears that one of her adjustments is to make the girl be young — a mistake, since to do it she makes her look innocent, which never works for an actor. As the emotionless highly competent visiting technician she is much more real than as the girl finding her emotions. Finding her emotions, she “uses” her hot brown hydrocephalic eyes, for this and that. It always sabotages her moment. However, the fun of the part is that, when she is called upon to come alive in an acting role in A Streetcar Named Desire, she does so on all four burners and the oven too, and the scene works like all get out. And this is true for the large body of the film, whose story depends upon the comic transformation of two wallflowers into creatures of raging passion, Stella and Stanley. Sarandon can act like gangbusters when she leaves herself alone. Christopher Walken, on the other hand, has to control himself like mad to act like gangbusters, and it’s interesting to see how solid he is in his craft at this age, a sort of American Terrence Stamp, beautiful to gaze upon, neurotic, mannered, and riveting. The constant looks off. The savoring of subtext over relating. The physical animation. The rashness. The inherent comic sense. The quirky timing. And the sense that he has spent a lot of time looking at himself in the mirror. He actually plays Cyrano de Bergerac before our very eyes in such a funny high fustian style that it is hard to believe it is the same actor whom we see playing Oscar Wilde’s Jack and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Stanley. The whole crew have caught the dear absurdity of amateur theatrics, the aliveness and excitement of performing. I have known actors like Walken’s character, brilliant nerds whose acting skills are world class and yet you have to drag them to the tryouts, and no one will ever know of them but their own small communities. The film is a tribute to actors of all ranges and regions — light, unforced, and endearingly awkward.


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