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Vanya on 42nd Street

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Vanya on 42nd Street

Starring: Andre Gregory, Wallace Shawn
Director: Louis Malle
Rated: PG
RunTime: 119 Minutes
Release Date: December 1994
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Julianne Moore, Brooke Smith, George Gaynes, Jerry Mayer, Phoebe Brand, Larry Pine, Madhur Jaffrey

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

VANYA ON 42ND STREET comes from a unique idea. Andre Gregory (from My Dinner With Andre fame) has for years been gathering actor and actress friends of his to do the Anton Chekhov play UNCLE VANYA for fun at an off-Broadway theater. They invite a dozen of their friends to watch it and they do the play, sans costumes, just for the sheer enjoyment of acting.

Louis Malle heard of this and decided to film and direct one of these gatherings. The play was updated (read modernized) by the great contemporary playwright, David Mamet. You may remember Mamet from many of his well written movies--my favorites being HOUSE OF GAMES (1987) and THINGS CHANGE (1988). His staccato style of terse, biting, and thought provoking dialog is unrivaled. (Okay, it is sort of like Harold Pinter, but Pinter is so depressing).

The show starts with the people coming slowly in off of 42nd Street to the old Shubert Theater which is mainly in ruins now. Andre Gregory has a small speaking role as the leader of the audience of a dozen friends. Out of no where the play begins. It is as if they had come to your old house and were putting on a play just for you in your living room.

In the play Uncle Vanya is played with great gusto by Wallace Shawn (the other person in MY DINNER WITH ANDRE). He is a Russian living at the family's country estate with his niece (Brooke Smith) who is madly in love with the country doctor (Larry Pine) who visits almost every day. Sad to say the love is not mutual. Also on the estate is the niece's Father--a professor and his new wife, Yelena (beautifully played by Jullianne Moore as a classic flirt). There are several other actors and actresses with important parts in the play. All did a wonderful job, but for me it was Shawn and Moore that really stood out as giving terrific performances.

In the play, Vanya is very sad because he has worked hard all of his life, and he thinks that at the age of 47 he is now too old to be of interest to women. (47--imagine that!) He is head over heels in love with the professor's wife--his sister having died before the play starts and the professor having married Yelena. Yelena flirts intensively with Vanya. Watch the camera angles which intensifies their close face-to-face flirting. It turns out however that Yelena indeed does not find Vanya at all attractive--just as he feared.

Yelena, on the other hand, confides in a great woman-to-woman talk fest with her stepsister that she thought she loved the professor when she married him but now realizes that she did not love him then and certainly does not love him now, and yet, she can not leave him. She confesses that she is terribly unhappy with her life.

The play is one great scene after another. I do not remember the original UNCLE VANYA so I can not say for sure how much Mamet modified it, but I suspect a fair amount. Whatever. I found the dialog fairly perfect as presented in this movie.

Copyright 1994 Steve Rhodes

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