Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Living It Up At The Hotel California

A Movie Review

Last night I started doing some research for a script I'll be writing for a screenplay class. The story I have in mind might contain a sequence involving a high school play and I wanted to select a light comedy that I could barrow some lines from. Now when I think of 'high school play' I typically think of adapted Shakespeare or Neil Simon. So as part of my research I checked out from the BSU library a copy of Simons California Suit, which I selected because I knew it had a large cast. It turns out that Suit, though rated PG, is not quite appropriate for a high school performance though it is however decent Simon.

California suit is a late 70's comedy/drama with a large and talented cast and plenty of witty banter. The film is basically four little plays, two primarily drama and two primarily comedy, linked together by their various players staying at the same Beverly Hills Hotel. Jane Fonda is Hannah Warren a shrill but ultimately sympathetic liberal feminist who has come from New York to visit with her long estranged husband over the matter of their daughters custody. Alan Alda is the estranged husband Bill, a professional screen writer and sensitive man of the 70's. The two bicker wittely but eventually decide on the right course for their daughter, wherein she will spend half the year in California with him and the other half in New York with her.

Maggie Smith (you know her as Mrs. McGonagall in the Harry Potter movies) is Diana Barrie, a veteran London stage actress visiting Los Angles after having finally been nominated for an Academy Award. However Dianas nomination is for a lead role in a silly romantic comedy (opposite James Coburn) which she hated making and for which she is considered unlikely to win. Michael Cain is Sidney Cochran, a former actor and now antique dealer who is Dianas husband. The film slowly revels that Sidney is a bisexual and that while he loves his wife 'in his way' sleeps around fairly frequently. Diana non-the less is deeply in love with him and somehow the marriage seems to work for them. Maggie Smith ironically did win a best supporting actress Oscar for this role.

Walter Matthau is Marvin Michaels in from Philadelphia for his nephews bar mitzpha (sp). Herb Edelman is Marvins sex-obsessed brother Harry Michaels who hires a prostitute for his brother who unwisely indulges after having been plasterd with alcohol. Things get even more complicated for Marvin when his wife (Elaine May) arrives at the hotel the next day and Marvin can not awaken the hooker who has passed-out after having drunk an entire bottle of tequila herself. Perhaps only Matthau could pull off this material this well, though the actress playing his wife also does an excellent job. Finally Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor are two Chicago doctors on a vacation with their wives in which everything goes wrong, leading perhaps inevitably to a lot of physical comedy.

California Suite works when perhaps it shouldn't and unlike many films of this type doesn't try to force its stories to connect. A likeable movie that displays both Simons and director Herbert Ross's ability to deal with a variety of situations on screen. If made today this movie would probably be less restrained and rated R, but like much of Billy Wilders 1960's work retains an old school charm that makes the seemingly unacceptable almost pleasant.


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