Sunday, December 02, 2007

Pittsburgh: Grade D

Pittsburgh (2006)
Jeff Goldblum, Illeana Douglas, Ed Begley, Jr. Directors Chris Bradley and
Kyle LaBrache

Jeff Goldblum plays himself turning down a $4 million movie deal to star in a local 2-week production of Music Man in his home town of Pittsburgh. Why does he do it? His young fiancé is Canadian, needs a green card and by getting her a part in the musical she somehow qualifies for that. Goldblum recruits his friends Douglas and Begley into the project as well. The show takes place, is ostensibly successful; The End.

This is not a “mockumentary” as advertised, because it does not mock anything. It pretends to show a particular episode in Goldblum’s life, but it is only mildly satiric. It presents superstar Goldblum as just an ordinary guy. He must audition for the part like anyone else, and he works hard at rehearsal like the other local actors. He’s not very good at singing or dancing, or even acting, but he demonstrates that he is a good sport, ready to humble himself for the sake of the show. Is that funny? It could have been, either by mocking amateur productions, or by making fun of The Body Snatchers, The Fly, Jurassic Park, and so on. But there's nothing.

The acting is improvisational, or at least made to look like it is, but Goldblum just seems uncomfortable and makes us uncomfortable by continuously generating “spontaneous” small talk, fiercely chewing gum behind the social tension. Maybe it is a masterful demonstration of how to act like you're not acting, but the result is not entertaining. The movie replaces Jeff Goldblum, the movie star with Jeff Goldblum, the ordinary and not very interesting guy. But I enjoy the movie star. I am not interested in a portrayal of how the actor eats his lunch.

There is a Pirandelloesque conflation of tabloid journalism and genuine moviemaking, wrapped in the context of a show within a show, so that’s a bit of a head trip. Another plus is that Illeana Douglas is completely charming; whether she really is, or just played that role, we can’t know. Since Goldblum was a producer for this perplexing movie, maybe it is all just an exercise in narcissism.

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