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Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Master Builder (2014)

An aging architect (Wallace Shawn) is visited by a young girl (Lisa Joyce) who he met 10 years earlier. She sees him as a sort of modern day Viking god and challenges him to keep the promise he made to her as a child. Can the middle aged egoist live up to her fantasies or will she be disillusioned? Directed by Jonathan Demme (who died this week) and based on the great Henrik Ibsen play THE MASTER BUILDER, here adapted for the screen from his staged adaptation by Shawn. The film uses a framing device filmed in the 1.85 aspect ratio not in Ibsen's original play while the play itself is filmed in the wide screen 2.35 ratio. Shawn's adaptation is excellent and Demme, aided by his cinematographer Declan Quinn (LEAVING LAS VEGAS), arranges an imperative tone to the proceedings. But the film is not without some major problems. I've never seen a movie with so much fake laughter, a kind of nervous laughter that is so overused to the point of distraction. But the main problem is the casting of Shawn. All three of the female protagonists (Julie Hagerty and Emily Cass McDonnell are the other two) are besotted with him. It's not that Shawn's dumpy looks aren't exactly that of a chick magnet but that he's rather bland in leading roles without the compelling presence that would make you understand why the women are all obsessed with him! Also, his performance as well as Lisa Joyce's play to the balcony and make no concession that they are in a film, not on the stage. Even if you accept that it's essentially filmed theater, it's jarring. The best performance comes from Hagerty as the wife who scales down her performance which only makes the overacting of the rest of the company obvious. With Andre Gregory, Larry Pine and Jeff Biehl.

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