Starring Christopher Plummer, John Plumpis. Directed by Erik Canuel. (2011, 84 min).
Christopher Plummer has been around so long that his face and voice are instantly recognizable, yet we still take him for granted. In movies, he has seldom been the 'star' of the show, but often gives the most memorable performance. He's always been widely respected, but never mentioned among the great character actors; it was nice to see him finally nab an Oscar a few years ago at the age of 82 (making him the oldest actor ever to win the award).
So it's kinda cool to see Plummer unleashed in Barrymore, where he is literally the entire show. Based on the one-man stage play (in which he also starred), he plays John Barrymore, the once-highly respected stage and silent film actor whose alcoholism all-but destroyed his career. Here, he's on a nearly-empty stage, rehearsing in hopes of making a comeback with a revival of his most-revered role, Richard III. Years of hard living and self-abuse make this easier said than done; in between struggling to remember lines which once came naturally, Barrymore recalls the events, anecdotes and people which shaped his life and career, sometimes humorously, but often with unspoken remorse.
As an actor's showcase, Barrymore is excellent. Plummer is terrific in the role he first created for the stage. It's nice to see someone so respected-yet-marginalized can successfully carry the entire weight of a film on his shoulders. In fact, he's the sole reason the film is worth seeing, because Barrymore isn't so much a traditional movie as it is a filmed version of the play.
Plays and movies are two entirely different mediums. What works on a stage doesn't always effectively translate to film. Here, sometimes the camera is a little intrusive, making everything seem somewhat smaller. One-man shows like this do not necessarily benefit from the use of multiple cameras and choreographed shots.
Still, Barrymore is worth checking out for Plummer's performance alone. It is immediately obvious he's one of our greatest living actors, and given the chance, he can shine without any help from a supporting cast. His portrayal of John Barrymore is on par with Hal Holbrook's legendary Mark Twain shows. But I think I'd much prefer to see something like this live.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Backstage with Barrymore
(out of 5)
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