' Cinema Romantico: The Company

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Company

(Important Note: I Netflixed this to kinda prep myself for "Black Swan" and though I saw "Black Swan" on Sunday I'm saving the review for this Friday because I want it to be an end of the week EVENT.  You will see why then.)

The late Robert Altman's 2003 film centered around Chicago's Joffrey Ballet is essentially plotless. There is nothing there - really, truly, if you are looking, there is nothing there. The film chronicles, what, a year, maybe more, maybe less, hard to say, in the presence of this particular ballet company and there is dancing, a whole heap of it, and a plethora of characters, most of whom are rather characterless, apart from the dancing, most of them being played by real life members of the Joffrey, and that's about it. When the final credits roll it resembles reading a book where you flip the final page over thinking there must be just one more page only to find, alas, there is not.

Ry, short for Ryan, is the main character, though it probably just feels this way because she is played by Neve Campbell and her name appears first in the credits (she also acts as producer). There is no great dramatic mountain for her or for The Company's director, perennial scarf-wearing Antonelli, played by Malcolm McDowell with just the right touch of jovial assholery, to scale. Any competitive inklings between dancers, any conflict between anyone, is kept out of focus and left for the audience to glean on its own.

Ry gets a boyfriend (James Franco) about midway through and he's a chef and their relationship seems, well, quite sweet actually, though it also seems to have no aim nor agenda. But is this necessarily a bad thing? Aren't a lot of real relationships like that? Consider the way Altman presents the initial seduction. It is Ry shooting a game of pool alone and Franco's Josh watching. They never talk. And then the film cuts to The Next Morning. It speaks to the movie's motives.

The film flows - quite gracefully - from preparation of the latest project to the project itself being performed, and nothing gets in the way of these performances. A particular dancer tears her ACL the afternoon before they are set to go on and this handled not merely matter-of-factly but entirely un-interestedly. She's hurt. She's done. Get her outta there. Plug in someone else. On with the show. It's like the NFL in ballet shoes, really. Cart her off the stage and back to it.

I'm sure all the dancing here is quite good (Campbell has trained with the National Ballet Of Canada) but I wouldn't really know. I can't speak to its quality. The big project with which the film concludes is titled "Blue Snake", pitched by a guy to whom Antonelli says, as he says to everyone, "I believe in you. No one else does. But I do." Riiiiiiiight.

One of the earlier dance numbers involves Ry and her partner and a duet done at the Pritzker Pavilion here in Chicago and as they begin a thunderstorm begins to ripple through the night and the audience murmurs and opens umbrellas and the curtains on the stage wave and the sheet music for the musicians threatens to blow away and Antonelli worries about standing water onstage and all the while Ry and her partner don't even seem aware of any of these extraneous elements. They are so locked in on the routine they have gone past it and the heart of "The Company" seems to be in there somewhere.  Everything is a build-up to the routine and then the routine happens and and then there's a brief release and then it's on to the next routine.  That's probably the whole plot at the Joffrey.

(Postscript:  The bowling alley briefly featured where James Franco slips and falls as he tries to bowl is Timber Lanes.  Yes, that Timber Lanes, the Timber Lanes that is five minutes from my house and where I have never not played Kylie Minogue on the jukebox and never not bowled less than 100.  I just thought I'd mention it.  It was kinda cool.)

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