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After a series of Hollywood flops, famed director Harris Chappell returns to New York to relaunch his Broadway career. But Chappell's triumphant comeback begins to spiral out of control into a wild night of comic misadventure after meeting struggling actor Spencer and his old flame Didi.
For more about Meeting Spencer and the Meeting Spencer Blu-ray release, see Meeting Spencer Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on April 27, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jeffrey Tambor, Jesse Plemons, Don Stark
Director: Malcolm Mowbray
» See full cast & crew
Meeting Spencer Blu-ray Review
Dinner and not much of a show.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, April 27, 2012
I miss Arrested Development. I can't wait for the triumphant season four Netflix-exclusive return--and the subsequent movie--reuniting the dysfunctional Bluth family and a gang of actors who feel like they belong together. Since the show was cancelled in 2006, many of its principals have gone on to even more visible roles; Jason Bateman restarted his film career, Will Arnett is on Up All Night, and Michael Cera is, well, Michael Cera. Jeffery Tambor, however--the renowned character actor behind George Bluth and his pot-addled twin brother, Oscar--has, as usual, flown quietly under the pop culture radar. He has a voice acting gig on FX's brilliant animated series Archer, and he's shown up in bit parts in a number of films, but he's never been much of a leading man. And while indie comedy Meeting Spencer gives him a shot, setting him up as the star around which its ensemble cast orbits, the movie--a chatty Broadway-insider farce--stumbles for reasons completely unrelated to Tambor. Taking place almost entirely inside Frankie & Johnnie's, New York's venerable Theatre District eatery, the film is essentially a single-setting chamber play, one that would probably work a lot better on the stage.
Tambor plays failed director Harris Chappell, a one-time Broadway legend who struck out in Hollywood and has just returned to Midtown West with his tail tucked between his legs. Hoping to salvage his career, he's attempting to mount a production of "the biggest, most serious American drama since Tennessee Williams." The play, The Life and Times of Jackson Sweetwater, a tale of turn-of-the-century Pennsylvania coalminers, was the final work of a recently deceased master playwright, and the town is buzzing with whispery excitement about what Chappell might do with the piece. But first he has to get funding, which is easier said than done.
His actress friend Didi Ravenal (Melinda McGraw) has set up a dinner date at Frankie & Johnnie's, and she's bringing along her boyfriend, Emerson Todd (Julian Bailey), an internet mogul who founded short.com--a "dating website for short people"--and who may be willing to bankroll the play. Also invited is Spencer West (Jessie Plemons), a green actor who's only getting face-time with Chappell because the director owes the kid's dad a massive favor. But these are just the main players; Meeting Spencer features a menagerie of theatre-types, from the self-absorbed to the painfully naive.
There's casting maven Nancy Diamond (Caroline Aaron), who curiously eyes Chappell's table from across the room, and coat-girl/wannabe-actress Sophia Martinelli (Yvonne Zima), wide-eyed at the steakhouse's bigwig Broadway patrons. Aggressive New York Post columnist Nikki Ross (Jill Marie Jones) will do almost anything to get a scoop--even infiltrating the men's room--and rumored leading man Laurence Lind (William Morgan Sheppard), a demanding kook who arrives at the restaurant in ridiculous disguise, threatens to pull out of the project unless Chappell inserts "several low-key, dignified gay coal miners" into the script. The harried director has no choice but to acquiesce.
Endless martinis are tippled, massive steaks are consumed, and over the course of the evening, Chappell's well-laid plans for the play are battered about by madcap miscommunications and outright frauds. English director Malcolm Mowbray--who hasn't done much since his 1984 cult comedy A Private Function--wants the film's spitfire dialogue and behind-the-scenes wheelings and dealings to show how deliciously absurd and insular the theatre world is, but Meeting Spencer is disappointingly stale. You get the sense that the three screenwriters--Andrew Cole, Andrew Delaplaine, and Scott Kasdin--were primarily inspired by the wordy screwball comedies of the 1930s, the stuff of Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder. That's a forgotten genre I definitely wouldn't mind seeing revived, but these folks aren't the ones to do it. The problem here is that the dialogue isn't nearly as witty as it thinks it is, and the jokes by and large fizzle. Take, for instance, Chappell's description of the promiscuous, man-crazy Didi: "She's got more oats in her than a Quaker." Crickets. That's all I hear.
The film isn't without it's moments--like when Spencer turns out to be genuinely talented, hopping behind the bar's piano and wowing the diners with a jazzy tune--but the energy flags early and rarely picks up. As with all movies confined to a single location, the challenge is to keep it interesting, visually and otherwise, and Meeting Spencer struggles to keep us involved. Mowbray's direction is personality-free, and the soundstage recreation of Frankie & Johnnie's looks cheap and unconvincing. (The flatly lit cinematography doesn't help either.) Likewise, the performances are bland, with two exceptions. Jessie Plemons, of NBC's Friday Night Lights, has a kind of dry amusement at the evening's events--he's fun to watch--and Jeffrey Tambor offers up his always welcome mix of disgusted disbelief and harried scheming. He's essentially playing George Bluth, but that just makes you wish you were watching the Arrested Development movie instead.
Meeting Spencer Blu-ray, Video Quality
Kino-Lorber brings Meeting Spencer to Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that looks okay from a distance, but pretty grubby when viewed up close or on a bigger screen. This mostly has to due with the way the film was shot. Whatever film stock the DP used, it's extremely chunky; the image has an almost 16mm look, although I believe the movie was shot on 35mm. This is aggravated by a good deal of chroma noise in the shadows--bluish specks that give darker areas of the frame a harsh, buzzy quality. Consequently, there's not a lot of truly fine detail in the picture. It's always obvious that you're looking at an image that was transferred in high definition, but most shots are on the fuzzy side, with indistinct textures and lines that aren't exactly crisp. Color fares better, but not by much. Looking at the picture, with no knowledge of when the film was made, I might've thought Meeting Spencer was filmed in the early 1990s--it has this slightly drab, lifeless quality that, for some reason, I associate with a lot of low-budget movies from that era. Black levels are deep enough, and contrast is decent, but the noise in the shadows kills it. A watchable image, overall, if never particularly aesthetically pleasing.
Meeting Spencer Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Better is the film's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, which is cleanly recorded and dynamically sound. This is a fairly quiet, dialogue-driven movie, for the most part, so I was surprised by the amount of attention put into creating a lively, immersive mix. When the film opens, blustery winter wind blows through the surrounds channels as Chappell makes his way to the restaurant, and once inside, we consistently hear a background patter of voices and silverware and clinking glasses. I can't say I felt like I was sitting right in the middle of Frankie & Johnnie's--the audio isn't that convincing--but I definitely appreciated the added ambience. The minimal score and incidental music sound good too, especially when Spencer performs his number on the piano. The characters' conversations, as you'd hope, are always clear, crackle-free, and easily understood. My only complaint, as usual with Kino releases, is that there are no subtitle options for those who might need or want them.
Meeting Spencer Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The disc's slim supplements include a high definition theatrical trailer, a stills gallery, and an "Also Available from Kino-Lorber" section with standard def trailers for Winnebago Man and Modus Operandi.
Meeting Spencer Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I didn't get much out of Meeting Spencer. What wants to be a clever inside-showbiz farce doesn't quite have the wit or comedic energy to pull it off. Honestly, it just made me pine for the return of George Bluth and the rest of the Arrested Development crew. The film might find a niche audience among theatre-geeks and Broadway nerds, but I kinda doubt it. The Blu-ray is bit of a disappointment too, with a gritty-looking transfer and no supplements to speak of. If you must see it, this is a rental, not a purchase.
Meeting Spencer Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Meeting Spencer Blu-ray - January 2, 2012
Independent distributors Kino Lorber have revealed that they are planning to release on Blu-ray director Malcolm Mowbray's comedy Meeting Spencer (2010), starring Jeffrey Tambor (The Hangover), Melinda McGraw (Skateland), and Jesse Plemons (Observe and Report). ...
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