Meeting Spencer: Film Review

This painfully unfunny comedy set in the theater world is no All About Eve.

This effort from British director Malcom Mowbray is a distinct step down from his minor classic "A Private Function."

NEW YORK -- Meeting Spencer is a Broadway-themed comedy purporting to take place in the present day but would have seemed out of date in the ‘40s. Starring Jeffrey Tambor as a theater director desperate to make a comeback, this effort from British director Malcolm Mowbray is a distinct step down from his minor classic A Private Function.

Adding to the stagy artificiality of the proceedings is the fact that it all takes place in a single location, the real-life theater district restaurant Frankie & Johnnie’s (replicated on a soundstage).

The plot concerns stage director Harris Chappell’s (Tambor) return to New York after an ill-fated foray in Hollywood. He hopes for a comeback with a new play by a recently deceased famous playwright that he’s convinced is a sure-fire hit, except the financing falls apart at the last minute.

His old flame Didi (Melinda McGraw), an actress scheduled for a leading role in the production, assures him that she knows a young dot-com millionaire who will come to the rescue. During a chaotic dinner in which copious drinks are consumed, the pair meets both with the prospective investor and a struggling young actor, Spencer (Jesse Plemons), whom Harris inexplicably attempts to woo for the starring role.

A variety of colorful theater-world types pops up along the way, including a rapacious New York Post columnist (Jill Marie Jones) with whom Harris once had a brief fling and who is now angling for a hot scoop.

The screenplay by Andrew Kole, Andrew Delaplaine and Scott Kasdin aims for a screwball comedy-style sophistication, but falls woefully flat. In an apparent homage to Howard Hawks’ trademark rapid-fire dialogue, director Mowbray has the actors deliver their lines in fast and furious fashion, with the result that many of them are barely discernible. Judging by the ones that are intelligible, this is not any great loss.

Tambor, in a rare big-screen leading role, displays his usual expert comedic flair, investing his character with a barely controlled aggressiveness that scores the film’s only laughs. The supporting players are either nondescript or overact to the point of exhaustion, although Plemons (TV’s Friday Night Lights) displays an engagingly goofy screen presence and a fine singing voice to boot.

Opens April 8 (Paladin)
George G. Braunstein Productions
Cast: Jeffrey Tambor, Melinda McGraw, Jesse Plemons, Yvonne Zima, William Morgan Sheppard, Mark Harelik, Jill Marie Jones, Markus Flanagan, Julian Bailey, Caroline Aaron, Ralph Martin
Director: Malcolm Mowbray
Screenwriters: Andrew Kole, Andrew Delaplaine, Scott Kasdin
Producer: George Braunstein
Executive producers: Chien Ya Chin
Director of photography: Paula Huidobro
Production designer: Bradd Fillmann
Music: Stephen Coates
Costume designer: Oneita Parker
Editor: John Travers
Rated R, 86 minutes