Saturday Night -- Film Review



AUSTIN -- "Saturday Night" seems like such a natural idea for a documentary -- charting the week of writing and preparation that go into an episode of "Saturday Night Live" -- that it's hard to believe it hasn't been made before. James Franco got the idea after hosting the show in September 2008, and exec producer Lorne Michaels gave him the go-ahead to bring in cameras and record an entire week.

The doc should do well on the fest circuit, but will probably find the most success on DVD with "SNL" fans.

The show Franco captures was hosted by John Malkovich shortly before Christmas 2008. The doc does a fantastic job at illustrating the stress, work and long hours devoted to making something that's gone in 90 minutes. It's a riveting and often hilarious film, shedding a light on the creative process at "SNL" like nothing else.

The documentary is structured as simply as possible with title cards demarcating the different daily tasks for the cast and crew: Monday is pitch day, when everyone gathers with that week's host in Michaels' office to suggest sketches. The suggestions are alternately funny and lacking, and you get a sense right away of the dynamic at play when it comes to getting an idea out there.

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Much of the action of a given scene in the film is intercut with a cast member talking about their process or history with the show with stunning honesty, as when Will Forte says that the pitch meetings are "half bullshit" and that he has no idea what he'll suggest that week. (The sketch he winds up pitching makes it into the script but is cut after the dress rehearsal.)

Franco's smart to let the natural action of the creative process dictate the drama and humor. Though he's in several scenes as an interviewer, he's mostly content to let the cameras roll as writers bat around ideas, find good ones and get stuck on bad ones. Tuesday is writing day, with staffers working through the night to get their scripts in for the Wednesday table read. Their 50 submitted sketches are trimmed to nine.

Thursday and Friday are filled with rehearsals, construction and the filming of interstitials for certain sketches. Then it's dress rehearsal on Saturday night and a live show at 11:30 ET, and we're off to the races.

It's impossible to get a sense of the scope of the show's 35-year history in a 90-minute doc, but Franco covers some good ground by chatting with members about their comedy training and with a producer about how people invariably think the cast from their childhood years was the best. "SNL" is constantly in a state of reinvention. For instance, Casey Wilson, who has a prominent role in part of the doc, was axed more than a year ago. Yet "Saturday Night" is wonderful for the way it shows just how much of the work stays the same.

Venue: South by Southwest Festival

Production companies: Rabbit Bandini Prods.
Cast: John Malkovich, James Franco, Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis, Lorne Michaels, Will Forte, Bobby Moynihan, Steve Higgins, Andy Samberg, Kristen Wiig
Director: James Franco
Producers: Vince Jolivette
Director of photography: Pedro Gomez Milan
Editor: Ian Olds
No rating, 94 minutes