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Vanya on 42nd Street Reviews

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John B

Super Reviewer

December 17, 2012
Should be seen in a theatre for the full appreciation. This is the most original telling of Uncle Vanya that I have seen. What we are seeing is a gripping theatre performance in an unmade set without costumes and with the pleasing sounds of New York in the background. It works!
Alec B

Super Reviewer

February 29, 2012
It strips Chekhov to its bare bones and its that simplicity of the production as well as the upfront acknowledgement of the artifice of this performance and the theatre in general that makes this work so well. I also like that Louis Malle just decided to film what the actors and Andre Gregory had put together over their extensive rehearsal and improvisation process without trying to transform it into something else, because whats there is pretty damn remarkable. Its some of the very best ensemble work I've ever seen.
Anastasia B

Super Reviewer

October 30, 2009
Amazing. Louis Malle makes a film about the love for the theater, and the love for the art, and the joy, the insight that it provides to life. All the cast is exemplary, but I think Brooke Smith is the revelation here. It takes a while to grow on you, but if you go past the first few slow minutes, you're about to experience a real journey into the heart of the thespian mystery.
Anthony V

Super Reviewer

June 27, 2008
Once it gets going, you forget there's no costumes or set.
jjb3332003
November 28, 2013
I tend not to like 16mm film; nor movies based on/about plays; nor dialogue-intensive ensemble casts. This had all three aspects.
terrym45
December 29, 2006
BEAUTIFUL...JUST BEAUTIFUL!!! Louis Malle's final film is, at it's most basic, a run through/ rehearsal of David Mamet's translation of Anton Chekhov's UNCLE VANYA under the direction of Andre Gregory. But this gorgeous film winds being SO much more than just a documentation of a performance/rehearsal of a play. It truly is an example of how beautiful art/life can be. (that may sound pretentious...but it's true!)You do not have to be a Chekhov fan (as I most certainly am!!!) to enjoy this valentine of a film. Wallace Shawn makes a PERFECT Vanya and Julianne Moore is luminous as Elena...the rest of the cast is equally remarkable as well!
March 10, 2014
Marketing made them display Julianne Moore on the cover but it shines the most by Brooke Smith. It doesnt reach the heights of ''My dinner with Andre'', the previous collaboration between Louis Malle, Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn but its definitely an original way to do Tchekhov, highlighting what is intemporal in it by setting it against the decay of a modern day gutted theater.
August 11, 2013
Remarkable meta-textual reading of Chekhov with an outstanding cast.
October 3, 2007
The performances are precise, the language is alive and well spoken and the setting is striking, but "Vanya on 42nd Street" still suffers from the limitations of filmed theater. It's a prestige item for the fest and arthouse circuit.
November 10, 2012
Remarkable film of a remarkable play. The pain of the story is neutralized by the delight of watching this top-flight cast playing off each other.
May 10, 2012
Excellent 'casual' film adaptation of Checkhov's play... The cast is outstanding. And the concept of the film as a rehearsal for the play (in a dilapidated 42nd Street theatre) is as painfully cool, sophisticated and unpretentious as its soundtrack by Joshua Redman.
February 27, 2012
I could and would understand the appeal of making a film with it's interesting and bizarre setting. But with the knowledge of knowing that the play we are watching isn't real, the disillusion of reality is completely destroyed by knowing that the characters are only actors acting.
Forrestw2rs
April 22, 2011
Vanya On 42nd Street tells Anton Checkov's Uncle Vanya in a very clear, precise, and simple way. The idea was to have everything be as simple and as clear-cut as possible. And in that way, it works. And this film has held up very well. I saw it over a year ago, but it's affecting me more now than it did then. This is fascinating.

Vanya On 42nd Street stars Wallace Shawn as the titular character. This is one of the very few serious (or even semi-serious) roles I've ever seen him in. And, I must say, he does a fantastic job. I cannot complain about his performance at all. I really wish this guy was doing more drama, actually. To be fair, I can see him being irritating to some people, but he is genuinely a very good actor. The audience can really get a sense of the inner struggles Vanya is going through in each scene and they can tell exactly the kinds of relationships that he has with each member of his family.

All in all, this is just an eloquently done film. That being said, I did have some problems with it. The biggest issue is that a lot of people are not going to be in love with this film solely because it is Checkov. The language isn't easy and the director doesn't make the story "alive" enough to hold the attention of some of the people I saw this with. People are either going to be really turned on and engaged with this story, or they're going to hate it. The reason for that distinction lies mostly with the nature of Checkov itself. There are a lot of relationships always going on and molding and the characters can be hard to keep track of if the audience isn't careful. And besides that, the plot itself unfolds in a very different way than a modern audience will be use to. Checkov believed that real life happened in small conversations and small decisions, so there's never any huge revelation or anything like that. The play's actions fold out in very much the same ways they would in life, and people are either going to love it or hate it. I really enjoyed that, especially now that I've had some time apart from the story.

Checkov works best for the older generations. They're the ones who seem to find the most connections to this work. And it sucks that this film has such a limited audience, but it is the way it is. So I would definitely not recommend this picture to my younger readers. But the older audiences--even twenties and up--ought to find this story quite meaningful.

Overall, it's a well-directed and well-acted picture. Wallace Shawn and Julianne Moore are great together and the director really handles the space well. Sometimes I forgot that this whole story is actually a play within a play. I forget that these are actors going through a routine rehearsal of the production. I just get caught up and lost in the story that takes place. It is a worthy film adaption of the play if the audience can really take it in. But it's not the easiest.
7/10
gillianren
October 11, 2006
I was probably [i]far[/i] too tired for this movie, but here we go anyway.

Every time someone kisses Wallace Shawn on the top of his head in this, I think they're doing it for luck, like rubbing the tummy of a Buddha. Every time he goes to kiss Julianne Moore, I think how creepy I would find it to be kissed by Wallace Shawn. Yuck!

I [i]like[/i] Wallace Shawn, of course. I think he does an outstanding job in this movie, and now I want even more to see [i]My Dinner With Andre[/i], but he's still, well, Vizzini. It doesn't matter that he's got, like, 100 things on his IMDB filmography. In my head, he's saying, "Inconceivable!"

I've never read Chekhov. I've meant to, gods know, but I haven't. As I've mentioned, my list of books to read never gets shorter, no matter how much I read. In fact, it's actually getting longer; I can't keep up. (Though I may, one of these days when I haven't watched a movie, do an entry on books I recommend that [i]haven't[/i] been made into movies.) I'll probably read [i]Uncle Vanya[/i] first. But until then, my primary mental association with Chekhov is [i]The Fifth Elephant[/i], where Ambassador Vimes runs full tilt into a farm owned by three Chekhovian characters; they give him the trousers that are the title of tonight's entry.

My personal theory of Russian literature is that Russian winters are long; they write long, intense works of literature and read long, intense works of literature. Everything I've read on the subject indicates that Chekhov fits squarely into this pattern.

Interestingly, two of the women in this movie have also appeared in films featuring the character of Hannibal Lecter. Julianne Moore, who does a wonderful turn here as Yelena, was Clarice in [i]Hannibal[/i], and Brooke Smith--the intense Sonya--was Catherine Martin, Buffalo Bill's attempted final victim in [i]Silence of the Lambs[/i]. It doesn't mean anything, of course; it's merely one of the odder quirks of casting.

Oh, someone tried to post three comments today that were strings of URL code that don't seem to show anything when posted. Anyone know what's up with that?
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