Bad Actress Reviews
There's a fine line distinction between comedy and farce. Comedy is the broader term. Comedy defines an entire genre of humorous stories. On the other hand, farce is a very particular brand - a very particular beast, if you will - within the entire world of comedy, a subgenre of the main animal. What distinguishes farce from comedy? Generally speaking, comedy relies heavily on cleverly timed punch lines, one right after the other; farce - in its truest form - relies heavily on maintaining the comic pace of the entire piece. Comedy delivered poorly isn't funny, and farce delivered without the proper sense of timing isn't comic; rather, it's dull. I've heard it said that comedy is clever dialogue while farce is frenziedly verbal calamity - simple humor versus sheer unbridled, nonstop lunacy - and that's a sentiment I strongly agree with.
That said, BAD ACTRESS isn't a 'bad' film at all. Its writing is clever, just not consistently winning. Its lunacy is endearing, just not consistently memorable. Its cast is impressive, just not consistently remarkable in the way that elevates farce to its perfect formula. In total, BAD ACTRESS is modestly entertaining (consistently), modestly performed (consistently), and hits far more comic marks than it misses (consistently).
Alyssa Rampart-Pillage (played by Beth Broderick) has sadly watched her acting career disappear into its past glory. Left with nothing more than work in television commercials for her husband Bernie's (played by Chris Mulkey) appliance stores, she's yearning for her next big challenge. When an odd twist of fate leads Bernie to secretly plan to give away what's left of the family estate to the next feel-good Hollywood religion, Alyssa realizes her husband's outlived his particular usefulness. Her plan to bump him off succeeds ... and reignites her career in ways she never dreamed!
Clearly, BAD ACTRESS's premise falls much more closely into the category of 'farce' than it does 'mainstream comedy' (though one might argue that it flirts with the concept of a 'dark comedy'), and there are many additional elements here to support that conclusion. Every facet of Alyssa's existence is open to lampooning - including how she's raised her three children (Topanga, Rebecca, and Russell) into their lifestyles of the rich, famous, and shameless. The fact that Corbin Bernsen plays himself in a never-ending gag involving family tragedies clearly underscores that the film was never meant to be embraced as a cookie-cutter comedy. It openly engaged in mocking this world and the people who inhabit it, as simple a definition of farce as there possibly exists.
Therein lay my chief (and only) complaint with BAD: no one acted B-I-G enough. Farce usually brings with it the characteristic over-acting. Emotions are bigger than in the basic comedy picture, and the players need to show far more range - the highs and the lows - in order to bring the material to its greatest potential. Here, too many actors took the safe route, nearly deadpanning the material that could've been played much bigger. Had they played it bigger, embracing even more heroic levels of comic insanity, the film quite probably would've found a bigger audience. That's the plus of comedy, though: playing it small, it still works ... just not in the way the writer quite possibly intended. The only two folks here who came close were Whitney Able and Ryan Hansen, as the spoiled rich kids Rebecca and Russell Pillage, respectively.
The film's narrative, however, struggles to maintain focus in the final third of the story, when siblings Rebecca and Russell take center stage as they try to unravel the 'mystery' surrounding their father's murder. When they realize that all signs point to dear ol' mom, they become a hapless brother/sister detective team scheming to trick mom into confessing her guilt. During the first two-thirds of the picture, nearly every scene includes Ms. Broderick as the 'bad actress' herself. The obvious shift in focus from one main character to two minor ones threw me off a bit, and I wonder if the entire product may've been better served had these spoiled siblings been center stage more of the time. Dare I say ... would that have been another slight to the film's 'bad actress'? Snicker snicker snicker ...
Throughout it all, BAD ACTRESS remains enjoyable. It's witty in all the right places. It's no surprise that Ms. Broderick won 'Best Actress in a Comedy' for the New York International Film Festival. Also, it's no surprise that the film served as an 'Official Selection' to both the Miami International Film Festival and the Cleveland International Film Festival. It's a nice li'l gem of a film that should find a solid shelf-life on DVD. Sure, it could've been so much more, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying this humorous twist on family, fame, murder, and vengeance just as it is.
The video presentation is crisp, soft in a few places, though there are a few laughable special effects (deliberate, I might add) involving the ghost of Topanga Pillage. Sound levels remain consistent throughout the motion picture. The disk could've easily been enhanced with a few special features; I would've loved to have seen a blooper reel or a commentary track or even a handful of short interviews with the obviously talented cast ... but, alas, methinks it wasn't meant to be.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Strand Releasing provided me with a DVD screener copy by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.