Vanya on 42nd Street (1994)

Vanya on 42nd Street
Director: Louis Malle
Writer: Andre Gregory
Based on: David Mamet‘s adaptation of Anton Chekhov‘s play Uncle Vanya
Cast: Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, Larry Pine, Brooke Smith, Lynn Cohen, George Gaynes, Phoebe Brand, Jerry Mayer
Seen on: 13.1.2019

In a run-down theater on 42nd street, a group of actors come together to rehearse their take on Uncle Vanya. In the play, Vanya (Wallace Shawn) is the caretaker of Serybryakov’s (George Gaynes) estate and used to be his brother-in-law. Now Serybryakov returns to the estate in the countryside with his new, much younger wife Yelena (Julianne Moore), upsetting the balance that was achieved in his absence.

Vanya on 42nd Street is a very minimalist film. It feels a bit like an experiment of how far you can boil things down. Unfortunately, the film cut away too much – in the end, my interest was reduced away, too.

The film poster showing Yelena's (Julianne Moore) facen, and much smaller Vanya (Wallace Shawn) and Andre Gregory in front of the theater.

Given that the movie is a film about a theater rehearsal, it is rather meta in its approach. But it doesn’t seem very interested in that part. After so clearly establishing the fact that this is the last rehearsal, it seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity. This could have been used to get more out of the story.

But instead the film goes the other way and tries to do less, to get to the bones of it. That means that even the cinematography is very static, barely acknowledging that there are other possibilities for film to watch something than for somebody in the audience of a play. I can see the intent there very clearly, but unfortunately the result for me was that I felt incredibly bored.

The actors at rehearsal.

That being said, having read neither, I am confident now that Uncle Vanya is a very good, albeit depressing play and that Mamet’s translation must be fantastic. The dialogues certainly sparkled, especially in the hands of the wonderful cast.

I think I would have liked the play the actors were rehearsing for here. But as a film, it just didn’t work for me. I wish it had.

The dilapitated stage setting.

Summarizing: too bare for me.

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