Vanya on 42nd Street
Directed by Louis Malle
Starring: Julianne Moore, Brooke Smith, Wallace Shawn, Larry Pine, George Gaynes, Lynn Cohen
Grade: A –
Having not seen the Chekhov play “Uncle Vanya,” I was going into this somewhat blindly, reassured by people who have seen it that watching Malle’s film, of a set of actors performing a stage rehearsal, doesn’t require any particular foreknowledge of the seminal Russian text. While “Vanya on 42nd Street” presents the material in a way which made me hanker for a viewing of it in all its theatrical glory, with actors dressed in forlorn period outfits rather than the leather jackets and light denim donned by New Yorkers in the mid-90s, I’m doubtful as to whether this particular ‘adaptation’ could be bested. Rather than marvel at the workmanship of a crew of filmmakers attempting to enliven the literary majesty of a complex story of domesticity and tentative familial bonds, perhaps it’s more valuable to absorb “Uncle Vanya” through Malle’s unpolished, semi-improvisational method, which demonstrates actors learning and developing their roles as they perform them, and which allows the different degrees of intimacy between the characters to emerge with clarity, and thrive.