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Love! Valour! Compassion!: Chess
photo: IFC Films

Disregarding that hallowed artistic amendment known as "the Woody and Mia clause," Los Angeles TV producer Michael Pressman decides, in a fit of creative anxiety, to direct his own wife (Lisa Chess) in a self-financed, equity-waiver production of Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune—a two-character tryst play that begins with mutual orgasm and ends with mutual enlightenment. Plagues immediately descend: The lead actor, played with hilarious Method hostility by Alan Rosenberg, wants to fuck Pressman's wife ("She is a very sexy lady . . . are you OK with this?"), the pill-popping producer proves purposeless, and the skyrocketing budget nears $100,000. Yet Pressman pushes forward with impractical assurance, adopting the role of Johnny (as the title implies) and breathing new life into the drama, the marriage, and the film itself. It sounds like meta-schmaltz, but Pressman's modest production—a re-enactment of actual events—is less a vanity project than a love letter to his talented, unappreciated wife. Buoyed by self-deprecating cameos (David E. Kelley offers advice on maintaining a showbiz marriage), Frankie and Johnny Are Married successfully amalgamates Henry Jaglom's Hollywood-home-movie aesthetic, ego-skewering satire, and a measured understanding of the kinship between love and risk.


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