Lady Chatterley is a trés long but very rewarding French adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence afternoon-delight classic, and it helps that it’s done in a sensual, naturalistic style, without a lot of fake settings and corny music. (The sex encounters aren’t all that hot, but that’s probably realistic too.) There’s a lot of memorable stuff in this tale of a grande dame opening her pottery barn up to a gardener of earthly delights. The flowers-in-the-vagina scene alone—where the gardener puts tiny petals into her various orifices (and no, they don’t get sucked in)—should become immortal, along with Lady C’s droll postcoital line, “How curious. It’s tiny now!”
At a reception for the film, director PASCALE FERRAN told me why she became aroused by the throbbing yet familiar material. “When I read the book,” she said, “I felt it was told to me for the very first time. That’s the sensation I wanted to convey.” The result not only didn’t cause a single ripple of controversy in France, it won five César awards and was seen by everyone from young people in diapers to old people in diapers. (There’s no rating system there; I guess there are also no Republicans.)
How did she prevent the actors from being self-conscious? “Before we started shooting, we rehearsed in order to release inhibitions,” Ferran informed me. “We’d look at the undergarments—garter belts and panties—and try to get used to them.” I find that actually wearing them does the trick as well.
Female parts filled the screen again with the RICKI LAKE–starring documentary The Business of Being Born, which reportedly got a standing ovation at the Tribeca Film Festival. “Shouldn’t it have been a lying-down ovation?” I asked Ricki at the after-party. “A spreading ovation,” she said, wryly.
A sitting ovation greeted us theater critics and such who participated in Project Shaw’s reading of Androcles and the Lion at the Players Club. (I stretched my craft as a pissy Roman screaming at the Christians.) The sellout crowd had come to see us fail and were mortified that, to quote SIMON COWELL about SANJAYA, we were not horrible. Afterwards, celebrity drop-in BRUCE VILANCH deadpanned to me, “The audience came alive when MICHAEL RIEDEL
was killed.” Even better, Vilanch favored me with his latest joke: “I read an obit that said Don Ho was survived by his wife Grace, his nephew David, and a distant relation, Nappy-Headed.”
A few nights later, the tireless comic started guesting in Off-Broadway’s Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell, and at that after party, co-star HAZELLE GOODMAN assured me that Spalding’s work is gloriously universal, then got down to a more pressing issue: “How can I become more famous?” After a few more mozzarella snacks, I was convinced that she should go after one of the many jobs currently available on The View. As far as I’m concerned, she should have all of them.
The musical version of Legally Blonde might not exactly be gloriously universal, but it’s definitely a big ball of pink cotton candy—seemingly forgettable until you realize some of it is still stuck to your teeth. It starts with a burst of campy fun and continues to hold you, the design and performers compensating for the mostly bland pop-rock tunes. (Some deft BRITNEY and JUSTIN parodies would have been, ohmygod, perfection.) Then with Act Two, the underlying hollowness becomes more apparent, though the Riverdance spoof is almost as funny as the serious version of it in The Pirate Queen, and the bulldog is even cuter than the chihuahua. Overall, it’s a mixed fake-Chanel bag—and by the way, it was fun seeing it with a crowd of jaded critics and shrieking teenage girls.
Well-accessorized theater types swarmed the annual Easter Bonnet Competition at the Minskoff—a witty revue that filled snazzy hats with cash for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The grand prize went to Journey’s End, which gamely satirized its enormous unpopularity with audiences despite rave reviews. “How do you get people to see a straight play with straight actors?” lamented one of the revival’s leads. “We have no TV stars, no razzle-dazzle . . . and no audience.” This launched the cast into a medley of Four Seasons songs in which they called themselves Journey Boys and sang about the horrors of trying to peddle a WWI melodrama to tourists. And they ended it with a great chapeau!
Also amazing were the cast of In the Heights doing a rap version of “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Motherfuckin’ Roof, and the Company gang acting out a Chorus Line spoof about instrument-wielding actors trying to get a part from JOHN DOYLE. The show ended with guest co-host VANESSA REDGRAVE bizarrely twirling around, as if remembering her star turn in Isadora. “What are you doing?” asked DAVID HYDE PIERCE, his mouth shaped like a question mark. “I’m fulfilling a dream,” she said, glowing. “I’ve always wanted to dance on Broadway!” A fabulous moment—especially since in that JOAN DIDION play, she barely even gets to stand.
An even sadder exploration of life and death issues—this may be my worst segue ever—is the
SARAH POLLEY–directed Away from Her, based on ALICE MUNRO‘s short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain. The quiet, moving film has a Canadian marriage shattering when the wife develops Alzheimer’s and winds up in a nursing home, where she forgets her husband and focuses instead on a mute male patient. Party! “This will have them lining up at the mall, right?” I asked Polley over lunch at the Mercer Kitchen. “I don’t know if we’re getting the spillover from
Spider-Man 3,” she replied, laughing.
Polley is the Canadian actor (The Sweet Hereafter) and director (she’s done five shorts) who’s skeptical of fame and would rather do the kind of movies she’d like to see, regardless of what color jelly beans you get in your trailer. In fact, she backed out of the lead in Almost Famous and as a result is almost famous.
Can she live with her image as an integrity-laden firebrand? (I know I could.) “There are worse ways to be interpreted, so that image is fine with me,” she told me, calmly. “But I don’t actually think I am particularly firebrandy or rebellious. I feel like I have normal human responses to things that maybe other people have learned not to have.”
Was turning down Almost Famous a normal response? “I was interested in independent film at the time,” she said. “And it was hard for me to make a hero out of someone who was following around a rock band.” Even with lettuce and mayonnaise. Most of all, she didn’t crave the attending hoopla of mainstream stardom. “I didn’t want the kind of life whoever played that part was going to have,” she admitted. “It was my worst nightmare.” “But you’d be dating OWEN WILSON right now!” I shrieked. “If I have any regrets, that’s it,” she said, cracking up.
Even with the electric shock and the stomach-pumping, Almost Famous would have easily been one of her lighter films. Away From Her is so far from Legally Blonde that, as Polley admitted, some incorrect joking on the set was required to elevate the mood. (They must have all gathered ’round and sang “Try to Remember.”) “I find on the saddest films it’s the most fun atmosphere,” she told me. Well, it must have been a regular riot on The Secret Life of Words, in which Polley’s deaf factory-worker character helped care for a blind burn victim. (Maybe they should have both visited the mute male patient.)
Upping the joie this time was getting legendary JULIE CHRISTIE to play the ailing wife, which she does with typical grace and class. “It’s great to be in love with the person who’s the lead of your film,” said Polley—who’s delectable, by the way. Alas, at their first meeting, Christie looked way too young and gorgeous, so they jazzed her down to make her look a little older and gorgeous.
Speaking of jazzing down: I just looked in a mirror. How curious. It’s tiny now! (Wait, that’s my worst segue ever.)