The Understudy


Sluggishly paced and markedly uneven, David Conolly and Hannah Davis’s belatedly released 2008 film The Understudy seems at times to aspire to being an edgy look at the transgressions a would-be Broadway star will commit to land the big role. Other times, it seems unsure of what it wants to be at all. Starring Marin Ireland in the title role as Rebecca, a struggling actress who lands a role assisting a movie star in an Off-Broadway production of Electra, the film follows her character’s ups and downs as she moves from glorified gofer to strutting and fretting her all-too-brief moments upon the stage. The latter opportunities arise because the play’s leads keep meeting with “accidents” in which Rebecca’s levels of culpability remain somewhat ambiguous. This uncertainty, though, rather than providing productive tension, is instead emblematic of the film’s own confusion, refusing to commit to being either a character-based ethical drama or a wicked showbiz satire. As such, long stretches of tepid plotting unfold in which the unconvincing Ireland looks at sea, even as the filmmakers attempt to paper over the difference with a gallery of stereotyped supporting players, ranging from an intractable diva to a family-values-obsessed firefighter. Andrew Schenker