Jason Reitman's Live Reads have long since gained "event" status on the West Coast and occasionally here in Toronto. Last year's TIFF event, a live reading of American Beauty won so many raves that I knew I had to be there for the live read of Boogie Nights, another 90s classic and one much dearer to my heart. ... My crotch? Somehow Boogie Nights played much dirtier read aloud which got me to appreciate the unbelievable balancing act of the movie all the more. Somehow Mark Wahlberg's dumb sweetness, Julianne Moore's eager-beaver maternal warmth, Melora Walters and Don Cheadle's lost soul puppy love and the entire cast's totally committed work in Paul Thomas Anderson's classic elevate the material (already great to begin with of course) into something both stylized and authentic and totally endearing.
This time through without the visuals what I appreciated most was the comic glories of its dimwitted poetry. Like this from Dirk:
You don't know what I can do! You don't know what I can do, what I'm gonna do, or what I'm gonna be! I'm good! I have good things that you don't know about! I'm gonna be something! I am! And don't fucking tell me I'm not!
Or literal dimwitted poetry like this from Reed...
I love you, you love me | Going down the sugar tree | We'll go down the sugar tree, and see lots of bees: playing, playing | But the bees won't sting, because you love me
With the cold reading -- supposedly there's no rehearsal -- Jason Reitman and his cast threw all these things about the movie and its screenplay into sharp relief, though that's not quite a compliment or an insult. Without the warmth of the original cast and the visual pizazz of PT Anderson's work, we were left with only its shockingly blunt and funny matter-of-factness and the beauty of Anderson's screenplay which grafts so much fun character detail, dimbulb trains of thought, and era and milieu specific lingo onto what's essentially a rise and fall and get back up on your feet (or third leg) again narrative. Boogie Nights is practically a biopic in structure only the biography is of an industry instead of a person with a makeshift family standing in for the entire porn industry.
The execution of these live readings is simple. Reitman and his actors line up on a stage seated with the screenplays and read it. Behind them on a screen, stills from the film indicate which scene we're in though the stills are wisely all long shots or establishing shots so that you're not looking at, say, Julianne Moore while Olivia Wilde is reading for her (for which I'm sure Olivia is grateful because... unfair fight). Reitman is the narrator so he introduces the cast ("Jesse Eisenberg... your first Jewish Dirk Diggler") and reads the visual scripted bits. P.T. includes several technical details about shot choices in the script -- the most complex of which was that wonderful success montage and its group dance number but less so than I was expecting given the visual dynamism of his filmography.
I was seated straight across from Dakota Fanning and initially quite excited about it...
But as the evening played out Dakota looked increasingly bored. Rollergirl, as I was reminded, was more of a visual supporting star, a frequently mobile decoration, rather than a vocal one. Dakota seemed to have a lot more fun reading the lines of Cheryl, Dirk's hometown girl who helps him realize what his "one special thing" is.
In the end the live read was weirdly spotty, only really working magic during explicitly comic highlights from the film like Amber's terrible porn acting "this is a giant cock" (Olivia was mainly content to just mimic Julianne Moore's line readings but she handled that scene perfectly) and Dirk's recording session (Jesse Eisenberg got the night's biggest laugh with his rendition of "Feel the Heat". In fact it was glaringly obvious throughout the night who had the most experience in live performance. Eisenberg, a regular presence on the NY stage, Dane Cook (who played the Reed/John C Reilly role and the Maurice/Luis Guzman role) a stadium-size comedian, and Scott Thompson (as the Colonel and various characters) and Jason Sudeikis (who played Buck/Don Cheadle's role and various other parts) who both came to fame in improv comedy. These four men upped their game whenever the energy in the room was fading. Sudeikis, Cook, Thompson and Eisenberg were the evening's stars '... its big bright shining stars. That's right.'
Do you like the concept of a live read? Which films would you want to revisit this way? Give Reitman suggestions in the comments or recast his Boogie Nights live read with better actors than he chose.