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« Beauty vs Beast: Rock Star Wars | Main | Podcast: Reflecting on the big show. Plus "Greta" »
Monday
Mar042019

Sunset Boulevard. Should we worry or rejoice?

by Nathaniel R

As you have no doubt heard, the 1993 stage musical Sunset Blvd., Andrew Lloyd Webber's adaptation of the film noir classic Sunset Boulevard (1950) now has a green light for the movies. The stage musical premiered in London in '93 with Patti LuPone in the lead role before a legally-fraught switcheroo to Glenn Close for its Broadway debut in '94. The musical would go on to win 7 Tonys (including Best Musical and Best Actress) and roughly ever since then (we're talking 25 years now!) there's been talking of adapting it back to the screen, its original home and subject matter. This wouldn't be the first time that's happened of course. The most recent example is Hairspray which proved a hit in all three incarnations: 1988 / 2002 / 2007.

This project has been talked about for years and now a sudden green light with shooting scheduled for October. Was it Glenn Close's year long comeback of sorts as she undoubtedly came close to winning that elusive Oscar that finally did it...

Or was it the success of so many movie musical comedies since the genre's comeback in the early Aughts? Or was it the blockbuster smashes of two music-heavy performance dramas this past year (ASIB and Bohemian)? Our guess is it's a happy fusion of those three timelines since Sunset Blvd is a dramatic musical rather than a musical comedy (the latter being easier to sell) and The Wife proved, at least on a miniature-scale, that you can still market a movie on Glenn Close's name alone and end up with a profitable theatrical run.  

Directing the movie version will be the Tony-winning choreographer Rob Ashford and herein lies our typical worry. Why does Hollywood keep assuming that famous stage talent know how to direct movie musicals? There have been a lot of qualitative misses so far when going this route (The Producers, Nine, Mamma Mia!,) . Movie musicals are notoriously difficult to get right and they keep going to relative newbies to the cinema instead of people who've proven to have a firm grasp of what makes a movie, rather than a stage performance, electric. Ashford is hugely talented (he's won Tonys, Oliviers, Emmys, and Drama Desks among other prizes) but he's never directed a movie-movie and his live TV musicals (Peter Pan and The Sound of Music) dont scream "born to be directing cinema!"

That said he has directed musical performances within movies before, helping the main director with the musical sequences in Beyond the Sea, A Million Ways to Die, Ted 2, and Cinderella.  And yet this is quite a leap. What's stranger still is that he is known as a gifted choreographor (his Tony-winning work on Thoroughly Modern Millie is just delicious) but Sunset Blvd. is NOT a dance musical. 

We wish him all the luck because we sure would like this movie to be a grand success but there's a lot of reasons to worry; lack of film expertise when making a movie ABOUT movies, mediocre source material (like most of Webber's musicals there's only two-ish songs ("With One Look" "It's As If We Never Said Goodbye" and I'm also partial ), and the need to really direct Close. While she's one of the greatest screen actresses she has been known to overdo it on occasion and this purposefully larger than life role will have lots of opportunities to do too much in an effort to be too much. And there's one more bit of worrying: whether or not the movie is good, critics will likely sharpen their knives due to the typical anti-musicals critical stance and the reverence with which the original film is justly held. 

In short, we don't expect this to be the Glenn Close Oscar coronation so many hoped for this year but we're thrilled that she gets to take another one of her dream projects to the big screen. It's also a great relief that she's taken her Oscar loss so very well, still being endlessly gracious about the outpouring of love this season. She's resting up at the moment and getting back to work this October on what will surely be one of 2020's most talked about movies. 

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Reader Comments (65)

The director gives me a lot of pause. Look at Julie Taymor, Phyllida Lloyd, etc. When has this gone well?

On the other hand I'm sick to death of Rob Marshall and only slightly prefer Bill Condon for a job like this. Obviously it's not "cool" enough for Damien Chazelle but who else is qualified—John Cameron Mitchell? He'd probably be my pick.

It's also likely to get treated like a remake (think Gaga and Blunt this year, much less heft in the race than once imagined) even though it's the first time for the musical. I'm cautiously optimistic.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterH

we should definitely be worried. Sunset Boulevard is one of the greatest films ever made, and the musical is sadly mediocre. That score is ponderous and will likely only seem more so on a movie screen? that "with one look" clip has glenn overdoing it at about ten moments, so two hours of that feels TOUGH.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEricB

Agree, Agree, Agree!

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMatty

Love Glenn, but I got to see Patti in the role in London during a college trip. So...no thanks.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterA.H.

Sunset Blvd is a C-list musical at best. Citing its Tony wins really overstates the case- it was only one of TWO nominees for Best Musical in 1995, and the only one that was actually a musical! (the other was the Lieber and Stoller revue Smoky Joe's Cafe). Close herself was similarly one of two nominees in Best Actress in a Musical, against Rebecca Luker as Magnolia in Showboat, a role that one could argue isn't leading. The most interesting thing about the show is the Patti LuPone / Andrew Lloyd Webber feud that resulted from it.

Putting Ashford in the director's chair is baffling. He's known for athletic choreography, and this is a show that requires none at all. And having a first time film director take the reins of a property that has a lot of baggage to overcome is a choice.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAustin

I would totally go see this ... if it was cast with Meryl Streep and Taron Edgerton.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJono

The original film is a masterpiece of writing, directing and acting so they are have a tough act to follow. Who are they going to get to play Joe? My choice would be Chris Pine who can sing and would look fine in and out of those period clothes.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Are we sure that Glenn Close will even star?

Knowing Hollywood they will want Jennifer Lawrence or Brie Larson.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPatagonia

I saw the 2017 revival.

While Close wowed me in ways she never had before (I've never been a huge fan of hers, as I think she tends to overact), the musical was at times insufferable to sit through. Like you said, people are (wilfully?) ignoring the fact that most of the songs in the show are dribble and obnoxious beyond the two most famous.

People are also forgetting that Broadway and movie audiences are very different. Critics are going to go after this film guns blazing with inevitable comparisons to the 1950s classic. This is not the slam-dunk project everyone wants to believe.

Even more interesting, I don't necessarily think the role is undeniable. After I saw the revival, I said to myself, "Well, it's a good thing this wasn't premiering for the first time, because she would have lost the Tony to Bette Midler." So much will depend on timing if this were to work out.

I wish Glenn had more opportunities to work with better directors and screenplays (though I suspect all of the offers are going to Meryl). I was among those who thought The Wife was mediocre and still consider her nomination for Albert Nobbs to be the worst Best Actress nomination this century. (It sounds dramatic until you remember how bad it was!) I still wish her the best, though.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge

I think that judging a future film performance based on a filmed STAGE performance is way harsh... all the greats (including Glenn) have spoken many times about the different skill-sets, presentations and methods used in stage vs screen... she's not going to just turn up and pretend that she's on Broadway while the cameras roll...

That said, the musical is of course a bit shit (I love The Perfect Year too, so that's 3 songs?) and plods along at a glacial pace. An instance where you'd assume that the studio would try and seek an established visual artist from the film-world to distract the audience from this. Basically, Tarsem Singh!

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterkermit_the_frog

I know Glenn has long wanted to make this, so I'm happy for her, but truly want to sit down and tell her, "Molly, you in danger, girl."

Glenn is amazing, and got some of the best reviews in her career for the 2017 production. I saw that production and she truly wowed me in a way she never did before (and I loved her in Dangerous Liaisons, The Shield, and Damages before this). However, the musical is a bit of stinker when she's not on stage. She brings it in all her scenes, and two big songs are incredible, but the musical suffers because it gets the tone of the original Sunset Blvd totally wrong. It's too sunny, and only Glenn captures the darkness, and cruel light, in Hollywood.

The director being untested seems like a big problem. Like, will they even be able to draw a big male star for this? The success of the film, financially, and critically will depend on him and the Joe role is hard to cast. I can't really see anyone doing this role justice unless they got, maybe, Bradley Cooper?

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

To me, "As If We Never Said Goodbye" is "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going"-level, so there's that. I would concede the rest of the musical, beyond Close's tour de force (I too saw the recent revival), is a middling affair, but for its leading lady alone, it's a must-see. And Close could, under the right circumstances, win for it.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

It's. Not. Going. To. Happen.
Paramount knows what a joke this is, and refused to comment on the "press release" cooked up by Lloyd Webber's PR department.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterFranz

I can't wait! Haters to the effin' leftttt!

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterQuinn

When or if this really happens, I want Toni Collette to play the part. She's a better singer, and is the right age, and is pretty good with the horror aspects.

But hey, maybe Toni dodged a bullet, who knows?

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Hollywood

I can't take another Close but no cigar loss.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

@Patagonia and @Dave in Hollywood: Sunset Boulevard is about a has-been actress of a certain age. Larson and Lawrence could be the daughters of this actress! Additionally, who would play the much younger writer? Lucas Hedges? Collette is closer to it. But I'd go for Close and Pine.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

Maybe with Meryl Streep and Chris Pine this would succes? But Close cannot open a movie. You are going to need star power to overcome the problems inherent in the musical.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

UGH. I saw the 2017 production and was SHOCKED at how bad Close was. I knew the show wasn't the best, but she was showboaty and BADLY over-the-top, and her singing voice was NOT good. I won the lottery for tickets and took my sister, and she needed me to explain the movie to her because based on Glenn's performance she didn't understand why Joe was doing what he did for her. It was a HUGE let-down, and I worry for this film, especially since the musical is kind of bad and the original film an unassailable classic.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

I expect nothing. You poured hope into my poor aching heart with that poster blurp and now I have to live with this sorrow and resentment. I should play Norma Desmond.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Praying so damn hard for this movie. At least Close can still sell a movie, which the new Oscar winner has never done yet.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Jamie -- Shut the fuck up

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRicki

I’m honestly exhausted of the Glenn Close narrative right now. I need some time before I go through it again.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBushwick

I feel like we all need a big break. (And IMO, the big 2020 "IOU" music film is going to be Bernstein. At least discussing it would be more fun than this.)

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Thanks Ricki! I appreciate you taking a moment of your time to mention me.

But those are the facts. Musicals are expected to have big competitive opening weekends and long legs. I just do not see that happening.

Not saying Close will never get the Oscar but it will not be for this.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

if this movie is made, and if glenn does the whole awards rigamarole again--two large ifs--patti is going to get a twitter. THAT'S a show i'm going to want to watch.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCharles O

Hillary will never be president. Glenn will never win a competitive Oscar. That's just the world we live in.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterhcu

Can the Academy not owe both Close AND Cooper? Hold two ideas in your head at the same
time, voters!

Here for both films!

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBC

Worth noting what was noted before—strong parallels between 2007 Best Actress and 2018.

One had GG (Drama) + BFCA + SAG
One had GG (Comedy) + BAFTA

Didn't expect it to break in the same direction but it sure did! In hindsight Glenn was in an even weaker position because she didn't get any big critics prizes. And her main rival was in a BP contender and the English language.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJF

Jono - LOVE your casting - especially if ROCKETMAN gets a great response.

Chris Pine is an absolutely fine choice.

Bradley Cooper would be cool but I can't see him doing it.

I saw Close in her original run in NYC and the only moment I really remember is when she visits the set and that damn light is turned to focus on her. I cried. Beautifully realized moment on stage by everyone involved.

But you all have my wondering...is that why this has sat on the shelf so long. It's a stinker of a show. And, of course, taking a stinker of a show and casting an actress who has done 1,000's of performance being BIG and getting accolades for that...worrisome indeed.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbillybil

Jono - LOVE your casting - especially if ROCKETMAN gets a great response.

Chris Pine is an absolutely fine choice.

Bradley Cooper would be cool but I can't see him doing it.

I saw Close in her original run in NYC and the only moment I really remember is when she visits the set and that damn light is turned to focus on her. I cried. Beautifully realized moment on stage by everyone involved.

But you all have my wondering...is that why this has sat on the shelf so long. It's a stinker of a show. And, of course, taking a stinker of a show and casting an actress who has done 1,000's of performance being BIG and getting accolades for that...worrisome indeed.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbillybil

Very interesting...I found Glenn Close singing It's As If We Never Said Goodbye at the same concert and then I watched part of Janis Paige singing it and listened to Streisand. (Funny no one mentions her in the role!!) The Streisand recording is so over produced (for her album) that it doesn't appeal to me but I noticed with both of the other women - the words, the circumstance, the music - so show boaty. My gut tells me they're going to have to be very careful with this song and let's hope the new film director is up to the challenge because, even though it contains my most favorite moment in the musical, it sure does seem too much. A lot will depend on who gets cast in the male role because he really needs to bring it down to earth so that Norma is the oddball she's supposed to be opposite his reality without forcing the Norma to be too extreme. Tricky.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbillybil

Glenn should focus on getting a killer supporting role with a good amount of screentime so she can win. Leading is not happening, sorry.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

What happened to the Glenn love?

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterelle

A musical version of a 1950s classic? AW FUCK YOU!!!!

Glenn... you're getting really desperate and... it's sad. Stop. Just fucking stop. And if you take away an Oscar from someone that is more deserving. I'll have to call Scar-Jo 3:16 to lay a can of whoop-ass on you and give you the SCAR-JO STUNNA!

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

This Glenn Close not winning an Oscar narrative is really getting tiresome and ridiculous. Period.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered Commentergoodbar

Glenn Close is actually of the right age to play the part - Gloria Swanson, though great in the movie, was only 50 at the time, and maybe times were different, but when you watch it in the modern day it is striking that she wasn't very old at all. They had to age her up w/makeup, etc., but she also did some great stuff to appear older.

As far as casting for Joe Gillis - why not Patrick Wilson? We know he can sing, and I think his age (45 vs. Holden's 32-ish) is more appropriate for how cynical the character is. (Caveat: this is all coming from viewing the movie, I haven't seen the musical.)

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Rebecca, I thought it added to the character and tragedy that Swanson isn’t that old. With Glenn she looks great so this can work but I still think she is bit too old, it should not feel ridiculous when Norma Desmond wants to be a star again, just tragically impossible in Hollywood. At least that’s what I felt about the film. I don’t want it to Florence Foster Jenkins type film.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterChinoiserie

If Bullock won for a bland film, and Streep for a bad one, Close can win for this. Plus it gives the role of Norma Desmond Oscar gold at last. Also ai listened to a Soundtrack to this musical a couple times years back, and the only song I remember was the one about New Years. So I guess debatedly there’s three good songs, and that’s enough, at least to snatch the Actress Oscar. (Although since Glenn probably has two competitive noms left I’d like her to lose, beat Page’s record, then win, but Im less panicky than the Nathaniel’s and 3rtfuls of the world)

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Plus if the new song or two they add to try to snatch the Original Song Oscar, thanks 4-5 good songs, making the score just good enough for Glenn’s well calibrated ham to be nominated and potentially win. Don’t worry yourself in to sickness again so soon my friend!

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Jono, Meryl does not have that stretched and taut, although subtly done and classy, that Close’s face has which is better for the role. Plus guys, Close has played the role and read the reviews for decades, a first time director will be much more likely to take any notes she has about tweaks to make it better overall. I mean, as common wisdom says, for one of her two remaining competitive Oscar noms, this stands a decent chance, competition pending.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Suck on my classic film buff meets WWE neckbeard fusion y’all

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Chinoiserie, I like your take, and will watch the original movie (didn't need much encouragement.) :)

Also, do any of you listen to 'Unspooled'? It's a podcast where they devote each episode to a single movie on the AFI's top 100 list. I like how much they dive into history and time period. They had a recent-isa ep on Sunset Boulevard.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I’m annoyed by this Glenn Close must win an Oscar hoopla. She’s not dead and she will survive regardless. And it won’t be for this, for the many reasons people have provided. It’s a crap musical.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

Plus 1-2 more opportunities to work the severely overdue narrative. She’ll surely pull it off one of those years, deserving or not.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Is there an actual press release from the movie studio on this? Who would finance this film when The Wife was a tiny little grosser? ALW?

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJenn

The film has not even been made yet and, according to you, it will be a flop, a stinker and Glenn Close is destined to be lousy in it. If this is what one reads on a blog where the actresses are supposed to be loved, well...

Most troubling is that many readers reproduce the same awful tendencies of the film industry - Glenn would be too old, a musical without pop stars would be a flop, no studio would launch a movie anchored in the presence of an older actress and no one would watch it - strangely that is what you stand for in your posts, instead of fighting to see demolished those prejudices.

How much hatred against such a beloved actress.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMike

I don’t think anyone hates her, they are just indicating there may be some issues due to director, material and potential for box office. Plus for work I am interested if this is even official from the studio.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJenn

There is a blurb in The Hollywood Reporter but it says Paramount had no comment. Odd.

March 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJenn

rob ashford uses my favourite broadway chorus boy quite a lot so maybe this is charlie williams's way into the movies? shirtless boy by the pool, shirtless gaffer at the studio, shirtless homicide detective..? come on, rob, there's gotta be a role for him somewhere

March 5, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterpar

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