All you need to do is read the reviews for nearly any Henry Jaglom film to quickly realize that Jaglom is one of those filmmakers who inspires both love and hate in equal measure from film critics and the film industry at large.
I sense that Jaglom knows this is true. I also sense that Jaglom doesn't care one iota. He's worked outside mainstream Hollywood for the better part of his 40+ year directorial career that has included working with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Orson Welles, Tuesday Welles, Karen Black, Vanessa Redgrave, David Duchovny and, as of late, the marvelous Tanna Frederick.
There are those who complain that Jaglom's films are nothing more than cinematic exercises in narcissism.
If Jaglom's films made hundreds of millions like those of James Cameron, he'd be called a genius. The simple truth is that Jaglom's films can be a tad abrasive because his artistic integrity is unwavering and his refusal to compromise unquestioned.
I'm sure that Jaglom loves it when an audiences loves his film, but he's refreshingly loyal to himself and his artistic vision rather than being willing to compromise his integrity in favor of wider marketability.
His latest film, Just 45 Minutes From Broadway, is an adaptation of Jaglom's successful stage play about a heart-broken actress named Pandora (Tanna Frederick) and her "civilian" sister Betsy (Julie Davis) who return to the crumbling home of parents George (Jack Heller) and Vivien Cooper Isaacs (Diane Salinger). While their reasons for returning are quite different, the return causes secrets to be exposed, rivalries rekindled and, yes, love to bloom.
While the tendency in Hollywood these days when adapting from a stage production is to glitz up the production design and spice up the action, Jaglom has always been more devoted to story and acting than worrying about external distractions. Jaglom is what I'd call an actor's director and his films are at their best when he's managed to assemble the perfect cast to tell his story.
Just 45 Minutes From Broadway is not my favorite of Jaglom's films, all of which I consider myself blessed to own. In fact, one of my initial observations after having watched the film was "Man, I'd love to see this on stage." Just 45 Minutes From Broadway looks and feels like a stage production in much the same way Del Shores is bringing his stage version of Southern Baptist Sissies to the big screen. This is not a bad thing, but it does require performances that are able to pull off a very distinct rhythm within their performances.
In Just 45 Minutes From Broadway, some of Jaglom's performers really nail it. There are other times, however, when certain key players simply don't tune into Jaglom's artistic vision and the result is a film that occasionally feels out of sync and off pace.
Is this catastrophic?
Not in the least. After a delightful opening musical interlude, Jaglom begins by introducing us to the key players until "the scene" happens and Just 45 Minutes From Broadway really kicks into gear. It's a scene between Tanna Frederick, who at times seems so in tune with Jaglom's vision that you'd swear they're living in the same skin, and Judd Nelson, playing Betsy's fiance'. The two are sitting at a dining room table and Jaglom allows the silence between the two to linger before a sort of quiet playfulness is introduced that completely shifts the mood of the entire film and reminds me why I so consistently adore Frederick's work.
As already noted, Jaglom doesn't so much write for popularity as he does for artistic truth. Just 45 Minutes From Broadway is in most ways a love song to actors and actresses whose lives, despite and/or because of their fame, is still just as funny, sad, messy, melodramatic, chaotic, and unpredictable as everyone else's. There's a depth here that "feels" melodramatic, because so often when you weave together genuinely emotional experiences with already dramatic lives the end result plays out with unquestionable hints of melodrama.
As much as Jaglom is an actor's director, Tanna Frederick is an actor's actress. Having already worked on four of Jaglom's films with more on the way, the Iowa-born Frederick has an uncanny knack for matching rhythms with her scene partners. If you watch her scenes with both Julie Davis and Judd Nelson, you'll understand what I mean because both Davis and Nelson, who also shine in this film, have their own distinct styles yet they gel perfectly with Frederick.
This is a rare skill and it's a delight to watch it unfold.
After a successful indie/arthouse run, Just 45 Minutes From Broadway is arriving on home video with indie distributor Breaking Glass Pictures. The packaging includes a wealth of extras including the original theatrical trailer, outtakes, selected clips, and commentary w/Henry Jaglom and cast members.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic