JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Breakable You (Director: Andrew Wagner) - January 15, 2017

Breakable You

4 4
120 min.

Reviewed at the 2017 edition of the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
The hidden value of fraudulent art

A nearly full house of early risers was on hand for the second-ever screening of Andrew Wagner’s Breakable You.

Joking that his third feature (cross-reference below) was “made in seven short years,” the affable director went on to say, “We made this film for people who get up at 10 the morning [to go the movies].” Two hours later, the appreciative crowd was glad he did.

The production (screenplay by Wagner and Fred Parnes based on the novel by Brian Morton) has quite a lot to say about morals and ethics.

With fake news of all stripes making headlines along with many sad examples of academic and journalistic plagiarism (both frauds in ever-increasing ways being aided, abetted and frequently exposed by the Internet and social media), the writing is prescient indeed.

At the core of it all is fading Broadway playwright Adam Weller (sharing the same character initials as the director, Tony Shalhoub oozes, gushes, oils and—sort of—confesses as few others can).

As the curtain rises, Adam is having a testy breakfast with soon-to-be-divorced wife (and psychologist: heal thyself redux), Eleanor (the, finally, “I am my own woman after 35 years” role suits Holly Hunter to a T).

Philosophy PhD candidate Maud (Cristin Milioti is especially fine during her manic outbursts, either demanding NSA fucking, or pushing loved ones far away—again)—the splitsville couple’s only child—most certainly has inherited or been instilled with characteristics of both parents, only to turn out just as conflicted as they are.

Maud’s love interest comes in the alluring and reclusive (having lost a daughter to disease, the skilled actor has stepped away from the boards but remains in the theatre as a set designer/builder) form of Samir (Omar Metwally handles his metamorphosis with considerable skill).

Just when Adam’s life seems to be ruined beyond repair both personally and professionally, fate intervenes, providing the boy-could-I-use-a-hit writer the opportunity of a lifetime: childhood buddy and playwright rival Vincent Frank’s widow, Ruth (Brooke Adams) begs her long-standing friend to read her five-years-dead husband’s unpublished play. Not surprisingly (most of the plot points can be seen miles ahead) it’s a knockout. Conveniently, Ruth dies. At her wake (one of many actions as metaphor) Adam manages to steal away the only other copy of the masterpiece (which, covering his potentially conniving tracks, he pronounced as poor to Ruth…). And thus a plagiarist is born.

From there, the storyline takes on, well, theatrical proportions.

Maud gets pregnant via Sam; Adam is supplanted by always-loved-you brother Paul (a commendable performance from Alfred Molina) in Eleanor’s bed; Sam gets the lead in the buzz-aplenty Ode de Fraud and exalted theatre critic Robert Gordon (Jeremy Shamos being a tad too friendly—not his fault, of course—than most professional reviewers are) proves categorically that he can’t recognize genuine art when it lands in his domain.

As the curtain falls, no one is fatally shamed, unmasked or embarrassed—even as those possibilities get intriguingly close—but the faux auteur is returned to his former glory, even if his devoted entourage is severely diminished. JWR

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Further information, future screening/performance/exhibition dates,
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Palm Springs International Film Festival
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