Monday, April 28, 2014

Tribeca ’14: NOW—In the Wings on a World Stage

Like the old thesps of yore, Kevin Spacey assembled a classical theater troupe to tour like mad, performing Shakespeare’s Richard III in countries throughout the increasingly globalized world. There had to be some craziness going on backstage, but you will be hard-pressed to find any in Jeremy Wheeler’s sanitized-for-your-protection behind-the-scenes documentary, NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage (trailer here), which opens this Friday at the IFC Center following its special screening at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

When Kevin Spacey and Sam Mendes announced Richard III would be their first collaboration since American Beauty the theater world sat up and took notice. Indeed, it is a good thing Mendes was on-board, because he provides some of the film’s most thoughtful commentary. Yet, it would still probably be more interesting to hear him talk about Skyfall.

By all accounts, Richard III was an artistic triumph. Many critics see a direct correlation between Spacey’s Richard and his Francis Underwood in Netflix’s cable-killing House of Cards. Unfortunately, Spacey does not have much to say about that. He would rather sing the praises of his cast members.

It seems like everyone involved on the Richard III utterly adored every last one of their colleagues, which is jolly nice for them, but absolute dullsville to watch. Frankly, NOW has the depth and drama of a making-of DVD extra. Sure, the staging looks spectacularly ambitious (particularly in Greece’s Epidaurus theater, circa 400 B.C.), but the best way to appreciate it would have been by seeing the production live. For the most part, viewers must be content to watch as cast members discover the Great Wall of China is really long and the desert in Qatar is rather sandy.

In a way, NOW is the high-brow equivalent of the bloopers that ran over the closing credits of old Burt Reynolds movies, in which everyone works very hard to show us how much fun they were having. This is such a lightweight trifle, especially when compared to the other robustly entertaining documentaries that played this year’s Tribeca. Of interest only to Spacey’s hardcore stalker-fans, but certainly not recommended for everyday civilians, the awkwardly titled NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage opens this Friday (5/2) at the IFC Center.