Every week Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: Me and my shadow.
Writer/director Henry Jaglom is a filmmaker who has had a long, varied career without ever truly achieving massive fame or success. With his charming yet unremarkable knack for Woody Allen-esque dialogue, he’s the film equivalent of musician Richard Thompson — always hidden beneath the tall shadow Eric Clapton casts.
Jaglom has worked with Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Vanessa Redgrave and Orson Wells yet most casual film fans would be hard pressed to name a single one of his films. For the last forty years, Jaglom has remained on the fringe of success. Unfortunately, Queen of the Lot, Jaglom’s latest film, won’t make much headway in breaking Jaglom free from quasi-obscurity.
A sequel to Jaglom’s 2007 film Hollywood Dreams, Queen of the Lot reteams the director with actress Tanna Frederick.
Frederick, a fiery redhead with a infectious personality, stars as Maggie Chase, an up-and-coming actress whose recent run-ins with the law over her penchant for DUIs have paid off in that the paparazzi is finally starting to pay attention to her.
While there are some actors who shy away from intrusive tabloids and cameramen hidden in their bushes, Maggie is obsessed with fame and being recognized. For the attention-starved actress, the press’ newfound obsession with her is a godsend.
Desperate to use her newfound fame as a means of crawling out of the B-movie action/adventure films she has been stuck making for the last several years, she seizes on the new networking options made available to her through her relationship with bad-boy movie star Dov Lambert (Christopher Rydell).
Dov comes from a legendary Hollywood family lead by patriarch Louis Lambert (Jack Heller). Louis is a famed Hollywood mogul who has seen better days. His family is nearly bankrupt and his relationship with his sons has fallen apart. An opportunity to seize success through a new project gives Louis the motivation to call his sons to him.
It’s at this family reunion where Maggie meets Dov’s younger brother Aaron (Noah Wyle). The black sheep of the family, Aaron is a failed writer who has a mysterious job for his father. He’s also the requisite love bait that lures Maggie away from the bad romance she’s currently in and into something slightly more healthy for the young actress.
Queen of the Lot is a loose, stream-of-consciousness comedy. The film is heavy on dialogue reminiscent of early Woody Allen or Robert Altman. Much like Robert Altman would begin his movies with scenes that demanded viewers’ attentions so that casual fans who would not appreciate the movie would be driven away, scenes in Queen of the Lot in which the Lambert family are gathered — all talking over the others — quickly shows audiences that the movie is something you need to devote your attention to. Unfortunately, if one chips away the noise and confusion audiences will find there’s not a whole lot left underneath the surface.
Besides a charming performance by Tanna Frederick , the film rests its weight squarely on Jaglom’s script. A playwright, Jaglom peppers his script with plenty of amusing exchanges between verbose characters but fails to give them a worthy arc to follow. The free-flowing story brings to mind those Family Circus comic strips where Billy would run around the neighborhood leaving a dotted-line trail wherever he had been. The trail is long and complex but the journey itself is not worth the lame punch line.
You do not have to have seen Hollywood Dreams to enjoy Queen of the Lot. You probably need to have a dry sense of humor and a real appreciation for Hollywood insider stories, though.
The film is not much of a comedy but it’s not much a drama either. Whenever the film shifts into a dramatic scene — whether it be a romantic encounter over ice cream or a mishap with a firearm — the film devolves into a soap opera with the acting going over the top faster than Anthony Hopkins in a NASA zero-gravity accelerator test.
The film opens in theaters this weekend in limited release. If you are a fan of Jaglom’s other films or have a large enough love of Hollywood insider stories to keep you awake through the nap-inducing film, Queen of the Lot is for you. Otherwise, I’d just stick with the mighty filmmaker redwoods that have shadowed Jaglom throughout his career.
Tags: Bad Movies Done Right, Dennis Hopper, Eric Clapton, jack nicholson, Robert Altman, vanessa redgrave, woody allen