16 April 2011 | nomorefog
Hollywood goes classical
I was about to start this review by pointing out that I think 'The Competition' is merely an example of 'typical Hollywood schmaltz, but that would be unfair. For one thing, it's not 'typical'. There, I've got that out of the way.
Directed by once only director Joel Oliansky. it stars Richard Dreyfuss and Amy Irving as a pair of duelling pianists who are trying to win the piano competition of the title. Dreyfuss is a mercurial genius in two minds whether to persist with his career, as other pianists are receiving the recognition he feels he deserves. For this reason he is losing his perseverance to carry on and feels that he should abandon his nomadic life of travelling around the country competing in these types of events and just 'get a life' like everyone else. Irving is the conscientious worker with a dedicated teacher: with a little luck and perseverance she can be a winner and doesn't need the brashness of Dreyfuss to succeed. Irving and Dreyfuss are meant to be competing with each other, but what do they do? Yep, you guessed it. Questions arise as to who is the most dedicated, which one of them deserves a career in classical music, and how fate somehow has a role in all our lives - more than we are prepared to admit.
The piano performances as captured on film are better than most. The two actors trained to mimic at least the appearance of playing at concert level. Their piano performances were actually recorded by two prodigies of that era, Daniel Pollack and Chester B. Swiatkowski, and then dubbed later on. Aside from this competent presentation of piano music, penned by the great classical composers and performed with an accuracy that Hollywood is not renowned for, 'The Competition' is unfortunately, a little bit dull. Sam Wanamaker has a small but entertaining role as a temperamental conductor who takes no nonsense from his students in the competition. The respective parents of the protagonists for example, are stock characters and are brought into the story for a bit of interest but their impact is minimal. There are a few interesting minor characters who round out the competitors but they have minimal screen time. One sub-plot involves an eastern bloc competitor defecting to the west but it really is of less interest than the main plot involving whether Irving and Dreyfuss can overcome their differences and have a romantic relationship away from their individual dedication to the piano.
The principal thespians Amy Irving and Richard Dreyfuss have on-screen rapport and work well with each other. But somehow they spend too much time either in competition, or going out on dates and wondering if this means whether they're having a relationship or not. Amy Irving was at one stage married to Stephen Spielberg. She was an extremely talented young actress, but her career seemed not to go anywhere, appearing to fall out of favour with the public. Richard Dreyfuss subsequently had a hiatus due to personal problems but had the talent to return and carry on his successful career. My perennial favourite Lee Remick has a featured role as Irving's wise and demanding piano teacher and she looks beautiful and is a major asset to the project. Classical music is rarely used as the backdrop for a story in a Hollywood film and I suppose we should at least be grateful to 'The Competition' for that but otherwise in most other respects it is the type of conventional entertainment we have come to expect from Hollywood 'The Competition' just scrapes by with a pass mark from me because of the music, and if it tweaks your interest in the subject, become a member of Naxos and you can get your classical music education from there.