5 March 2019 | TheLittleSongbird
Misfire on the road
Have always had high appreciation for comedy, in fact some of my favourites are comedies, so that 'An Actor Prepares' didn't do it for me is not down to bias against the genre. Always have tried to like all types of it too, tending to love the witty and sophisticated types but less so ones with the crude style of humour (though that is not to say that crude humour is never funny). My main reason though for seeing this film was Jeremy Irons.
Have always loved him as an actor, if more his 80s and 90s work than his variable post-'Lolita' career choices (though he is most of the time a bright spot in the misses), and it interested me to see him in a different role. Seeing it on Amazon, 'An Actor Prepares' was nowhere near as bad as feared, having had initially fairly high expectations lowered by hearing and seeing bad things about it but a large part of me was disappointed and yes this is me judging with an open mind with the intention of liking it and not agreeing with the negativity. Looking at 'An Actor Prepares', one would never think that it starred an actor responsible for two of the most courageous film performances in the past forty or so years, in 'Dead Ringers', with the subject and playing identical twins and giving them individual personalities to each other, and 'Lolita', with the subject and his more tortured portrayal of a character one would naturally think on paper detestable. Also thought his performance in 'Reversal of Fortune' brave, playing a real life person, still alive at the time, in a film depicting a case that was recent back when it was made when feelings were still raw. Lets talk about this film though.
Irons clearly has a blast here, as a very larger than life but rather obnoxious character, and is great fun to watch. He is the best thing about the film and the only reason really to check it out in the first place, relishing every single line with glee while effortlessly commanding the screen. It may not be a subtle performance but really did appreciate that he made such a valiant effort in breaking away from his serious roles and show his comedic streak, which to me was obvious here but needed better material to make it shine more. Jack Huston also does well, showing some natural charisma and portraying Adam's uptightness with conviction, and interacts with and reacts to Irons easy-goingly, the dynamic natural despite such a character mismatch.
A few mildly amusing moments along the way here and there, did have a (guilty) chuckle at a few lines and those film titles, though it was more to do with how Irons delivered the lines rather than the lines themselves. The film doesn't look too cheap and there are catchy moments on the soundtrack.
One of 'An Actor Prepares' biggest problems however is that most of it is not very funny, spent most of the time actually being shocked at how a father could speak to his own son the way Atticus does. Crude humour can be funny if done with wit and sharpness, but 'An Actor Prepares' executes this crude humour with very little wit and goes well overboard on the mean-spiritedness that it becomes as exhausting as Atticus' obnoxious character traits, including gratuitous overuse of profanity. It never becomes 'Freddy Got Fingered' and Friedberg-Seltzer offensive thank goodness, but parts do leave a bitter aftertaste. The characters all lack depth and subtlety, including Atticus (well especially him in the subtlety department), and found it very hard to endear to any of them with such off-putting behaviour. Didn't find all of them necessary either. Am not blaming the actors, it's the writing that's the problem. None of the rest of the cast make much of an impression (though Ben Schwartz does what he can with a thankless reactive role), with so little to do and with characters so underwritten. While the soundtrack is nice enough on its own, some of its use felt intrusive and obvious.
Direction is not incompetent as such but is rather uninspired and bland. The story is a big problem in 'An Actor Prepares' too. In terms of pacing, it never comes to life and is often rather leaden and slow with a real lack of energy, this would have been helped if the film got going much quicker, shortened some scenes and left others out, for instance it could have done without the sequence with Will Patton which added nothing and came over as awkward. The story is one that's very thin with the outcome being very much foreseeable from the get go. It all feels rather formulaic and sometimes somewhat repetitive, with a lot of mean-spiritedness (did find myself cringing during the prison cell scene), scenes that are very awkward and predictable due to a lack of anything surprising and too many moments where things happen too conveniently. In the last twenty minutes or so, 'An Actor Prepares' tries to tug at the heart strings by trying to bring a dramatic emotional edge, but it felt forced rather than poignant or heart-warming and jarred too much with what had come before. Likewise with Adam's subplot, which felt shoe-horned in and on the somewhat manipulative side, it is a serious and quite sensitive subject yet one starts expecting with worry the film to treat it in a jokey way. Luckily it never quite does but there is that worry, considering how much of the humour in the early parts were related to that particular body part.
On the whole, has its moments but it didn't do it for me even when really trying to take it for what it is. Irons doesn't fare badly at all here, he is the best thing about it and the main interest point, but he is well above this and comparing this to his early work (so 'Lolita' and before) it is rather sad that a great actor's film/television choices have become so hit and miss in recent years. Am well aware that this review is not going to be very popular most likely, seeing as anybody here who as much as one criticism when offering a negative review for a critically panned comedy is made to feel like they've committed a sin by too many of those defending which has gotten over-the-top and annoying. 4/10