Bebe Neuwirth

Frasier (1993) s02e09 – Adventures in Paradise (2)

I wonder how this episode would play in one sitting. Even just marathoning it (as opposed to cutting out the recap at the beginning of this second part, which Kelsey Grammer performs quite well). Because writers Ken Levine and David Isaacs still have an odd structure. They had an odd structure last episode, as they built to the reveal of Bebe Neuwirth also on vacation in Bora Bora to interrupt Grammer’s romantic getaway with new girlfriend JoBeth Williams.

The cliffhanger resolve introduces Neuwirth and Williams then Grammer and Neuwirth’s fellow, James Morrison. They make dinner plans to resolve some of the oddness of them being next door neighbors on their respective sex vacations.

We don’t get to see the dinner, just to see how Grammer’s going to obsess about it and make some really poor decisions. Those poor decisions start to ruin the trip and end with Williams not talking to Grammer. Can he fix the new relationship or is Neuwirth’s proximity going to screw things up?

Meanwhile, David Hyde Pierce has gotten Jane Leeves and John Mahoney to attend the ballet with him, where ever unseen wife Maris has a role.

There’s good quick material for Hyde Pierce, Leeves, and Mahoney, including some great punchlines, and Levine and Isaacs give Peri Gilpin a great bit, but it’s all about Neuwirth, Grammer, and Williams.

The episode gives Grammer some very broad physical comedy to do and he’s fantastic, it gives Neuwirth this detached dramatic and she’s fantastic. Williams is fine, but never gets anywhere near the material she’d need to make as much of an impression as Neuwirth or Grammer.

Just the expressions Neuwirth makes while listening to Grammer blather on, you wish director James Burrows had just focused on her instead of cutting to Grammer, no matter how funny he got.

Celebrity voice guest star this episode is Kevin Bacon, who doesn’t get a lot but does get to play into Gilpin’s very funny bit.

And the ending is perfect too. It’s a big swing episode and it’s a hit.

Frasier (1993) s01e16 – The Show Where Lilith Comes Back

Bebe Neuwirth’s visit to the new show, coming in the back nine of the first season, is everything it could and should be. Writers Ken Levine and Davis Isaacs craft this perfect plot, which showcases Neuwirth and gives her a relationship—active or not—with all the regulars, then still manages to keep it an episode for Kelsey Grammer, but one where the narrative distance is so focused there’s extra room for Neuwirth.

Even when Neuwirth’s not onscreen, once she arrives, she’s very present. She calls into Grammer’s radio show in the opening (Merry Prankster Timothy Leary is the guest caller, which seems random) and cuts him down to size on air as far as his professional diagnoses, giving Peri Gilpin as many laughs as it gives the viewer. Gilpin’s reaction to finally hearing Lilith—though, Grammer assures Neuwirth, his listeners have heard all about her—has a great punchline too, foreshadowing how well Levine and Isaacs are going to do getting them in after the main action.

Because even though no one’s ever seen Lilith interact with Frasier’s family, she’s obviously got history with both Martin (John Mahoney) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce). Mahoney’s pretty funny—especially when Neuwirth’s grilling him over repressed sexual urges when he was beating people with his nightstick—but Hyde Pierce is the cake. He’s still mad about Lilith mocking Maris’s wedding vows—great line about Lilith being weird versus Maris being a little strange (Levine and Isaacs’s barbs are particularly sharp, as the show immediately establishes Neuwirth can take them and doesn’t care if anyone else can).

Meanwhile, Jane Leeves has sensed a disturbance in the Force and has a constant headache… until she actually shakes Neuwirth’s hand, at which time she loses all sensation in the arm.

The family scene isn’t the point of the episode, however; there’s some unfinished business for Neuwirth and Grammer, which catches Grammer off guard. The rest of the episode is pretty damn good for a nineties sitcom episode dealing with recent divorcees. The balance of laughs and drama work out and it gives Grammer a nice range. Neuwirth doesn’t get a huge range because she’s Lilith, but still… very nice guest appearance.

I’m sure James Burrows directing didn’t hurt either.

Dear Diary (1996, David Frankel)

Dear Diary was originally a TV pilot, which didn’t get picked up, then got (slightly) re-edited into a short. It’s impossible to imagine it as a weekly show, just because Diary does so little to establish what would be its regular cast.

It opens with star Bebe Neuwirth writing about her day in her diary. She narrates the whole film, with her musings about what she encounters–usually about people she meets, sometimes about herself, sometimes memories, or a lot of concepts (golf, photography)–visualized. If it’s people in the cast, they’re in the musings. If it’s an idea or a memory, it’s stock footage. On video. But Diary is shot on film. So it’s constantly visually jarring. Director Frankel is constantly moving the camera after cuts. It’ll tilt to focus on the actor, it’ll tilt away. It’s not effective. And it’s a problem for the first act.

The first act introduces Neuwirth and her family. They’re New York yuppies. She’s a magazine editor, husband Brian Kerwin is an attorney, they’ve got a couple kids who don’t matter except to remind Neuwirth she’s forty. Kerwin doesn’t figure into the plot at all. He’s an accessory, albeit one with more going on than the kids.

Neuwirth goes to work, where she ends up quitting almost immediately after her boss, Bruce Altman, gets introduced. Then she’s just got a free day; that free day is where Diary starts getting a lot better. She goes lunch golfing, where she meets avid golfer and department store security guard Mike Starr. They hang out for long enough to see her old college friend, Haviland Morris, rip off a dress. So Neuwirth tracks down Morris, meeting her husband (Ronald Guttman) eventually, and he knows Altman, which ties it all together with Neuwirth losing her job. Or quitting. That opening scene didn’t play well because Frankel’s not good at directing dramatic or expository scenes.

So Neuwirth’s narration is all-important. And it’s great. And her performance, even as problematic as the first act gets–there are hiccups in the Morris section too–but her performance is always fantastic. You just have to pretend there’s enough character. The diary entry she’s writing aloud is nowhere near as effective as the film postulates.

The third act ties it all together, not just Neuwirth’s days’ events, but also the film in general. It works because its well-acted. It works because of Neuwirth.

Though it’s Starr who saves the thing when it’s still getting through the rockier stuff. Altman’s good, Guttman’s funny (it’s a very small part), Kerwin seems fine. Morris is way too affected, but Dear Diary is way too affected so it fits. Enough.

Given Frankel’s direction and the general production concepts–the stock video footage is a disaster (why not just shoot the whole thing on video)–Dear Diary should be a lot less successful. As for the writing (by Frankel)… it’s fine. But it’s a sitcom. An okay sitcom. So you’ve got an okay sitcom script directed goofy (or worse) and a great lead performance.

Neuwirth makes Diary happen. However, last thing, the diary she’s writing seems to be very thin. Is it a new diary? Doesn’t matter. I guess.

But it does matter. Frankel’s way too loose on detail.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by David Frankel; director of photography, Maryse Alberti; edited by Michael Berenbaum; music by Wendy Blackstone; production designer, Ginger Tougas; produced by Barry Jossen; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Bebe Neuwirth (Annie), Brian Kerwin (Tom), Bruce Altman (Griffin), Mike Starr (Fritz), Haviland Morris (Christie), and Ronald Guttman (Erik).


Jumanji (1995, Joe Johnston)

Jumanji is a thoroughly decent film, mostly due to good production values and Johnston’s direction.

It’s sort of hard to talk about the film due to the plotting. The film’s not real time, but the present action is still short… or not. In some ways, it’s twenty-six years, in others, it’s a day and a half and, in even others, it’s five minutes. Or three hours and five minutes. It’s not a problem for the film, which is just an amusement. There’s no attempt at any depth, just competent presentation of depth in the moment.

Jumanji doesn’t even work in a way one could take it seriously.

The casting is solid, though Bebe Neuwirth gets the short end of the stick. Adam Hann-Byrd is rather good. Robin Williams is fine, even if the script loses track of how to treat his character after a certain point. David Allen Grier and Bradley Pierce are both good. It’s hard to believe, between Pierce and Kristen Dunst (the kids in the movie), Dunst is the one who still acts professionally.

There’s a nice little James Handy cameo.

The film just has a good feel to it, something James Horner’s music helps.

The special effects are fine. While from the early days of CG, Jumanji would be impossible without it… as opposed to using CG instead of practical effects.

Whenever the film’s ambitious or attempts something, it succeeds. It doesn’t try to do much… but when it does, it does them right.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Johnston; screenplay by Jonathan Hensleigh, Greg Taylor and Jim Strain, based on a story by Taylor, Strain and Chris Van Allsburg and on a children’s book by Van Allsburg; director of photography, Thomas E. Ackerman; edited by Robert Dalva; music by James Horner; production designer, James D. Bissell; produced by Scott Kroopf and William Teitler; released by TriStar Pictures.

Starring Robin Williams (Alan Parrish), Bonnie Hunt (Sarah Whittle), Kirsten Dunst (Judy Shepherd), Bradley Pierce (Peter Shepherd), David Alan Grier (Carl Bentley), Bebe Neuwirth (Nora Shepherd), Adam Hann-Byrd (Young Alan), Laura Bell Bundy (Young Sarah), Jonathan Hyde (Sam Parrish), Patricia Clarkson (Carol-Anne Parrish) and James Handy (Exterminator).


Sounds from a Town I Love (2001, Woody Allen)

Allen did Sounds from a Town I Love quickly, for the “Concert for New York City” benefit. It’s very short clips—about ten seconds—of (uncredited) people walking around New York on their cellphones. The snippets of conversation are all played for comedic effect, while still maintaining a mild sense of reality (some of the snippets are more real than others—the mother worrying her three year-old’s life is over after not getting into a preschool).

There’s a frequent balance between laughing at the conversation and at the speaker. Austin Pendleton’s director whose understanding of the south-central Asia countries is based on their film festivals is a fine example. If it weren’t Pendleton, it wouldn’t work. But he’s likable in his absurdity.

The snippets let Allen make Sounds very memorable very quickly… which then made me wonder how his use of the final snippet would be.

Unsurprisingly perfect.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen.

Starring Marshall Brickman, Griffin Dunne, Michael Emerson, Hazelle Goodman, Rick Mowat, Bebe Neuwirth, Austin Pendleton, Tony Roberts and Celia Weston.


Game 6 (2005, Michael Hoffman)

In many ways, Game 6 is the Michael Keaton movie I’ve been waiting ten years to see. He’s the lead, it isn’t a comedy, he’s got a grown kid, it ought to be a return to form. It’s a mildly high profile film, or at least it should have been, as Don DeLillo wrote it. It isn’t high profile though. A film written by DeLillo–or any fiction writer of his stature–won’t excite filmgoers, who tend to shun good literature, and won’t excite fiction readers, who tend to dismiss film as a lesser narrative medium. Unfortunately, Game 6 isn’t a positive example of fiction writers doing films. While DeLillo’s script is good and he’s got some great scenes in the film, too much of what’s going on isn’t going on–in prose, looking at a couple guys sitting on a couch on the street can mean something. In a film, it’s a couple guys sitting on a couch on the street. There are a lot of those moments in the film. Still, I wanted it to work. It’s short, eighty-some minutes, but full of content. Had it worked, I’d be ringing a bell (actually, I probably already rung that bell with Personal Velocity and look how well Rebecca Miller turned out).

Game 6 not working isn’t DeLillo’s fault. While the script gets distracted (and too conventional in the end), the film fails because of Michael Hoffman. Game 6 needs a director who can range from conventional to hallucinatory. Hoffman fails. He can’t create a visually interesting film, much less a visually representation of Keaton’s character’s perception of the world around him. With a stronger director, and maybe eighty-sixing the terrible radio jockey dialogue, Game 6 would have worked out. It has an impeccable cast. Keaton hasn’t been this good in ten years and Griffin Dunne hasn’t been this good ever. Then, near the end, DeLillo sticks Dunne in a TV and has him talk to Keaton and Hoffman didn’t think not to do it (as much as it needed a more visually empathic director, Game 6 needed one who could say no to the higher profile writer). Robert Downey Jr. is a little bit less than he can be–he’s fine enough for the film, but he’s on autopilot, as Hoffman can’t direct his most important scene.

Messing up a film set in a day, in New York City, about a bunch of Red Sox fans during the last game of the World Series should be impossible. I suppose it’s not all Hoffman’s fault. DeLillo skimps on the father-daughter relationship stuff and it end being more important than anything else. Hoffman could have fixed it. A better director would have.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Hoffman; written by Don DeLillo; director of photography, David M. Dunlap; edited by Camilla Toniolo; music by Yo La Tengo; production designer, Bill Groom; produced by Amy Robinson, Griffin Dunne, Leslie Urdang and Christina Weiss Lurie; released by Kindred Media Group.

Starring Michael Keaton (Nicky Rogan), Griffin Dunne (Elliot Litvak), Shalom Harlow (Paisley Porter), Bebe Neuwirth (Joanna Bourne), Catherine O’Hara (Lillian Rogan), Harris Yulin (Peter Redmond) and Robert Downey Jr. (Steven Schwimmer).


Scroll to Top