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April 21, 2002


Is Uma Thurman a good

Is Uma Thurman a good actress?

That's the question that most perplexes me after seeing Chelsea Walls, which opened here on Friday. A fictional movie about the characters who inhabit NYC's Chelsea Hotel, the film follows about a half-dozen characters for a few days of their lives in the hotel. It's Ethan Hawke's directorial debut, and it shows. He seems to aim for the sort of lightness of touch and easy-pacing of Richard Linklater, his friend and (I guess) quasi-mentor, but it doesn't quite work. There isn't enough variation* of conflict or character to your hold your interest through the slow parts, and it's all slow parts. That means that if you develop a connection to the movie, it has to be through either the characters or the actors, and that might not happen.

Some of the characters -- Kris Kristofferson's, Jimmy Scott's, especially -- are inherently compelling. Others -- such as Uma's, and Vincent D'Onofrio's -- pretty much rely on your pre-existing connection to them as actors to sustain your interest, since neither their storylines or their characters are, for most of the film, particularly original or exciting.

One surprise was Robert Sean Leonard, who gives a fairly nuanced peformance as a Minnesotan singer/songwriter just arriving in New York. Steve Zahn, as his roommate, is a nice foil, but (as always) doesn't get enough screen time. Natasha Richardson is her usual casually neurotic self, and Kevin Corrigan (who you'd know if you saw) is a balancing element, if only briefly.

But, Uma. I hate to use this word in the context of acting, because I think it's pretentious, but here goes: she made CHOICES. Her character seems to be one of those down-trodden, wall-flower types, but she plays it with two twists, neither of which are particularly subtle, and left me confused about her character. Did Uma make her character multi-layered or inconsistent? I don't know yet. But aside from Kris Kristofferson, she certainly made her performance the most interesting.

final notes:

  • The score by Jeff Tweedy/wilco is perfect and almost always present.
  • The writing, by Nicole Burdette, is often outstanding, but sometimes doesn't make the conversion from her play to the film quite right.
  • The film was shot on digital video. sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It is not nearly as well shot as The Anniversary Party.

*my friend TBL pointed this out as the film's main problem.

posted by adm at 6:49 PM | #


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