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Vanya on 42nd Street (Criterion) (Blu-Ray)

Blu-ray
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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This stirring 1994 work by Louis Malle brought the legendary French filmmaker into another collaboration with actors-writers-directors Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn, scribes and stars of the great My Dinner with Andre. The situation here is that Shawn and Gregory were participants in a years-long, informal project remounting a production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya every few months for select friends and the general worthiness of the idea. Wearing street clothes and strolling to a crumbling New Amsterdam theater on Broadway, actors Shawn, Julianne Moore, George Gaynes, Brooke Smith, Larry Pine, Phoebe Brand, Lynn Cohen, and others would do a full run of the text (as sharply translated by David Mamet) while a beaming Gregory (the play's director) looked on. Malle--who died following this film--spent a few days transforming the theatrical experiment into a viable film that maintained the company's unusual purpose and spirit. The result is something between a narrative feature and a documentary about an acting workshop, and is both highly entertaining and cinematically enthralling. A terrific final note in Malle's distinguished career, this is a must-see for anyone who cared about his work or who has a passion for Chekhov. --Tom Keogh

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Mamet and Malle make a winner! Sept. 29 2002
Format:DVD
I remembered loving this "small" film when I saw it in the theater, so I knew I'd be happy with the DVD, whether it had any extras or not (it doesn't). Although Julianne Moore has made it big since making Uncle Vanya ("Boogie Nights," "Nine Months," "The End of the Affair"), and her lovely face dominates the DVD cover, "Uncle Vanya on 42nd Street" is truly ensemble acting at its best. Wallace Shawn as the title character does a powerful job of holding the viewer's interest, even though his Vanya is riddled with smugness, envy, self-pity, and lethargy. There are things about his performance that make you wonder if Louis Malle wasn't thinking of "Uncle Vanya" as a sequel to "My Dinner with Andre" (especially since Andre Gregory plays the director who has gathered his troupe of actors to rehearse Uncle Vanya in the falling down New Amsterdam Theater in New York City). In both movies, Shawn plays a man facing a mid-life crises, plagued with self-doubt and floundering around, looking for reasons to go on.
What struck me on my recent viewing of the film was how timeless Checkhov's story really is. Like Jane Austen, he has a great ability to find the universal in the pettiness of highly-controlled domestic life. In comparing Mamet's rendering with Paul Schmidt's excellent recent translation, it seems Mamet did a good job of crafting speakable lines. He modernized the play without wrenching it from its original time or setting. Since the performance we see is a final run-through, not a dress rehearsal, we receive no visual clues as to when the play within the movie actually begins.
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Format:VHS Tape
Director Louis Malle, a decade or so after My Dinner with Andre, teamed once again with Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn to create Vanya on 42nd Street, and the second film is even more brilliant than the first. To help actors keep up their acting chops between jobs, Gregory staged recurring performances of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya in a decrepit, abandoned Broadway theater (since renovated by Disney to accommodate The Lion King) and inviting selected guests to witness the proceedings. As filmed by Malle, this performance comes as close to smashing the barriers between film and theater as any films ever made (even Olivier's films of Henry V and Hamlet didn't succeed quite as well). Although the performances of Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore and other New York actors are uniformly impressive, the standout is Brooke Smith, an actress of whom I know little (save for a guest shot on "Law and Order"). This movie shows us what a genius we lost when Louis Malle died, much too young.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a delight Sept. 19 1999
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
Director Andre Gregory has quietly been rehersing a group of superb actors in an abandoned theatre on 42nd street. None of the cast nor the director had any intention of performing the play; perhaps their activity would the equiavlent of calasthetnics for the rest of us. But Gregory did allow two or three close friends to occassionally come in and watch the rehearsal.
By means of this film, you can be one these friends, watching actors high in their craft perform one of Chekov's most challenging plays. The performance is compelling, the lighting and cinematography superb, and the entire concept brilliant.
I confess some predisposition to liking this film- I watched "My Dinner with Andre" fifteen times, and eagerly consumed Spaulding Grey's "Swimming to Cambodia", but on the other side, I saw a college performance of Uncle Vanya and considered it to be the worst play I had ever seen in my life.
Boy, was I wrong! This play is stunning. I highly urge your purchase of the video: here in Kauai, where there are so many other distractions, the two of us sat transfixed. You can even participate in the little refreshment break the actors have after Act II. A wonderful production, highly recommended!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A complete and total surprise Sept. 14 1999
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
I have never been a major fan of art films. I literally stumbled onto this film while channel-surfing. Although it was in the middle of the film, and I only saw a few minutes at a time until I resumed channel-surfing, I always landed back on this unusual film, which looked like a group of people going through a rehearsal. Eventually I was intrigued, and went to find out more info (like the name). After a while, I checked out the film, and saw it beginning to end.
I was amazed by what I saw. A group of performers (Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, George Gaynes, et al.) performing a classic Russian play in front of a small group of people, including the play's director, Andre Gregory. It looks like the group is really just rehearsing the play in their normal clothes, in an abandoned theater with minimal props. But NO! That's the actual performance they did! And by doing "Uncle Vanya" in this way, one can picture the events occuring any time, any place. I was astounded.
The biggest surprise to me was Wallace Shawn. Before I had seen him with recurring roles in "Murphy Brown" and "Star Trek: DS9," with my favorite performance as Vizzini in "The Princess Bride." Wallace Shawn as Vanya totally surprised me, and completely changed my perception of him as an actor.
I honestly believe that this film started me on a different path as to what films I watch now. I cannot recommend it enough.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful work
A rewarding film for theatre and film fans. The acting was top-notch. This movie came out quite a while ago, but has aged very well.
Published on Sept. 11 2006 by Book Nut
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, not great movie
A well-conceived film with an overall enjoyable cast. The best performance belongs to Brooke Smith (kidnappee in Silence of the Lambs) who perfectly portrays the heartbreaking... Read more
Published on Oct. 23 2003 by Noakim
5.0 out of 5 stars See this Vanya
This film removes the old stigma surrounding Chekhov and allows audiences of all ages and backgrounds to access the brilliance, pain, laughter, and humanity of his work. Read more
Published on June 10 2003 by Timothy King
5.0 out of 5 stars Less is so much more
Modern dress, an emprty, crumbling theatre, and an incredibly brilliant ensemble bring David Mamet's "loose adaptation" of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" to the... Read more
Published on March 11 2002 by S. West
5.0 out of 5 stars Less is so much more
Modern dress, an emprty, crumbling theatre, and an incredibly brilliant ensemble bring David Mamet's "loose adaptation" of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" to the... Read more
Published on March 11 2002 by S. West
5.0 out of 5 stars Not to be missed.
Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, Brooke Smith, and the rest of the cast do amazing work. Even in their street clothes the actors seem to inhabit the lives of their characters.
Published on May 6 2001 by Trent Stephenson
5.0 out of 5 stars Prepare to be delightfully ambushed by this film
I found that this film sneaked up on me, and by Act II I was captivated. I've thought about it so many times since then. Guess I will have to buy it. Acting, acting, acting!
Published on Dec 5 1999 by Susan M. Dunn
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, Moving, and Riveting
This is a very rare film that puts across the real feeling and impact of a night at the play. Thanks to the great direction by Malle, the terrific adaptation by David Mamet of... Read more
Published on April 30 1999 by R. W. Rasband
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