Popcorn Picks: Barrymore

By Mike Crisolago

Starring: Christopher Plummer, John Plumpis

Director: Erik Canuel

Genre: Drama (with its share of comedy)

Choice Quote:  Barrymore: Frank, you think my fans will remember me when I’m a has-been?

Frank: Of course they do.

What’s it about?: Legendary Shakespearean actor John Barrymore’s attempt to revive his faltering career by reprising his famed role as King Richard in Richard III is hampered by lapses in memory, alcoholism and endless reminiscences of years past.

Is it any good?: The film, adapted from the William Luce play of the same name and set on a Broadway stage (though filmed in Toronto’s Elgin Theatre), is fantastic. Christopher Plummer acts seamlessly for both the stage and screen at once, concocting a charismatic Barrymore who’s both playboy and pauper, Shakespearean actor and broken-down matinee idol, made even more tragic by continued, though brief, glimpses of his greatness. Think a mix of the talent of Sir Laurence Olivier, the self-destructive nature of Charlie Sheen and age/turmoil-defying energy of Ric Flair.

Plummer sings, dances, does impersonations and cracks one-liners that will have you chuckling throughout the show (consider this gem when Barrymore recalls his relationship with his first wife: “For 20 years, Catherine and I were ecstatically happy. Then we met.”)

To call Barrymore a one-man show would be an injustice to two other individuals who play key roles. John Plumpis, who stars as beleaguered stage manager Frank, is the tough-loving straight man to Barrymore’s downward spiralling star. And behind-the-camera director Erik Canuel does a magnificent job of filming a play without really filming a play. The intimacy and stage-prop charm of the theatre remains intact (it’s “Terry Gilliam-ish,” as Canuel notes in an interview on this site), while flashbacks and perspective camera shots are handled with the skill of a filmmaker who, by contrast, literally grew up in the theatre.

Plummer’s already earned a Tony Award for his Barrymore stage performance. An Oscar for his screen performance would definitely prove well deserved.

Can I bring my kinds and grandkids to see it?: Though a great film, the subtleties of Barrymore’s suffering would be lost on children. Teens who appreciate a great acting performance would enjoy.

See it in theatres or rent it? Theatres.

Overall Popcorn Rating: 5 kernels (out of 5)

Barrymore is showing in select Canadian theatres on Wed., May 23, 2012, and then Sat., June 2 until Sat, June 10. Toronto’s Cineplex Odeon Sheppard Cinemas, Montreal’s Cineplex Odeon Cavendish Mall Cinemas and Vancouver’s Cineplex Odeon International Village begin a longer release on May 25. A wider national release is expected later this year.