'Meeting Spencer'

An arch setpiece that feels like a frisky revival of a hoary chestnut.

A once-lionized Broadway director makes an attempted comeback after flopping in Hollywood in “Meeting Spencer,” an arch setpiece that feels like a frisky revival of a hoary chestnut. Though written directly for the screen by a trio of newcomers (clearly overexposed to “All About Eve”), Brit helmer Malcolm Mowbray’s film assumes the constrictions of a stagebound farce, taking place on a single set in real time, and swept along in magisterially broad strokes by Jeffrey Tambor’s playfully theatrical perf. Bowing April 8 at Gotham’s Quad Cinema, this curio could succeed on arts-themed nets.

Harris Chappell (Tambor) enters Frankie & Johnnie’s with a flourish (the famed Broadway restaurant is meticulously reproduced on a Hollywood set), pretending to know and, more significantly, be known by everybody there. Accompanied by old flame Didi (Melinda McGraw), who supposedly found a backer for Chappell’s mounting of a recently deceased Pulitzer Prize winner’s last play, Chappell has also arranged to meet with struggling young actor Spencer (Jesse Plemons).

The table’s various agendas further tangle as new characters storm or flutter in, their entrances and exits necessitating much elaborate maneuvering as characters are dragged outside for frenzied pow-wows, banished to the bar or exiled to the men’s room.

First to appear, in disguise, is the play’s venerable leading man (William Morgan Sheppard), sporting a fake beard and demanding changes to the play’s dramatis personae, the title and his lines. As one backer falls by the wayside, another materializes, and the play promptly transforms from an old man’s tragedy into a young man’s musical comedy — starring, of course, the callow Spencer, who himself has tucked a few surprises up his sleeve.

The dramatic goings-on at Chappell’s table soon become the center of attention for the whole restaurant, as agents, reporters, investors and actors swarm, whisper and scramble to grab a piece of whatever’s going down. The script, by Andrew Kole, Andrew Delaplaine and Scott Kasdin, though clearly derivative, wears its aficionado’s heart on its sleeve, coming off as a competent if never particularly enthralling valentine to bygone Hollywood depictions of the Great White Way.

Tambor expansively lords it over the proceedings, his sophisticated wit standing in marked contrast to the catty swipes of the restaurant’s swishier denizens. Cavalierly channeling John Barrymore in “Twentieth Century,” he neatly negotiates Chappell’s zigzagging course between private anxiety and public self-confidence, artfully tempering his character’s hammy egotism with a measure of humor.

Within the confines of its stagy artificiality, the thesping mostly rings true. McGraw lends a red-lipped sexuality to Didi’s conspiratorial streak, and Plemons’ Spencer morphs from an aw-shucks hayseed to a polished showstopper in high style.

Meeting Spencer

Production

A Paladin release of a George G. Braunstein production. Produced by Braunstein. Executive producer, Chien Ya-chin. Directed by Malcolm Mowbray. Screenplay, Andrew Kole, Andrew Delaplaine, Scott Kasdin; story, Kole, Delaplaine.

Crew

Camera (color), Paula Huidobro; editor, John Travers; music, Stephen Coates; production designer, Bradd Fillmann; set decorator, Jen Messer; costume designer, Oneita Parker; sound (Dolby Digital), Dennis Grzesik; re-recording mixer, Michael McDonald. Reviewed at Magno Review, New York, April 4, 2011. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Jeffrey Tambor, Melinda McGraw, Jesse Plemons, Jill Marie Jones, Yvonne Zima, William Morgan Sheppard, Julian Bailey, Caroline Aaron.
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