1920s. New York City. Broadway. Prohibition is enforced, girls are smoking cigarettes and everyone’s having a jolly good time. You’ve just got a play commissioned in one of the best theatres in the country and you’re even allowed to direct it and your dream actors have agreed to star. Aren’t you just the luckiest SOB around?
Not if you’re David Shayne (John Cusack) and your manager has been a sneaky so-and-so and promised a big-shot mob boss his floozy can have a part in the play if he funds the entire project. Not only that, but his girlfriend is an annoying, two bit hack who couldn’t act to save her life.
Even more annoyingly, your play really isn’t that good. And when the Floozy’s bodyguard starts offering up great ideas for re-writes, you reluctantly accept the help from a murderous gangster with a knack for dramaturgy. Enter the hilarious gangster-theatrical comedy…
Bullets Over Broadway
When I think of New York City at it’s most glamorous and fantastical, I think of the 1920s. I think of flappers and smoke swirling around speakeasies. And Charleston dances and gangsters in pin striped suits sipping whisky and gunning each other down in alleyways in broad daylight. Because the cops are all bent and know where their loyalties lie. Ahhhh, good times. Bullets Over Broadway personifies all of this around a great love of mine: the theatre.
Bullets reminds me more of Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979) than newer Woody Allen films. Which I know sounds like I’m just stating the bleeding obvious (they’re both set in NYC, duh), but Bullets was produced equidistance from those films and to Allen’s later films like Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) which still carry many of Allen’s signature styles. But those films are perhaps a step away from the whimsy and neurosis behaviour of many of his characters… Okay, I’ll retract, his later characters are slightly but noticeably less neurotic. Nevertheless, still more neurotic in their own unique way rather than an obvious extension of Allen’s own anxieties regarding creativity and social situations. Anyway, let us move on…
A rose by any other name
The character that reminds me most of the characters Woody Allen used to play in his movies is the playwright portrayed by John Cusack. He’s very, very precious over his work. As I’m sure most playwrights are, but in a pretentious way. He simultaneously thinks he’s God’s gift to Broadway yet also unworthy. And he walks with a beaten posture and spits rapid speeches like Woody Allen does when he “acts” in his films.
But this is by no means a criticism. John Cusack is fantastic in the role and has once again proven his versatility. The supporting actors were also top notch in their respective roles. They were allowed to waver closer to theatrical styles of acting rather than understated for the screen. Which works when you have British actor Jim Broadbent and Dianne Wiest who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance.
The colour palette of the film, I would say, was heavily saturated while the sets were often dark. Theatres, bars, house parties, etc. which gave a late night, lamp-on-the-desk-at-3am glow that looked, to me, both mysterious and sultry. Both positives in a film set in a yesteryear where smoke would provide hazy interiors and moonshine alcohol would cloud judgement with murderous and scandalous consequences.
What did you think of Bullets Over Broadway? Did you love it as much as I did?