One thing you should know about Robert Altman’s latest film, The Company, is that it has no plot. I realize that people say “no plot” when they actually mean very little plot, but in this case it’s really “no plot.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Altman, despite having made his name with a commercial success (MASH), has always been a left-of-center, occasionally avant-garde director, and some of his most effective movies (McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye) seemed more interested in an accretion of murmured asides than in conventional storytelling. The Company is a docudrama look at Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet. It’s got a distinctly Altman-esque flavor, but it’s dramatically flaccid between the dance numbers, which are apparently the film’s raison d’etre.
Malcolm McDowell plays Alberto Antonelli, the company’s artistic director, a part that exemplifies what’s wrong with the movie. Antonelli is a bit of a stock character, a benign tyrant who’s rude to his underlings not out of spite but because it’s convenient for him to walk away from difficult conversations, and because he knows his eccentric behavior will be indulged. He also seems to be past his creative prime, offering nonsensical advice to his dancers and speaking in vague generalities. His main job seems to be to keep an eye on the company’s budget. It’s a character that could have been the basis for a nice comic turn or even a slightly sad one, but once his familiar tics are established nothing comes of it. You keep expecting more, but it doesn’t happen. And this is the least underwritten character in the film. Even the central character, played by Neve Campbell (who co-produced and co-wrote the evanescent screenplay), drifts through tastefully low-key clichés without coming to life,
At least the dance sequences are mostly excellent, and should appeal to even the non-aficionado. This is modern ballet, not young girls in tutus prancing around in Swan Lake, and the music and the staging are edgy and kinetic, with an added layer of interpretation given by Altman’s felicitous camera setups.
The most emotionally direct dance sequence is the least elaborate, a pas de deux by Campbell and Domingo Rubio to a piano and cello rendition of Rodgers & Hart’s “My Funny Valentine.” A sensual performance given in an outdoor amphitheater during a rainstorm, it’s the movie’s dramatic high point. After which we go back to the mundane real world and wait patiently for the next transcendent mix of music and movement.
Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Friday-Sunday, Feb. 13-15. Call 313-833-3237. Opens Feb. 20 at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, west of Telegraph Road). Call 248-263-2111.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.