Susan Omand calls shotgun and watches An Actor Prepares...
"It's like being shot in the chest by a fat person..."
I rather enjoyed this. And that kind of surprised me a bit because the whole “no action, no suspense” light comedy road-trip thing is not usually my choice of viewing but it was the casting that persuaded me to try An Actor Prepares and I’m very glad I did. I mean, Jeremy Irons and Jack Huston – how could you not?
Irons plays a hugely famous, hard-drinking, hard-partying film actor, Atticus Smith, who, at the age of 70, gets his lifetime achievement award at a big bash in LA and promptly has a heart attack. He ends up in hospital where he gets told that he’ll have to have an operation to sort the problem in order to be recovered enough to play God in his next film. However, his only daughter Annabelle (Mamie Gummer) is getting married in New York the next week, to an ex-baseball star from Chicago, and Atticus has to be there. Only the doctors won’t allow him to fly with his heart condition. The solution Annabelle comes up with is for Atticus to take a road trip, with a nurse just in case, accompanied by his estranged son Adam (Jack Huston), a clean-living, vegetarian, feminist documentary maker who has his own personal problems to deal with. Atticus is discharged from hospital the next day into Adam’s care and that of a nurse/driver, who happens to be a Hells Angel recruited by the film’s producer to make sure Atticus is going to be well enough to play God rather than meet God, and they set off, from LA to New York, in a tour bus. Atticus has pills to take regularly and is under strict instructions not to drink, smoke, or eat fried food or sugar… so you just know that this is going to be a fun trip.
And it was fun but not in the crass, slapstick joke way you’d expect (even though there is nudity, swearing, alcohol and drugs by the bucketload but no actual violence), not least because Atticus manages to ditch the nurse/Angel at the first campsite. From then on, although the road-trip story did go exactly as you would expect it to with two antagonistic parties starting to get along together and bond with every scrape they get into, it was the on-screen chemistry between Atticus and Adam that made this film for me. I’ve enjoyed the work of both actors separately and, individually, their characters in this film were both written and played with a lot of depth and poignancy as they each dealt with processing their own issues, but it’s the spark between them as they interacted with each other that just lit up the screen. This was a father/son dynamic that I completely bought into rather than being, as it could have so easily been with other actors in the roles, a clichéd and over-blown role-reversal. As an aside I also really enjoyed the level of detail that went into Atticus’ filmography and had a good giggle at some of the titles while half recognising some of the films on the posters like the Turner and Hooch-esque buddy movie Cops & Slobbers. Anyway.
I just wish that their post-production budget could have been big enough that they could have afforded better CGI as the green-screening of the passing countryside through which they were driving was horribly obvious and pulled me out of the moment but that is pretty much the only quibble I had with what is a fun and funny film, and a heart-warming, smile-inducing way to pass a damp and dreary afternoon.
AN ACTOR PREPARES is released On Demand from 3rd September
Image - Kew Media