Jason Reitman's BOOGIE NIGHT Live Read

It would seem as though we have the beginnings of an annual tradition.

Last autumn, Jason Reitman staged on of his live reads at TIFF 2012. That evening, he gathered names like Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, and Adam Driver to deliver an interpretation of Allan Ball’s script for AMERICAN BEAUTY. After the success of that evening, Reitman was approached to do it again this year…but what script would he choose, and who would he cast?

In the run-up to TIFF 2013, the shroud was pulled away – the script of choice would be P.T. Anderson’s Oscar-nominated script for BOOGIE NIGHTS, which had its world premiere at TIFF 1997.

The cast went as follows:

  • Jesse Eisenberg as Dirk Diggler
  • Josh Brolin as Jack Horner
  • Olivia Wilde as Amber Waves
  • Dakota Fanning as Rollergirl
  • Dane Cook as Reed Rothchild
  • Jason Sudeikis as Buck Swope

The remaining characters were filled out by Jarod Einsohn, Marc-Andre Grondin, Jordan Hayes, and Scott Thompson.

Josh Brolin and Dakota Fanning at The BOOGIE NIGHTS Live Read
As the event played out, a few things became wickedly apparent.

For starters, of all the live reads that Reitman has chosen to do so far, this might be the one that backfired the most. That’s not to say that it was bad, because it wasn’t. What I mean to say is that most of the other screenplays he has chosen to date – titles like MANHATTAN, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, THE APARTMENT, and RESERVOIR DOGS – have been classic choices that find most of their life on the page.

By comparison, hearing Anderson’s script for BOOGIE NIGHTS read aloud made it abundantly clear that while the screenplay is good, what elevates the film to a thing of greatness are elements like its look, its editing, its direction, and the pure physical presence of its actors. Many of its scenes allowed the gathered talent to have fun and show off…but it was difficult for them to gather any momentum, especially when Reitman read off long pieces of direction.

Olivia Wilde
The other detail that came to light was just how underwritten Rollergirl is. Dakota Fanning wasn’t given a whole lot to do at this event, with her lines being unexpectedly few and far-between. When the film is shown, Rollergirl is more of a physical presence than she is a fully-fleshed character. More often than not she acts as a fourth wheel at a table, or gives the scene some fluidity as she wheels around.

On the page though, Rollergirl is almost an afterthought, and that was proven tonight.

The event wasn’t a complete downer though. The brightest spots on the night were easily Olivia Wilde and Josh Brolin who did wonderful jobs interpreting the roles made famous by Julianne Moore and Burt Reynolds. Wilde was easily the standout. While on paper she seems too young to play the den mother to a bunch of smut-peddlers (Moore was almost 10 years older in the film), she delivered her lines in a way that embodied Amber’s character with the appropriate amount of weight. Just to prove that wasn’t a fluke, she also played the part of Dirk’s mother and tore him to shreds with great aplomb.

Two chairs to her left, Brolin embodied Burt Reynolds perfectly. While he had the advantage of being the best-cast actor of the night, he brought the goods in a way that would have made Smokey proud.

Meanwhile, over on stage right, Jason Sudeikis and Dane Cook were clearly having the most amount of fun portraying the film’s goofier moments. Between Cook doing his best Luis Guzman impression, dotting the script with a snorting sound for every line of drugs Reed Rothchild does (and it’s a lot), and Sudeikis singing REO Speedwagon, Night Ranger, and doing a great amount of breakdance hand gestures, the two jokers found the sweet spot between delivering the humour and hamming it up.

Jason Reitman

While this go-round felt like a step-down after AMERICAN BEAUTY, it still feels like time and money well spent. It cast a great deal of light on a movie that’s a favorite amongst a certain generation, and even gave the audience a look at a key scene within the screenplay that was left on the editing room floor. While one hopes Reitman will be better at script-selection and casting next time around, it was still a very special event.

Unlike most of the rest of TIFF 2013, it’s an experience that will not eventually make its way to theatres or blu-ray.

Note: All photos in this post are my own work. If copying and using for other posts, please credit or link back. – RM