Robert Altman’s penultimate film is an ensemble piece that follows members of the Joffrey Ballet, and a handful of fictional ringers, over the course of a season. It’s something of a vanity piece for its star & co-scripter, Neve Campbell, a trained ballerina in a previous life, whose move from ‘featured’ to ‘principal’ dancer provides the story arc. Altman & Co take a lot of care to tread lightly over the usual backstage squalls & the tug toward a ‘normal’ life away from their artistic passion, but they never find anything compelling to put in its place. Splitting the difference between cold-eyed documentary & wan narrative arc, the film leaves no mark at all, but just pleasantly wafts by as we catch glimpses of handsome young people at rehearsal & on stage. Alas, all too often obscured by camera edits, backstage scrims & scaffolding, leaving us with a film that is more admirable for what it avoids than what it achieves. That is, until the finale serves up the big ballet we’ve been dreading, a garish, kid-friendly boondoggle with a big, blue snake, and a hideously designed tale that might well be the missing love child of Maurice Sendak & Julie Taymor. Cripes! For the record, Malcolm McDowell gives a terrifically phony perf as the company director and James Franco as Campbell’s b’friend, looks fit enough to be dancing, but plays the world’s slowest sous-chef. Give yourself an extra two-hours for dinner.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Frederick Wiseman’s fly-on-the-wall documentary about the Paris Ballet, LE DANSE - LE BALLET DE L’OPÉRA DE PARIS/’09. is long, maddeningly opaque, and just about everything THE COMPANY tries so hard to be . . . the real thing.