Reviews: Every Little Step and Terribly Happy

Every Little Step

2009 documentary Every Little Step plays out much like every reality competition show ever: a horde of contestants is gradually whittled down in front of the viewer’s eyes, as tensions mount and talking heads give us perspective on why the process is so Important. But Every Little Step avoids the pitfalls of exploitation and manufactured drama of reality TV, finding a positive and engrossing message in the ambition and astounding perseverance of aspiring Broadway actors.

The key to the film’s success is the particular show it focuses on: the 2006 Broadway revival of Michael Bennett’s 1975 musical A Chorus Line. If you don’t know the show, don’t be afraid of the film; directors James Stern and Adam Del Deo make sure to lay out the movie so that you can pick up a feel for the show and its characters quickly. The musical follows (stop me if you’ve heard this one) a group of aspiring Broadway actors auditioning for the chorus line of a musical. You can see where this is going. Bennett wrote A Chorus Line after hours and hours of informal conversations with friends and colleagues (some of which are played here), and Every Little Step draws a line from their experiences, to the characters in the show, and then back to the actors auditioning for the revival.

Watch this documentary, and you will never be able to look at professional musical theater the same way again. The demoralizing grind of the audition process is absurd; that anyone willingly submits to this cycle of renewed hope and shattered dreams is astounding, and demands your respect and admiration not only for the small percentage that make it, but the countless thousands that don’t. That’s what really separates Every Little Step from reality television: the sense of respect that pervades every frame. Respect of the filmmakers for the actors, respect of the show’s directors for the material, and, critically, respect of the actors for each other. They all have been through the same troubles, and if there’s grudges held over callbacks and such, they keep it hidden well.

Entertaining, informative, and a bit awe-inspiring.

Verdict: 3 out of 4 stars

Terribly Happy

I can’t make a much better recommendation for this darkly comic Danish noir flick than these words by Oscilloscope Laboratories (my favorite U.S. distribution company) founder and former Beastie Boy Adam Yauch:

I love this film. It is just further proof that the Danish people are clearly out of their minds.

The film follows policeman Robert Hansen as he is unofficially exiled from his duties in Copenhagen for an unspecified but apparently unacceptable outburst. He is assigned as the new marshal of a tiny, remote country village, where his by-the-book city ways conflict with the unorthodox methods of the small town. It’s a recognizable setup, but one that lends itself to an incredibly atmospheric, off-kilter thriller.

Terribly Happy has much of the same feel of a Coen brothers noir like No Country for Old Men, or better yet, the siblings’ debut feature Blood Simple. Add in a splash of the unexplained, unconfirmed sense of dread that pervades a David Lynch film, and watching Terribly Happy is more about what you feel than what you see. Don’t expect everything to wind up as tidily as you might want from a crime/mystery film, but treat it more as a fable, and you’ll get a better idea of what Terribly Happy is aiming for.

Excellent performances all around, especially by lead actor Jakob Cedergren as Robert.

Verdict: 3 out of 4 stars

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