LACMA's Bing Theatre had a different air about it last night. The crowd was not the same one I had previously watched Ozu, Dreyer, or Antonioni with. This was a lively audience more heavily influenced by contemporary pop culture, and they were there to see Film Independent’s live read of Billy Wilder's 1960 gem The Apartment with director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air).
After film curator Elvis Mitchell introduced Reitman, the Academy Award nominee told us, "I'm so proud of Los Angeles and having this in my hometown," then announced the cast members for the night: Ken Jeong, Collette Wolfe, Nick Kroll, Jake Johnson, Mindy Kaling, Steve Carrell, and Natalie Portman. There were whoops and hollers. Then Reitman played a joke on us: He said J.K. Simmons, who was billed to play an elderly Sheldrake, would not make the performance and that he would be replaced by a younger actor. On cue, Pierce Brosnan walked out. The girl next to me jumped out of her seat.
The Apartment tells the story of Baxter, a tormented pushover who lends out his apartment to workplace superiors for clandestine trysts in return for a quick move up the corporate ladder. He's in love with Fran, an elevator girl who is already in a relationship with their married boss, Sheldrake. Carrell played Baxter beautifully—he was nasally and awkward, a combo of his characters in Dinner for Schmucks and The Office. Jack Lemmon, who originated the role, once told his son, "Drama's tough. Comedy's tougher. But being funny in a drama is one of the most difficult things of all." Carrell mastered this by being likeable and sympathetic and by utilizing precise comic timing, lightening even Fran's suicide attempt.
Other stand-outs for me were Pierce Brosnan and Mindy Kaling. Brosnan seemed a reincarnation of Fred MacMurray's Sheldrake but a little sexier. The way Brosnan inflected his voice and delivered his lines with the confidence of a man in charge was just like MacMurray. Kaling was great as Miss Olsen, but it was her portrayal of Mrs. Mildred Dreyfuss that had me bowled over. Her devotion to the old-timey New York accent was admirable and her comedic timing was unsurprisingly on point.
It's wonderful that LACMA and Film Independent are hosting Live Reads monthly. I met quite a few people there who had never seen the films of Billy Wilder, but were drawn to the celebrity bill. Expanding an artist’s audience is a good thing, culture-wise.
For those interested, the December Live Read event is already sold out. Try for January!
Photograph courtesy Alexandra Wyman/WireImage.com