This review was written for the festival screening of “Man in the Chair.”
LONDON — There’s a lot of wishful thinking in Michael Schroeder’s “Man in the Chair,” a ramshackle but likeable story of a movie-mad L.A. kid who gets a bunch of old-timers from the motion picture retirement home to help him make a student film.
The serious topic of neglect of the aged is given a moving examination but the picture is really about wish fulfillment as a neighborhood Valley youngster competes with a well-off rival to see who can make the best short film in a school competition.
The structure is conventional but movie buffs will enjoy all the film references and the strong sense of being among industry insiders. Committed performances by a good cast topped by Christopher Plummer, M. Emmet Walsh and Robert Wagner will help the film thrive at festivals and art houses. It should also do well on DVD.
Plummer has a fine time as a cantankerous retired gaffer named Madden who we see in a flashback being given the nickname Flash by Orson Welles on the set of “Citizen Kane.” He’s a spry old guy living comfortably in a well-appointed industry nursing home, having belonged to a good union, as he points out.
He’s crusty and disagreeable, however, hopping the bus around L.A., people watching and indulging his taste for good bourbon and Cuban cigars. He also goes to the movies, watching reruns in the Beverly and mocking the players onscreen. “You never could act wearing pants, Chuckles,” he calls out to Charlton Heston in “Touch of Evil.”
While most other patrons are annoyed by his outbursts, young Cameron Kincaid (Michael Angarano) is intrigued. An easygoing kid who’s good to his mother (Mimi Kennedy) but unhappy with his stepfather Floyd (Mitch Pileggi), Cameron loves movies and wants to make a short film with his buddy Murphy (Joshua Boyd).
But they have no money and their principal rival, the wealthy and spoiled bully Brett (Taber Schroeder) has entered the contest with a $20,000 budget and a Panaflex camera from his studio-exec daddy.
But as Cameron breaks through Flash’s tough-guy facade and shows his determination to become a director — the man in the chair — the old man decides to help. He ropes in the other craftspeople at his retirement home and in an amusing sequence obtains financial backing from a rich producer (Robert Wagner), who stole his wife.
He also tracks down a forgotten and decrepit once-legendary script doctor named Mickey Hopkins (Walsh) who lives in a squalid and rundown nursing home. Hopkins’ sorry state leads Cameron to research how many nursing homes in the country are guilty of negligence and he decides to make the issue the subject of his film.
Schroeder deals with the topic seriously and he gets the studio nostalgia right, too, as Flash takes Cameron onto a backlot stage to show him a hidden room where the below-the-line crew used to hang out. There’s also time for stepfather Floyd to get a life-lesson on parenting.
It’s sometimes a bit of a stretch and quite sentimental but Plummer, Walsh and Wagner are terrific, Angarano is very personable and Pileggi brings sympathy to the role of the stepdad. Dana Gonzales’ cinematography and Terry Carafo’s editing give Schroeder’s direction pace and energy, and while disbelief must be suspended here and there, the picture will leave movie buffs with a smile.
MAN IN THE CHAIR
Elbow Grease Pictures
Director and screenwriter: Michael Schroeder
Producers: Michael Schroeder, Randy Turrow, Sarah Schroeder
Executive producer: Peter Samuelson
Cinematographer: Dana Gonzales
Production designer: Carol Strober
Editor: Terry Cafaro
Costume designer: Tricia Gray
Music: Laura Karpman
Flash Madden: Christopher Plummer
Cameron Kincaid: Michael Angarano
Mickey Hopkins: M. Emmet Walsh
Taylor Moss: Robert Wagner
Murphy White: Joshua Boyd
Judy Kincaid: Mimi Kennedy
Floyd: Mitch Pileggi
Mr. Klein: Tracey Walter
Brett Raven: Taber Schroeder
Orson Welles: Jody Ashworth
Running time — 107 minutes
MPAA rating: PG