In May of 2013, I wrote about controversial movie director Henry Jaglom, a Santa Monica resident for the past 25 years. During our interview Jaglom struck me as intelligent and urbane but perhaps a tad narcissistic. Okay, maybe more than a tad.
I alerted Henry that I might poke a little fun at this trait. He emailed that I didn’t need to apologize because, “Sometimes being narcissistic is a good thing.” I responded, “Spoken like a true narcissist.” Actually, I found Henry’s self-acceptance and conversational skills charming.
Now Jaglom has a new movie out, “The M Word,” his 19th feature film. (That alone is an amazing feat.) A maverick, Jaglom makes low budget, independent movies and uses extensive improvisation. Perhaps because I’m a writer, I’m not necessarily a fan of the technique.
Improv is often associated with “The Method,” created by Constantin Stanislavski and later adapted by Lee Strasberg for American actors. It emphasized connecting to a character by drawing on personal emotions and memories.
The Method came to great prominence in 1947 when Marlon Brando played Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams Pulitzer-prize winning play “Streetcar Name Desire,” and in the 1951 film, which won 3 Oscars. Brando’s performance is considered one of the most influential in American cinema history.
When improv works it can be brilliant to watch but, when it bombs, it can be painful. As an actor Jaglom was trained by Strasburg. As for his directing style, the late Louis Malle said dryly, “He improvises almost completely. But excuse me, it shows.” And yet “The M Word,” which is about 50% improv, is somehow endearing.
Many of Jaglom’s movies have been about women’s issues, i.e. “Eating” in 1990, “Baby Fever in 1994, “Going Shopping” in 2005 and “Irene in Time” in 2009. “The M Word,” another comedy, is about menopause (and money) and was shot almost entirely in Santa Monica.
The action centers on a struggling TV station threatened by economic downturn, in-house graft and job layoffs. Tanna Frederick plays Moxie Landon, a children’s TV show actress who finds herself leading co-workers demanding their rights when their new boss, Charlie Moon (Michael Imperioli of “Sopranos” fame), arrives from the corporate office in New York.
Moxie’s passion is a documentary she’s filming about menopause. Her mother (Frances Fisher) and two aunts, (Mary Crosby and Eliza Roberts) and many friends at work, struggle with the challenges and joys of menopause. Complicating matters, Moxie falls for Charlie.
Jaglom’s transition from acting to directing was largely influenced by Federico Fellini’s masterpiece 8 _. “I realized then that what I wanted to do was make films about my own life.” To that end, many of Jaglom’s movies are family affairs and the “M Word” is no exception.
Frederick is his wife, while his brother, Michael Emil, his son Simon Orson Jaglom and his father-in-law, David Frederick, all have memorable parts in “M Word.” (The latter, along with Tanna, his real life daughter, delivered a very touching scene using a song from her childhood.)
Digressing for a moment, another intriguing aspect of Jaglom’s life is his long-time relationship with the late Orson Welles. Over eight years, Welles frequently had lunch with Jaglom and those conversations were taped by mutual consent.
Hundreds of hours of tape were sitting in a suitcase until Jaglom gave journalist Peter Biskind permission to transcribe them. For legions of Welles’ fans the result is an absolutely fascinating book, “My Lunches with Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles.”
In the book, Welles recalls a Newsweek review of “Citizen Kane.” The novelist John O’Hara is quoted, “This is not only the best picture that has ever been made, it’s the best picture that will ever be made.” Welles laments, “I started at the top and worked my way down.”
Despite gaps in the plot, “The M Word” is filled with wonderful performances. Among them was Gregory Harrison (host of an “Extreme Sports” show), Zach Norman who has been in 12 of Jaglom’s movies, and Eliza Roberts.
There are also very credible “non actors” who are interviewed in Moxie’s documentary, which is artfully woven into the main story. Special mention should be made of Jane Van Voorhis, and Vicki Abelson, along with a perfect closing song by Andrea Ross-Greene who’s accompanied by Harriet Schock on the piano.
“The M Word” has received excellent reviews, including one from the NY Times. (Typical of Jaglom’s career, it’s also been trashed.) I doubt that menopause has been the subject of a feature film, and certainly not a comedy. My hunch is it will attract a niche audience, if not greater. That said, I’m not sure that Louis Malle would have liked it.
“The M Word” is playing at the Laemmle Music Hall theatre in Beverly Hills. For more info go to: themwordmovie.com. Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.