Posted on Friday, October 17th, 2014 by Germain Lussier
It’s a shame only 600 people got to see Jason Reitman‘s Live Read of American Beauty on Thursday. If more people saw it, they’d be lining up to see Men, Women and Children this weekend. The cast proved they are wonderful together.
As the kickoff to the 4th season of Live Reads at LACMA, Reitman presented Alan Ball‘s Oscar-winning 1999 script. For all the roles, he chose actors from his latest film. (Which happens to open wide this weekend.) In the role of Lester Burnham, for which Kevin Spacey won an Oscar, Reitman cast Adam Sandler. The wife Carolyn, originally played by Annette Benning, was played by Rosemarie DeWitt. Their daughter Jane, originated by Thora Birch, was played by Kaitlyn Dever. Her best friend Angela, originated by Mena Suvari, was played by Olivia Crocicchia. Buddy the real estate king, first played by Peter Gallagher, was read by Phil LaMarr. Next door, the Colonel, played by Chris Cooper, was read by Dean Norris. DeWitt doubled as his wife (Allison Janney) and their son, the pot-dealer Ricky was Travis Tope. Wes Bentley originated the role.
With a script as good as Ball’s, an infant could read it and it would sound like poetry. What Reitman showcased with his latest cast is prove that good words are one thing, but chemistry and talent are something entirely different and wonderful. Below, read more about the American Beauty Live Read presented by Film Independent at LACMA.
All images courtesy of WireImage.
The script read was almost beat for beat what you see on screen in the Best Picture winning film. The few changes I noticed (and may be wrong about) are that some of the Lester’s narration was set over different scenes and he takes a train into work. The only added scene I noticed was one where Angela, Ricky and Jane head to the mall in Angela’s car. They hit traffic because of a car accident and Ricky gets way too excited to film the destruction. “I’ve always wanted to see the jaws of life,” he says. Beyond that, it was almost word for word the movie.
Ball’s descriptions of some of the decor and motivations were also a real delight. For example, Carolyn’s initial look is described as “TV Talk Show Host.” Almost every scene with a song had a specific one picked, though most of the ones he picked didn’t make the final movie. Describing the Burnham’s in bed, Ball says that “Even in her sleep, Carolyn looks determined” which got a big laugh. When she listens to Buddy speak, he says it’s “Live a fervent Christian whose just come face to face with Jesus.” Great stuff like that.
But the real joy in the live read is seeing how the cast interprets the rolls and interact with each other, so let’s break those down.
As Lester, Adam Sandler was fighting an uphill battle. We know he’s got good dramatic chops, but he’s not Kevin Spacey in his most iconic roll of all-time. Instead of trying to mimic Spacey, Sandler interpreted Lester as much more even keeled. There was a quiet resonance and intensity to his reading. Very calm, very direct, and only occasionally super energtic like Spacey is in the film. However that made those moments – mostly when he was supposed to be awkward around Angela or finally coming into his own – that much more impactful. No one could live up to Spacey’s Oscar-winning, fuck you performance as Lester, but Sandler should be commended for making it his own.
I wrote this on Twitter but I’ll say it again. Rosemarie DeWitt was so good in both of her roles, she made me want to write a movie just so I can cast her in it. When other members of the cast sat back to enjoy themselves, DeWitt did not. When people laughed or cheered, she didn’t break. She was 100% locked into Carolyn’s ditzy fakeness from minute one. During one intense scene, she and Sandler stared each other down. When it was over, he leaned back to relax as everyone laughed. DeWitt just slowly turned the page, the anger from the scene still plastered on her face. Overall, DeWitt’s interpretation of the perky, material-obsessed housewife was very much in line with Benning’s reading of the character. But she dialed it down just a degree or two. And the reason for that is, she had another role to play.
Whenever the script transitioned next door to the Fitts’ household, it was like DeWitt slowly turned a dimmer switch. You could literally see the focus in her eyes go from bubbly to flat line. It was a marvel to watch. And her timing as that character, who lives in another world, was perfect. Seriously, Annette Benning was nominated for an Oscar for this performance. If it was DeWitt 15 years later, she would’ve won it.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge Kaitlyn Dever fan. I literally though she deserved an Oscar-nomination for her work in Short Term 12 and she’s awesome in Laggies and The Spectacular Now too. Based on those roles, it’s pretty obvious Jane is right in her wheel house. Uncomfortable, confused, but with an undercurrent of purpose, she more than held her own with DeWitt and Sandler as her parents. In some scenes, she actually out-shined them, pumping up the attitude with a high degree of difficulty. More impressively though, she held her own with her fellow young actors, both of which absolutely crushed their roles.
Olivia Crocicchia and Travis Tope
I’m lumping these two together because, before tonight, I was largely unfamilar with their work. Crocicchia is best known for a role on Rescue Me and Tope on Boardwalk Empire. At the Live Read, each took the complex roles of Angela and Ricky and wholly encompassed them. Crocicchia delivered Angela’s sexy, confident and vulgar dialogue with delight. Even better, she didn’t overpower Dever, which would have been very easy. She was a perfect compliment of opposite energy.
Tope put on a gruff, direct tone as Ricky, giving the role a bit more of a manly spin. The cockiness worked incredibly well, making his eventual relationship with Jane that much more believable. Honestly, I was blown away by his performance and if I was ranking the actors, he’d come in just after DeWitt.
Who doesn’t love Dean Norris? He’s the greatest and the only reason I haven’t mentioned him much is his role as the Colonel is simply not that big. Norris was powerful as the straight laced military man with a deep secret but, sitting in a chair, it was hard for him to really live in that role. It’s a physical, impactful role and Norris did his best without standing up.
Much like his iconic role as Marvin in Pulp Fiction, LaMarr had a small but crucial role in the live read. As Buddy, he had an energy and delivery that really showed why Carolyn falls for him. But more than that, his energy on stage when he wasn’t reading made the whole night memorable. Sitting in his chair, next to Reitman, the two shared a number of moments where they just looked at each other, mouth’s a gape. He regularly sat back laughing at Ball’s delicious dialogue, or stared in amazement as DeWitt went off. I don’t think even the Bonnie Situation could have wiped the smile off his face.
In a way, LaMarr was the audience Thursday. Someone who sat there and knew he was watching something fun, memorable and special. It was a very successful star to the fourth season of Live Reads.
Jason Reitman’s Live Read series, presented by Film Independent at LACMA, continues November 20 with Diner and will be followed by The Empire Strikes Back, Goodfellas, Sideways and Dazed and Confused. Click here for more information.
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