Movie Review: September 2010
A 1982 PBS “American Playhouse” classic based on a Kurt Vonnegut short story. Available on DVD and Netfilx. Directed by Jonathan Demme, starring a young Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon.
Every once in a while a dusty old gem of a movie that you’ve never seen (in many cases never even heard of) makes an appearance and you get a second chance. In this case, as much as I hate to admit it, the title appeared on our Netflix list of suggested movies that you might like based on your previous choices. Call me old fashioned but the idea of having a computer analyze my preferences and suggest what might appeal to me is a bit big brotherish. Amazon and other on-line marketers have been doing this for years – sometimes they are right on and other times they are so off base you wonder whether they’re just throwing in some random crap to mess with your mind. But I digress…
Who Am I This Time is an understated 1982 PBS “American Playhouse” made-for-TV movie based on a Kurt Vonnegut short story starring a young Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon. Vonnegut’s story, a short ditty he tossed off in 1961 for publication in The Saturday Evening Post and later published in Welcome to the Monkey House is not among his classics but is fashioned like an O Henry short story. Direction by Jonathan Demme (Rachel Getting Married, Philadelphia, Silence of the Lambs) is subtle and captures the pace of the non-descript, small mid-western town where the story is set –the mood is not unlike an episode of Twilight Zone.
Walken plays his typical off-beat personality but in this case in the form of the painfully shy and reserved Harry Nash, hardware store stock clerk who can only relate to people when he’s playing a role on stage of the local community theater. Offstage his mild mannered persona resembles an acutely shy Clark Kent, yet when he gets in costume he takes on thespian super powers. As it turns out, he’s so talented he’s selected for the starring role of every production, hence, the title, Who Am I This Time?
Helene Walsh (Sarandon), the newly arrived itinerant young woman who works for the phone company is also lonely and so the stage is set. Continuing the analogy, just as Lois Lane falls for Superman but is not attracted to Clark Kent, Helene falls for Harry the actor, not Harry the store clerk. Although she has no experience and seemingly little initial talent, the director of the community theater group (Robert Ridgely) doesn’t find it too difficult to interest her in audiitoning for the town’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire. As Stanley and Stella Kowalski, Harry and Helene are safe to step outside their meek everyday personalities.
Much of the action takes place at the local high school gym as the play within the movie and the overall look and feel is sparse. But Walken and Sarandon more than compensate by providing superb performances in this compact (60 min.) production – and true to the O’Henry tradition there’s even a twist at the end. So don’t wait for the Netflix or Amazon computer to suggest you might enjoy this movie – take it from me.
Click below to check out a few scenes from Who Am I This Time. It begins with Helene’s audition with Harry for A Streetcar Named Desire. Makes you want to see a production of the Tennessee Williams classic with these two in the lead.