Molly’s Game, the newest from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin—and also his directorial debut—is full of colorful characters and fast moving, predictably clever dialogue. It’s also so entertainingly laid out that it’s almost possible to forgive the absolutely terrible people who populate the story for the lives they ruined and the amount of needless suffering that came from it all. It also hints at a glamorous world where the incredibly wealthy can win and lose amounts of money in a single night that most won’t see in a lifetime. And because of its glamour—a word first used to mean magical enchantment to make things appear better than they are—it’s easy to wish to be a part of that world. And that was Molly’s first problem.
Based on the book by the eponymous Bloom, the true story of her own undoing, Molly’s Game is also a complicated legal dramedy about her legal defense after an arrest by the FBI. Bloom ran a continuing series of poker games, first hosted by her terrible Hollywood employer in a thinly veiled “Cobra Lounge.” These games were incredibly exclusive thanks to the incredibly famous people who attended, including Hollywood celebrities, business moguls, and politicians. When she falls out with her employer, she opens her own games. What follows is a meteoric rise to the top of a multi-million-dollar secret industry and all the infamous pitfalls that come with that kind of quick success.
Kevin Costner and Jessica Chastain
Bloom built her “multi-million dollar empire with her wits” and, through Sorkin’s lens, her something-that-rhymes-with wits. (His male gaze is…overt.) Jessica Chastain, who has shown herself many times over to be a phenomenal actress, does not disappoint. If there’s any complain about her performance it would be the same as so many of Sorkin’s characters; they’re so logical and put-together that they rarely show the kind of emotion you might expect in moments of extreme duress.
This is a story about very bad and very damaged people and the myriad ways they inflict harm on themselves and others. But because it’s also an Aaron Sorkin picture, it’s about the delivery of snappy rat-a-tat dialogue, clever quips, and enough giggles to make you walk away feeling like you’ve just seen something bordering on uplifting. It isn’t, but it feels like it.
To speak of Sorkin’s directorial style, he seems to have borrowed a few recognizable tricks from the likes of Guy Ritchie and Steven Soderburgh, but they have proven effective and are used with good humor. A moment sits less agreeably is the one big emotional scene between Chastain with Kevin Costner as Molly’s father. The scene is shown with Costner always just a bit more in focus than Chastain, no matter who’s positioned more dominantly in the frame or who’s speaking. If there are two of them, he’s just a little more emphasized. This doesn’t make a huge difference in the story; it’s just something that isn’t a complete surprise for those who are familiar with Sorkin’s treatment of female characters in the past.
Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain
The supporting cast is solid, with Idris Elba again the voice of justice and ethical behavior, his accent inconsistent but everything else about him very likable. Chris O’Dowd and Brian D’Arcy James play hilarious repeat gamblers who have more significance than Molly realizes. Michael Cera plays a straight-up sociopath, which is an interesting and surprisingly unnerving departure for him, and there was an audible frisson in the theater when Joe Keery, fresh from Stranger Things, appears.
Overall, this is a tight, entertaining film. There are some generally honorable people who make huge mistakes, and deeply dishonorable people who like to watch others drown in those mistakes. As the story unfolds on two timelines—the flashbacks and the legal defense—a picture emerges of a woman who beats the odds time and again among the morally corrupt while maintaining some semblance of her own true moral compass.
She didn’t intend to hurt anyone she hurt, and because she experiences pain beyond what she could have foreseen with as little exposure to the criminal underbelly as she had, she goes out of her way to prevent anyone else from undue suffering. She’s a good woman in a bad man’s world. In that much at least she’s relatable. Molly’s Game is a fascinating story. It’s invigorating, thrilling and at times shocking. If you’re going to gamble on a good time, you could do a lot worse this holiday season.
Photo Credit: Michael Gibson; Motion Picture Artwork © 2017 STX Financing, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Part Master Class, part jamboree and about as much fun as you can legally have at an evening of musical theater, this high test extravaganza shares, one gathers, but a smidgen of material jettisoned from what we now enjoy at the St. James Theater. Authors Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick wrote 54 songs for Something Rotten!
What was eventually chosen is arguably not only swell but best serves the piece. Cleverness of songs currently relegated to the brothers’ trunk, is, however, formidable. Though some are “site” specific, others could successfully be performed by cabaret and concert singers. Many of us in the sold-out crowd at Feinstein’s/54Below tonight, as well as those exiting the Broadway production, would be surefire customers for a CD of alternates, replete with Karey’s entertaining, explanatory, anecdotal repartee.
For those of you unfamiliar with the rollicking show (see my review), it concerns brothers Nick and Nigel Bottom “struggling in the shadows of that well known rock star Lin-Manuel Miranda – I mean Shakespeare.” (Karey) Welcome to the Renaissance/With poets, painters, and bon vivants…the original cast company sings. “I remember hearing that song and thinking it doesn’t sound much like Sondheim, but so many have told us they can’t get it out of their heads.” Right on, Karey. Part of the audience mouth the lyrics, many clap in time.
For tonight’s presentation, the gracious and very funny Karey, also on piano, acts as raconteur, while Wayne plays piano and guitar. Both writers, by the way, can sing. Also on piano is Musical Director Mat Eisenstein who manages an entirely new, complex production for this jam-packed, two-off performance.
At the beginning, “we went trolling through Shakespeare and wrote songs but didn’t have a plot.” By 2010, wondering whether the concept was viable, Karey and Wayne approached Kevin McCollum (producer of Rent). When he responded positively, the Kirkpatricks brought in John O’Farrell as third collaborator, “an incredibly funny writer who also knew a lot about Shakespeare, which meant less reading for us!”
“Words You Never Heard,” which calls out some of the many Shakespeare introduced into the English language, was one of those songs initially pitched. Broadway’s current Bard, Christian Borle, who won both Drama Desk and Tony Awards for his inspired performance, takes the stage with character swagger. After all, “he put the I am in iambic pentameter.” When he doesn’t have a word, the Bard makes it up. Some of those originated are: pander, pageantry, obsequious, stealthily, bedazzled…Borle delivers a full-out, cocky turn, punctuated by provocative fanny wag. There’s not a flicker of unfamiliarity with new material.
Next, Karey tells us about the origin of the now blockbuster production number “A Musical.” The unheard-of genre is foretold to Nick Bottom by Nostradamus (Brad Oscar) so that the underdog can compete with Shakespeare. We hear an initial rendition, then the more up-tempo version requested by Director Casey Nicholaw.
Nostradamus (Spoken):It appears to be a play where the dialogue stops/And the plot is conveyed through song. Nick (Spoken): Through song? Nostradamus: Yes. Nick: Wait, so an actor is saying his lines and out of nowhere he just starts singing? Nostradamus: Yes. Nick: Well that is the (Singing) Stupidest thing that I have ever heard/You’re doing a play, got something to say/So you sing it?… The dizzying number is a mash-up of familiar musical tunes with lyrics tailored to the moment. At the St. James, it has all the glitz and glamour one could wish for. Our grinning audience bounces in their seats.
John Cariani (Nigel Bottom) offers the deep-sixed “Nigel’s Lament,” dear to the authors’ hearts because it’s about a writer who thinks he’s no good: It all comes down to this, I suck, I suck/I hold my quill, but it still runs amuck…The company provides a choral arrangement including sucky, sucky, suck, man, you suck (in grave-faced harmony). Cariani’s (Nigel’s) eyebrows are knit to a point in utter humiliation.
A rejected celebration of romantic poetry that features Nigel (Cariani) and love interest, Portia (Kate Reinders), arrives as a 1970s Elton-Johnish number: love, love, love, love, magical, mythical love…the pair sing with tangy period flavor and infectious pseudo-gravitas. The two voices are terrific together, expressions priceless.
David Hibbard (Standby for Brian D’Arcy James’s Nick Bottom and three other roles) performs “On the Top” (which became “Bottom’s Gonna Be On Top”)…’om not gonna stop/until the Bottoms are on the top…An excellent vocalist, he also, as Nick, palpably vibrates with frustrated ambition.
Company member Marisha Wallace, with Cariani and Hibbard, sings a discarded “Right Hand Man,” as Nick’s wife Bea. Originally written as if ditsy support filled with obtuse insults, the number evolved into a demand for recognition of equal strength/ability. Wallace has a clarion voice we’re sure to hear in future outings and conveys the feckless woman exactly as the Kirkpatricks first envisioned her. The men are deadpan funny.
Heidi Blickenstaff (Bea) joins Cariani, Reinders and Hibbard for the very pretty “Lovely Love” in which we see all four actors occupy their roles. Blickenstaff closes her eyes and sighs into it, Cariani looks like a hopeful puppy, Reinders clasps hands at her breast overcome with pleasure, Hibbard expands with the possibility.
Karey and Wayne play the argumentative Nick and Nigel in an abandoned “The Trouble With You” whose consummate wordsmithing, like volleys of verse across a net, is an admired hoot. Nor, on the Broadway stage, did we see Nick and Nigel in the stocks among other prisoners, tap dancing (from the waist down) to “Desperate Times,” a metaphoric and currently politically apt complaint by those undeserved of such punishment.
We close with “Omlette” (the musical) and visions of dancing eggs. The Kirkpatricks wrote ten iterations of this! Sections from several range from rock n’ roll to the Andrews Sisters for inspiration. Alas, poor yolk, I know thee well…You make wine from sour grapes/ You got a flat pancake, hey, call it a crepe/When life gives you eggs, make an omelette…Om-om-om/Om-om-om/Om-om-om/Omelette…Who needs sugarplums?!
A chorus of company members throw themselves into this evening with gleeful abandon (as well as professionalism), enjoying it almost as much as the audience, dropping not a single new stitch. These include: Matt Allen, Elizabeth Early, Linda Griffin, Courtney Ivantosch, Aaron Kaburick, Tari Kelly, Beth Nicely, Aleks Pevec, Angie Schworer
The subversively instructive shenanigans were joyous and brimming with talent.
April 25, 2016
254 West 54th Street