They are four star students, all determined to become successful novelists, all driven by their own egoes and the drive to become famous. And so they each pay 5000 Dollars and book the title-Seminar with Professor Leonard who is only taking the best students of the year for his ten sessions of – it turns out – cold, relentless criticism, designed to destroy, then remodel the wannabe-writers.
There’s rich boy Douglas (Jerry O’Connell) with an almighty best selling father who never had to fight for anything in his life. He is cockily convinced to be brilliant – and destroyed with a few well placed words.
There’s insecure Kate (Zoe Lister Jones) who has rewritten her novel for nine years and yet is privileged and talented.
There’s sexy Izzy (Hettienne Park) who uses her body as her weapon to get what she wants, and who has no inhibitions at all.
And then there’s repressed Martin (Justin Long) who is very combative, but is holding back his work – not so much because he thinks it’s bad, but because he thinks nobody is actually worth it to read his novel.
And there is Leonard (Jeff Goldblum) who with painful precision, sarcasm and a great deal of vanity and self centeredness tears the work of his student apart and rips it to pieces.
First is Douglas whom he tells he’s good. Good, but hollow. And that he’d do great in Hollow-wood. He mocks Kate for her obsession with her one novel until she’s throwing him out of her Manhattan apartment that is their meeting place each week. But as she does, Izzy, who has an affair with Martin, gets closer to Leonard – and thus a better review of her work than the others. And as the former friends start to disassemble and regroup and form new alliances, and learn that their teacher – who wrote best selling novels until he was accused of plagiarism – is not as good as they thought – or is he? – they finally accept what Leonard tries to teach them – to survive according to their talent.
Douglas is set up with two major Hollywood scriptwriters and obviously charms them, Kate – who faked the “biography” of a drag rapper and finally found something akin to acceptance from Leonard – is copy editing the work of others and Izzy found a job in a hip literary blog and loves it.
Martin is the only one who is still fighting with his inner demons, even though Leonard thinks he is the only one who actually has the talent to actually become a writer. It’s just that Martin can’t accept the guidance of someone whom he doesn’t respect. Until he by chance finds the new novel of his teacher and it is brilliant. And so a treaty is formed between the two men – in order to form a novelist out of raw talent.
I didn’t think it would be, but it was – funny. Very funny indeed. The biting criticism from Leonard is delivered in short bursts of energy, mixed with name dropping vanity and tales of his latest trips into dangerous war- and post-war- zones. And a war zone is this seminar as well. A war zone where alliances, fights, deep – metaphorical – wounds and finally submission happen no matter how and in what way they try to stop it. O’Connell was very good as the fresh faced “prince” who would definitely blend into the hollywood crowd seamlessly, as were Zoe and Hettienne. Justin Long did an amazing job as the repressed genius, down to the being homeless to afford the seminar part.
And then there was Jeff Goldblum – whom I had seen in Speed the Plow in London, with Kevin Spacey. And I really liked him a lot, his lanky frame a tool to make his outbursts even more significant, his expressive eyes and long fingers additional means of his acting that haul you in and hold you in fascinated attention. Can you hear the “but”?
I had seen a lot of these tools and mannerisms in London. Then as now they fit the character Goldblum plays, but it is quite a bit of a let down when it seems that this great actor is just copying the same character over and over again. I therefore would have loved to see Alan Rickman in the same part.
That said and please remember, I really liked the show as a whole, I was a bit surprised it didn’t get a Tony-nod. And I was even more surprised when the day after the nominations were out the plug was pulled prematurely on the play. Maybe the knowledge that the play would only have 4 more days to live was the reason why Goldblum didn’t come out at the matinee when I was stagedooring. He had, after all, only taken over a few weeks before from Rickman and in that time the theatre suffered from a serious almost 50% drop in ticket sales. Its premature closing is a shame, I think, but of course understandable from the producers’ point of mercantile view.