Harris Chappell (Jeffery Tambor) is set to direct his big Broadway comeback, "The Life and Times of Jackson Sweetwater," which will be a big hit if Harris can find the right lead and the money to make it happen. This comical farce is driven by dialogue and cut from the mold of any number of screwball comedies from the '30s and '40s (Room Service and Twentieth Century spring to mind). Tambor is a veteran character actor whose career runs from Kojak to Arrested Development, and he handles his talky protagonist deftly. In theater, dialogue is everything, but in movies, not so much (at least not of late). Meeting Spencer is comprised mainly of actors talking (and occasionally singing, which is an inside joke), yet it's pithy and funny in that continuous smile kind of way that you don't notice until you're half way through it. On the heels of comedies like Arthur and Your Highness, I'd defer to a permanent smile over a couple of chuckles and a contact high. This said, Spencer may not make its money back at the box office.
Harris, once a prince of Broadway, has returned to the theater licking his wounds after a rough turn in Hollywood. He enters clutching a play, a star and financing, all of which could revive his career. The star and the financing are gone before the film's second act, and getting them back before dessert is the subject of the third. Mistaken identities and who's doing what to whom keep the farce at a rolling boil. It ultimately pivots around kid named Spencer, played with affable charm by Jesse Plemons. The movie makes the most of its fairly static set (bar, bathroom, cloakroom, dinner table) and the players are fair or better. Neither steeped in profundity nor brimming with drama, Meeting Spencer isn't about anything other than its own sense of humor.
In 1984, director Malcolm Mowbray made a great British comedy called A Private Function starring Maggie Smith and Michael Palin. It's hands down one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. Mowbray also directed a really bad Steven Guttenberg/Shelly Long comedy called The Boyfriend School, whose American title was even worse: Don't Tell Her It's Me (1990). Meeting Spencer is a middle-grade venture for Mowbray, not as good as the former but not as bad as the latter.
Cast: Jeffery Tambor, Melinda McGraw, Jesse Plemons and Yvonne Zima
Director: Malcolm Mowbray
Screenwriter: Andrew Kole, Andrew Delaplaine and Scott Kasdin
Producers: George Braunstein
Rating: R for some language.
Running Time: 88 min.
Release date: April 22 LA