Barrymore: Christopher Plummer Plays the Hollywood Icon

Anyone even slightly versed in Hollywood lore knows that the scandals that make TMZ twitter are child’s play compared to those of Hollywood’s early years, and that the template for bad-boy behavior was carved by the late John Barrymore. In writer/director Erik Canuel’s Barrymore, based on William Luce’s play, Christopher Plummer recreates his Tony-winning performance as the charming OG louse in his booze-addled final days. Blessed with a script that is witty, insightful about the narcissistic Hollywood psyche, and often wonderfully bitchy, the film is also a wistful look at faded dreams and opportunities lost due to both the vagaries of the business and self-sabotage. The balance is impressively struck between bawdy humor and elegiac riffs; Plummer’s surgically precise pirouettes spin his Barrymore from breezy quips to dark emotional free fall and back. The only other onscreen character is an exasperated “Frank, the Prompter” (John Plumpis, in fine gay-straight-man form); the film is barely opened up from its stage origins, with most of the action taking place in an empty theater as Barrymore disastrously/hilariously attempts a performance of Richard III (“Richard the turd,” he dubs him) for potential investors in a comeback vehicle. It takes a minute for the film to move beyond a kind of gilded stasis, but once it does, it and Plummer are riveting.