Vanya on 42nd Street (1994)

vanya on 42nd street poster 1994 movie
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 7/10

Decent telling of Uncle Vanya

Doesn't incorporate the stage aspect enough to be included

Movie Info

Movie Name: Vanya on 42nd Street

Studio:  Channel Four Films/Mayfair Entertainment/The Vanya Company

Genre(s): Drama

Release Date(s):  September 10, 1994 (Venice Film Festival)/October 19, 1994 (US)

MPAA Rating: PG

vanya on 42nd street my dinner with andre gregory wallace shawn

Want to grab dinner…I have some more pretentious ideas to tell you

In a dilapidated theater on 42nd Street, an acting troupe is putting on the famous Anton Chekhov 1898 play Uncle Vanya.  As the actors gather and do a full run through of Uncle Vanya, the play unfolds in a tale of unrequited love, drinking, and a crumbling existence.  The play has tensions running high, but the stage and act are different.

Directed by Louis Malle, Vanya on 42nd Street is a post-modern drama.  The film is a version of the 1898 play Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov based on the 1994 adaptation by David Mamet.  The film was released at the Venice Film Festival to positive reviews.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the movie (Criterion #599).

I don’t really know anything about Uncle Vanya other than by name and that it is a Chekov play.  I can’t judge the Mamet take on the play in that sense.  Instead, I see the play with clear eyes, and though it is a function of the movie, the “take” could have been exploited more.

vanya on 42nd street brooke smith julianne moore

Being a step-mom is weird…when you kid is a few years younger than you

The movie really doesn’t do a lot with the idea that it is a dress rehearsal, though that seems to be the basic framework for the film.  Once the play starts, there are a couple breaks that demonstrate that the characters are just characters and not the actors…but it also doesn’t feel like that it is boosted enough to make it worthwhile.  If there had been more “between the scenes” portions of the film, you could have seen the differences of the characters and the actors portraying them and the idea of theater as a whole…instead you get a solid performance of Uncle Vanya with some extra stuff.

The cast is good.  While most are familiar to film and TV viewers, the cast has extensive stage work.  Andre Gregory plays the director and it is nice to see him (even briefly) hanging out with his old friend Wally from My Dinner with Andre.  Shawn himself does a great job as the exasperated Vanya who feels his life slipping away.  Julianne Moore’s Yelena could be easy to hate and seen as a gold digger, but instead (to Chekov’s credit), she seems like a lost soul who finds everyone including Shawn, Larry Pine, and her husband George Gaynes drawn to her.  I particularly like Brooke Smith as the plain Sonya who has more heart than anyone in the film.

vanya on 42nd street george gaynes wallace shawn jullianne moore lynn cohen

We shall succeed…for we have Punky Power!

The movie is set in a broken down theater in New York City.  The lighting is poor and everything around it seems rotten…which stays with the themes of Uncle Vanya.  The people are living a life that isn’t sustainable…it seems to be breaking down and unless something changes, it will end (the doctor Astrov played by Larry Pine indicates that life is advancing and time is unstoppable).  Everything is aging and time is running out for the characters.

Vanya on 42nd Street is good, but it feels like it could have been better.  I wish that the “rehearsal” aspect of the movie had been exploited more or scrapped for a true performance.  Primarily the film is a good showcase for the actors and a decent exploration on how stage and film are different.  The film ended up being Louis Malle’s last film and a so-so end to a storied career.

Related Links:

My Dinner with Andre (1981)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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