Synopsis: Mark and Annie Ferris (Michael Richards, Julie Hagerty) arrive in London for tennis at Wimbledon. Debra and Paul Dolby (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jonathon Silverman) arrive in London for their honeymoon. Sidney and Diana Nichols (Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Clarkson) come to London separately, for a reunion of sorts. Sharon (Madeline Kahn) and Lauren Semple, mother and daughter, come to London to shop ’til they drop.
What brings all these delicious characters with their sparkling dialogue together? And what do they have in common? Well, they’re all staying in the world-famous, luxurious Grosvenor House hotel – and they spring from the brilliantly comic imagination of Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Neil Simon.
London Suite 7.75
eyelights: Kelsey Grammer. the witty writing.
eyesores: Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
‘London Suite’ is based on a Neil Simon play. As with his earlier plays (and subsequent movies), ‘Plaza Suite‘ and ‘California Suite‘, it is composed of four acts and revolves around the interpersonal relationships of various guests at a hotel. (fans of ‘Plaza Suite’ will note that it’s four acts, but it was originally written as three – the fourth was fleshed out as ‘The Out-of-Towners’)
I’ve long been a fan of Simon’s work – as translated for the silver screen, at least. Over the years, I’ve discovered that his flair for dialogue was in a class of its own, and I frequently enjoyed his films (sometimes more so as I re-watched them and picked up more of their subtleties) – even some of the cornier fare, such as ‘Murder by Death’ and ‘The Cheap Detective’.
So when I discovered that there was a third film in the ‘Suite’ series, I was certainly intrigued. I had found the first two enjoyable and was curious to know what he would do with a totally new setting. Further to that, the cast was fairly impressive, boasting Patricia Clarkson, Kelsey Grammer, Julie Hagerty, Madeline Kahn, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards and many more.
If I had any reservations at all, it was that this was a Hallmark television production – not that the other films were major productions nor that this demanded much, it’s just that when I think of Hallmark, I think of sappy cards and melodramas – not exactly what I would wish for from a Neil Simon film. But I was curious enough to have a go at it and picked it up nonetheless.
I must say that I was mostly pleased with this particular production. Although the commercial fade-outs were annoyingly abrupt, the way all the stories were spliced together (as opposed to being presented as complete, individual segments) seemed to work. There were some stories that were better than others, but on the whole they held up and mingled well.
Diana and Sidney: By far the best of the set, this storyline features Patricia Clarkson and Kelsey Grammer as exes who reunite in London after 8 years. She has come from the US on a publicity trip for her television series and he has returned from Greece, having been there with his lover since his divorce to Diana. It’s a complicated situation given that he is gay and that she still pines for him, on top of some money issues that surface, but Clarkson and Grammer make it work. Grammer, in particular, gives Sidney a welcome dignity. Kristen Johnson has a small part as Sidney’s personal assistant, who also happens to be in love with her. The segment is reminiscent of the Maggie Smith and Michael Caine duo in ‘California Suite’, but it’s a revisiting that’s enjoyable.
Going Home: A mother and daughter are in London on a shopping trip. The mother, Sharon, is a shopaholic, to the degree that she accidentally buys the same shoes that she brought with her. Lauren suggests that this is her way of coping with being a widow, and contrives to get her mom out on a date – with an unusual chap with all sorts of quirks. This one only works due to Madeline Kahn’s flair for comedy; she’s not entirely convincing, but she’s nonetheless the highlight, bringing vivacity to an otherwise dull affair.
The Man on the Floor: I rather enjoyed this farce, which laces dialogue and mild slapstick together into an amusing concoction. It features Michael Richards and Julie Hagerty as a couple traveling to see Wimbledon. He’s worried about being late, but she’s taking it all in stride. And then disaster strikes: the tickets are nowhere to be found! From there the situation devolves until the couple are knocked out on their hotel floor along with a doctor and valet. Richard plays it a bit over-the-top, but he’s not in ‘Seinfeld’ or ‘UHF’ mode either; he’s convincing enough. And funny. And Julie Hagerty, whom I frequently find annoying, actually performs real well here, playing meek but not wimpy. One bit that had me laughing was the clumsiness of the hotel supervisor.
Settling Accounts: Sigh… this was horrid. Julia Louis-Dreyfus beat us over the head with her performance, apparently playing to the back row. She was insufferable. The character wasn’t great either: she’s a newlywed who arrives at her hotel for her honeymoon – without her husband, and with no idea where he is. She quickly devolves into one bizarre behaviour after another, all more illogical than the last – and equally unfunny. I literally threw my arms up in the air out of discouragement at one point. If this had been filmed as four separate episodes, I would skip this one altogether – something I rarely do. Of note is that the original play was entirely different, being about a novelist and his manager. Who knows why it was exchanged for this piece of drivel; it couldn’t possibly be any worse!
But, all in all, ‘London Suite’ is quite enjoyable. If one can overlook the Louis-Dreyfus elements of the film (thankfully they only come in bite-sized bits), it can certainly be appreciated for its humour and complicated interpersonal relationships. It’s not a masterpiece, and it will feel familiar to fans of Simon’s oeuvre, but as with Woody Allen’s work, there is a general quality to it that is pleasing and comforting at once.
Date of viewing: July 9, 2013