Regional theater has a long tradition of readily available material and a limited means of distribution. Digital filmmaking has an inexpensive means of production and distribution, and not a lot of good material. The two were bound to come together. Both interests are served, theatre productions that might not be seen out of New York or LA get a wider distribution and producers get ready made material that already has an audience. The marriage of regional theatre and digital filmmaking generates two kinds of offspring. There is the taped production, in which someone hits the record button and tapes the show and then there is ‘Call Waiting’ a one woman show that has been adapted for film.
Based on the play by the same name, Call Waiting stars Caroline Aaron as a Judy Baxter a writer whose housebound and at the mercy of a urinary infection. She spends her time on the phone with the people in her life. The movie picks up as she recounts her father’s experiences during the holocaust, argues with a sister about lost family heirlooms and worries about a philandering husband. Enmeshed within this story is the parallel tale of Carol Lane, the bitchy L.A. actress ‘playing’ Judy Baxter. Between takes she argues with production assistants and deals with her own crisis’ over the phone. It takes a few minutes of screaming the Monty Python mantra ‘my brain hurts’ to work this out, but it clears up rather quickly. The biggest problem is that the gimmick doesn’t work.
As a plot device the blending of reality like this has worked before (The Double life of Veronique) and is a fine idea, but I didn’t see that it served any purpose other then to break up the action a little and work in a couple of other actors. The instantly recognizable Art LaFleur appears as the director for example, but he has no lines. ‘Carol Lane’ the actress is very different from the Judy Baxter character but this little device only serves to show another similar story, it doesn’t comment upon the first story or emphasize any particular theme, it’s not even as well written as the original ‘Judy Baxter’ plot line.
Playing both parts, Caroline Aaron is fantastic, she originated the role on stage and she is everything necessary to inhabit the part, funny, poignant and best of all in a one woman show, interesting. Although the story within a story plot device fails, this movie is the future of democratic filmmaking. Well written, based upon an existing theatre piece and about a middle aged woman dealing with the normal problems of her life in a way that’s funny and entertaining. Something that would never see the light of day in Hollywood can now find the wider audience who wants to see it.