I had the good fortune to see the stage version of William Gibson’s drama “Golda’s Balcony,” which starred Valerie Harper as the extraordinary Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. “Golda’s Balcony” was a one-woman show and Harper brought forth a stunning performance that stirred the sold-out theater to a standing ovation. It was one of the most memorable theatrical experiences I ever witnessed.
When I heard “Golda’s Balcony” was adapted as a film, I assumed it would a filmed record of the theatrical presentation. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that format, as witnessed by memorable filmed plays including “Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!” and “The Belle of Amherst.” However, “Golda’s Balcony” was reconfigured into a very different one-woman movie by Gibson and director Jeremy Kagan. Unfortunately, the transformation was not successful.
Using a weird hodgepodge of camera trickery, the film version of “Golda’s Balcony” is a mess. The film never uses a set, but instead employs green screen effects to literally cast Meir against backdrops of great drama. The backdrops change very quickly and sometimes they are ridiculous, especially when a scene from “Battleship Potemkin” is shown to dramatize Meir’s first ocean voyage from American to pre-Israeli Palestine. It is a visually atrocious experiment that fails badly – you’ll need eye drops to sit through this film.
The one-woman aspect of the production is also frayed through lousy special effects. Whereas the stage version simply relied on Harper’s vocal talent to recreate conversations between Meir and various individuals, the film uses split screen slicing to present two or three versions of Harper, playing Meir and her various allies and adversaries at the same time. It’s an annoying and distracting idea.
As for Harper, the performance is a huge disappointment. Whereas the theatrical version enabled her to occupy Meir’s spirit as a strong and stubborn leader, the film curiously makes Meir into a clownish individual. The film goes too frequently for easy laughs, even when it recreates the most difficult periods of Meir’s life, and it appears that Harper is channeling her Rhoda Morgenstern persona rather than Meir’s indefatigable spirit. As presented here, Harper’s Meir speaks softly and carries a big shtick.