Die-hard fans of actor Richard Chamberlain know that his filmography is varied, extensive and continuous, to say the least. Perhaps best known as Pilot-Major John Blackthorne in the TV-miniseries, “Shogun” (1980) or the ambiguous Father Ralph in “The Thorn Birds” (1983), the 77-year-old actor has played some of the most memorable and controversial roles in the history of theatre, television and cinema. Therefore, it may or may not come as a great surprise when the still stunning, outrageously talented Chamberlain plays the moribund, very-often-stoned, owner of a small town, Rock Club hangout called Hartmans.
The genius behind “We Are the Hartmans” is a young writer/director named Laura Newman (“Sexy Clown Bitch”). Living and working in New York City, Newman is also a singer/composer, and a prominent member of an activist performance group called “Reverend Billy’s Church of Earthalujah,” formerly known as, “The Church of Stop Shopping.” Newman says that she specializes in writing for comedy, but viewers will decide whether “We Are the Hartmans” fits in that category, or somewhere else.
Club Hartman, is located in a rural community, that could pretty much be anywhere. The economy has not been kind to the town-residents, and Walmart-type stores (here called Big Box) have gradually devoured all of the old Mom and Pop’s, and every other landmark-fixture that define the local folk, and provide them balance and structure. Hartman (Chamberlain) is an old hippie who has lived in the town all his life. A free spirit, Hartman’s radical lifestyle eventually catches up with him, and his wife and daughters leave him early on. Years later, Hartman explains to one of his estranged daughters that he built the club for his children, so they’d have somewhere fun to go, when they returned home.
Newman’s invented community, of which Club Hartman is the center, is teeming with the most delicious eccentrics imaginable. The scruffy-bearded, weirdly attired Hartman can almost be seen as the Mayor who keeps the local clan structured and whole (not an easy task). When the film opens, Hartman is attempting to organize a benefit for his dying club, so that bills can continue to be paid, and so that he can ward off the ever-encroaching Big Box that threatens to leave him and his clientele homeless. Hartman and Company’s method of attack is to bring back a homey-rock-star-made-good, named Baxter (Jonah Spear), to spearhead (no pun intended) a benefit concert. It is at this precise moment that Hartman becomes gravely ill, and the others must take over and make his dream tangible.
What’s interesting about Newman’s film is that it’s a total collaboration. Yes, the legendary Richard Chamberlain is the soul of the town, and his acting has never been better, but his co-actors are likewise superb, and no character is more important than another. In the interview with Newman and Chamberlain to follow this review, both explain that the screenplay is also a collaboration—as is the film’s unique method of distribution. Further enticing, is Newman and Company’s subtle approach to a very political message that is both timeless and presently relevant.
“We Are the Hartmans” is a very important powerhouse that will shock you back to life. Clad in eye-watering comedy, it is a film that no one can afford to miss. Luckily, tickets are moderately priced— even in this trying economy— and Newman’s theatre-venues are unusually inviting. Oh, and look for an amazing cameo of Laura Newman in the film. I’d tell you where to find her, but I wouldn’t want to give too much away.
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