For years, Richard Butler (Jonathan Fegan) has been making cash off his soap-operatic series of novels about Robert Buchanan and his conniving family. With a day left to finish his last novel, the one that will wrap up the Buchanan saga with Robert naming an heir to his fortune and revealing the contents of a long rumored and legendary personal safe, Richard finds himself struck with writer’s block. And like all good writers, he decides to solve it by getting drunk.
At the bar he meets a strangely talkative postman (Aaron Mooney), who hands him a compass. The next morning, Richard awakens with a severe hangover… in the palatial mansion setting of his latest novel. On top of that, the devious Buchanan family are all there, and they keep referring to him as Robert, waiting to find out who will be named heir to the Buchanan empire. With no idea what’s going on, or where the story he’s landed in is going, Richard tries to work through his predicament with the one non-awful character he’s written, Isabel (Helen McAlpine), stalling the family until he can figure it all out.
Dominic Reynolds’ feature film, Xanadu, takes a meta-look at the life of a financially successful, though spiritually bankrupt, author and his works. Richard’s life may be comfortable, but he’s an absent father to a young daughter, who lives with Richard’s ex, Natalie (Denice Reynolds). Before the film is over, he’ll come to grips with more than just where his last novel will end, but also what it all meant, who these characters truly represent, and why he wrote it all in the first place.
While the journey isn’t entirely original, authors getting sucked into their works has happened before (I always liked John Candy’s variation in Delirious), that doesn’t mean that the film isn’t entertaining in its swing at the plate. In the case of this film, Richard seems to be victim of pages he wrote before he passed out drunk, and thus is also at the mercy of his own imagination. So instead of the role as Almighty Artistic Creator, he’s more like a character who has been granted far more self-awareness than anyone else.
But if he can be self-aware, so too can his other creations become self-aware, which is where the true meat of the film starts to come out as they, particularly Isabel, begin to wonder what it means that this novel will be the last for the Buchanans. And of course the rub of self-awareness for Richard is how utterly unaware he truly is; he may know that he’s in a story, even that he’s the author, but he doesn’t grasp what it all means.
Xanadu is a fun romp through artistic intent and consequences, for the living and the artistically created. It doesn’t ever go quite as insane or absurd as it could; Richard, in all his late-night writing, never decides to have a dinosaur suddenly interrupt things (though some of his other choices, while not as crazy, are equally as contrived), but it’s still engaging to watch him work through his life as an a*****e writer, who made tons of money off some horrible characters, deal with the world he’s created firsthand. Philosophically, isn’t that what we all do every day, deal with the reality our choices have given us? Maybe that’s why the film truly works, because it connects through to the philosophical truths that exist in relation to the realm of Writer and Written, as it applies to art and daily life.
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