A Review of At Long Last Love

Hello again. I know I have become one of those figures who seems like J.D. Salinger in terms of his publishing output. Trust me, I know – two weeks online without publishing is the same as forty years in any other medium.

The reason for this lack of output is obvious – I have very little to review. After coming out with my ten best of 2011 list (which a lot of you read – much obliged), the theatrical release calendar seemingly slowed to a halt. My local indie theater won’t be getting A Dangerous Method until later in the month (the film I had been looking forward to the most that I could not review in 2011) and the multiplex is the same desolate wasteland it has always been. Besides, even if I were to review whatever just got released, a lot of people would not notice or care. It’s possible to find those reviews anywhere. What I need either a really great film to watch or a really bad film to write about – and let’s be honest, the latter films are far funnier to read about.

So, let’s get my creative juices flowing again by looking at At Long Last Love. The title will not mean much to anyone – but the story behind it will. Back in the 1970s, director Peter Bogdanovich was riding high after The Last Picture Show. He became well known for deconstructing Hollywood’s past. So At Long Last Love – a tribute to 1930s Fred Astaire musicals – was seemingly completely normal. But something went terribly wrong. The film flopped to the point where Bogdanovich had to take out ads in paper’s all over the country – just to apologize to audiences. Although he had some successes later (notably with Mask – that film about Eric Stoltz under heavy makeup romancing a blind girl) his career never recovered. The film has not even been released on home video. But it has been released on Netflix Instant, which brings us to where we are today.

Is this film some sort of unsung masterpiece that everyone was wrong about? Short answer: AHAHAHAHA. Long answer: well, read the rest of the review.

The film involves four spoiled rich people meeting at a party. Michael Pritchard III (Burt Reynolds), falls in love with Brooke Carter (Cybil Shepherd) as a result of this meeting, as do Johnny Spanish (Duilio Del Prete) and Kitty O’Kelly (Madeline Kahn – I am making none of this casting up). Of course, these friends were already seeing their opposite partners – Michael was with Kitty, for example. The film focuses on their romances and their lives in the care free thirties – or at least, the thirties as imagined by Hollywood, without all that depressing Dust Bowl event.

And there is singing (which was recorded live on the set) and kick lines.

Now, before I absolutely gut the film, I do feel the need to clarify one thing. For a while, this film ended up on the “worst of all time” lists. At Long Last Love is not one of the worst films of all time – it’s not nearly ambitious enough in its execution. Watching the film, it seems as though Bogdanovich felt that something could go wrong, so tried to play it all as safe as possible. Oh sure, there are select MOMENTS where he failed and the film becomes a true camp masterpiece. But for the most part, Bogdanovich doesn’t let his actors really cut loose. In fact, some portions work BECAUSE of it – not many, but a few.

There, that is the only compliment I am going to give to this overlong, stupid, inane, pathetic waste of perfectly good celluloid. There are so many ways that the film does go wrong that it is hard to find a place to start. There is one obvious error that already had many of you laughing – the casting. I am being completely serious when I said Burt Reynolds was in this, tap dancing and singing Cole Porter. He embarrasses himself (as does the rest of the cast) but then, what did you expect? The casts’ strengths (and they are numerous) do not lie with their ability to perform music. I know, maybe the gag was that these actors were singing when it was not expected of them to ever sing. That was the cynical seventies shining through. And it doesn’t work – more effective would have been to have well established performers appear and sing hopelessly outdated songs. Could you imagine, say, Julie Andrews and David Bowie in this film, singing 1930s Broadway tunes? I can, and it would have made the point of escapism more clear.

I could go on and on about the cast’s lack of talent, but really, I am only getting started. This film almost begs to be a subject of a “Red Letter Media ” review in order to properly assess everything that is going on. To wit – the plot is non-existent (it is built around unrelated songs and never finds a way to make them seem like a part of a whole), the dialogue terrible, and the choreography bad (to the point where, I swear, Burt Reynolds trips over his own feet). The film just wants to be carried by its own gimmick of having modern people sing escapist songs from a dark era. Maybe Bogdanovich saw parallels between the thirties and the seventies. Or maybe he just likes Broadway. I wouldn’t know watching the film. If it’s a love letter, its one that suggests an imminent breakup. It seemingly fits into Bogdanovich’s obsession with the past and a deconstruction of same. But he doesn’t seem to know how to create the spectacle of a musical. It is more than just awkward dancing and sung whispers to other cast members. But At Long Last Love does not want to examine that spectacle.

What more can I say? As much as I wanted the film to be some sort of misunderstood masterpiece (especially since its been kept out of the public eye for 36 years), At Long Last Love is almost as wasteful and pathetic as its reputation would suggest. I tried to explain that it is not the worst film ever made, because Bogdanovich was a smart guy who seemed to know what he was doing. He was economical about the project. But the project was a mistake from day one.

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