A minor work in the oeuvre of Robert Altman or that of distinguished producer Christine Vachon, “The Company” exhibits all the devices and touches we have come to expect from Altman, except that he doesn’t show strong affinity to the world of dance, its values, norms, and intrigues.
In other words, “The Company” does not do for dance what “The Player” did for the movie industry, or “Nashville” did for country music and American politics, two of Altman’s best (Oscar-nominated) films, and poignant satires of uniquely American institutions.
Altman directs this dance feature from an original story by the actress Neve Campbell (also credited as executive producer), based on her own experiences with The National Ballet of Canada. But the idea is that this particular troupe represents in its subculture any ballet company (thus the title)
At the center of the ensemble cast is the young and charming dancer Ry (Campbell), a rising star with the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. Ambitious and hard-working, she struggles with the demands of being a dancer while supporting herself as a waitress.
A subplot, which describes her romance with with Josh (the young and appealing James Franco, before he became a star), is slight and unconvincing, indicating that Altman did not trust his material to center on the dance elements.
Meanwhile, the ballet company director, Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell, totally miscast), struggles too in balancing his own administrative and artistic duties.
Campbell does her own dancing in the film and the rest of the company is played by the members of the Joffrey Ballet, which lends some authenticity to the otherwise flawed picture.
McDowell, looking strange with his white hair and yellow scarf, is either miscast and/or misdirected. He’s also given poor dialogue, such as the following complaint about lunch (“This salad is terrible”), or instructions to his company, which doesn’t ring true. In one speech he tells them: “You’re all so pretty, and you know how much
I hate pretty. But I still love you all.”
Overall, the movie is more compelling visually than thematically or dramatically: Rehearsals are smoothly intercut with public performances–both sessions are often shown on video.
The story is based on a loose script by Barbara Turner (mother of Jennifer Jason Leigh) and contributor to other Altman projects. Unfortunately, the tale is not only weak, but lacks fresh or poignant observations about the particular milieu of ballet and its subculture as an art form.
Altman would make one more film, “Prairie Home Companion,” in 2006, which tackles the world of radio, before his death.
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classic
Running time: 112 Minutes.
Directed By: Robert Altman
Written By: Barbara Turner