Man in the Chair (2007): Starring Christopher Plummer

Grafting a plea to respect the elderly onto a familiar odd-couple pairing of a cranky old man and a troubled young person, Man in the Chair features too many clichs and emotionally manipulative devices.

A decent performance from Christopher Plummer as an aging, retired Hollywood gaffer gives writer-director Michael Schroeders feel-good drama a little distinction, but the film never makes compelling its indictment of Americas callous ageism.

Cameron (Michael Angarano) is a Los Angeles teen obsessed with movies who finds them an escape from an unhappy family life and his unpopularity at school. One day at a revival theater, he runs into Flash (Plummer), an older man who keeps yelling insults at the characters up on the screen. Intrigued by this curmudgeon, Cameron befriends him, and in the process discovers that Flash used to work in the film business as a gaffer, the head electrician of a production.

Stunned by Flashs wealth of knowledge about filmmaking, Cameron solicits his help on a student film hes making for a competition whose winner will get a scholarship to a prestigious cinema school. Flash agrees and enlists his fellow retirees, who all live in the same Hollywood nursing home, to lend their expertise to the shoot.

While Man in the Chair earns some sympathy for its willingness to spotlight how youth-obsessed Hollywood and America society are, the movies well-intentioned message is delivered in such a clumsy manner that it feels more sappy than stirring. Affected by the poor living conditions of one of Flashs friends, a former screenwriter (played by M. Emmet Walsh), Cameron decides to make his student film as a docudrama about the mistreatment of the elderly. But both Man in the Chair and the movie-within-the-movie suffer from pious earnestness that diminishes the importance of their worthy issues.

However, without its message, Man in the Chair would be largely forgettable, just one more flick about unlikely movieish friendship between an immature kid and a grizzled older person, where life lessons are disseminated and both sides gain a fresh perspective on the world.

This is not to suggest that Plummer isnt capable of playing the alcoholic, bitter Flash, a man with still some lingering kindness in his heart. But as written by Michael Schroeder, Flashs emotional arc can be easily predicted at each moment, leaving the talented Plummer to rely only his magnetic personality as a way to hook the audience into the characters plight.

Playing the unhappy, movie-loving Cameron, Michael Angarano continues a streak of recent roles in low-budget dramas. Earlier, he was the troublemaking new student in the baseball-crazy small town in The Final Season and the melancholy heart of a dysfunctional Irish family in Black Irish. In all three movies, Angarano has demonstrated a sweetness that makes him seem more natural than the achingly hip teen actors populating most American movies. But again in Man in the Chair, his serviceable performance doesnt suggest hes a prodigious talent waiting to break out. To be fair, all three films are mediocre, so perhaps better material will come his way soon.

Veteran actors M. Emmet Walsh and Robert Wagner have small but memorable roles; the movie is most tolerable when these old pros share the screen with Plummer. Walshs character is a cheap attempt to elicit audience sympathy, but he manages to make his screenwriters impoverished existence and utter loneliness moderately poignant. As a successful, celebrated producer who stole Flashs wife long ago, Wagner is appropriately oily and charming, although unlike his TV work, he doesnt allow his character to become too hammy.

Writer-director Michael Schroeder has made his living helming mostly B-movie thrillers and car commercials, and one cannot help but feel that Man in the Chair is his attempt to reconnect with his passion for film and create a work closer to his heart. While such motivations are commendable, the movie comes across as hokey and generic.

Neither Camerons family problems nor his relationship with Flash offer any narrative surprises, and even Flashs supposedly sage advice to Cameron about filmmaking feels uninspired. Most regrettably, Schroeder often ruins the flow of his dialogue scenes by incorporating brief jump-cuts shot in a super-saturated, out-of-focus style. The effect is akin to watching Oliver Stones 1990s films, such as Natural Born Killers or a modern-day horror movie, where the collision of different images is meant to suggest disorientation or dread. However, using them in a character drama such as Man in the Chair is jarring, hinting that even Schroeder was aware that his writing wasnt interesting enough and needed some gimmicks to keep the audience interested.

Cast

Flash (Christopher Plummer)
Cameron (Michael Angarano)
Mickey (M. Emmet Walsh)
Taylor (Robert Wagner)
Mom (Mimi Kennedy)
Floyd (Mitch Pileggi)

Credits

Running time: 107 minutes

Director: Michael Schroeder
Production companies: Elbow Grease Pictures
US distribution: Outsider Pictures
Executive producers: Peter Samuelson, Steve Matzkin
Producers: Michael Schroeder, Randy Turrow, Sarah Schroeder
Screenplay: Michael Schroeder
Cinematography: Dana Gonzales
Editor: Terry Cafaro
Production design: Carol Strober
Music: Laura Karpman

Reviewed by Tim Grierson