THE MELODRAMA CLUB
How much joy you derive from writer/director Joe McClean’s trudging ensemble dramedy depends on how much patience you have for yet another serving of the hoary old tale of school pals reuniting after a number of years. Emotionally involving and nostalgic, The Big Chill (1983) was one of the better efforts of this oft-visited rites-of-passage genre. But The Drama Club not only lacks The Big Chill‘s cool Motown soundtrack and Lawrence Kasdan’s nuanced writing, it features whiny pre-millenials you want to beat as if they were shag rugs.
On display here is a rather plodding ensemble narrative full of self-absorbed thirtysomethings grumping and mumbling over problems that folks in the real world would only shake their heads at. If The Big Chill was about Boomers grappling with midlife, they at least had Reagan and Nixon to fight against. This saga of Generation X-ers bearding the big 35 or what have you–well, it seems like the most awful thing they have to whine about is not telling the truth on Facebook.
The film recounts the 20-year reunion of a school’s drama club, which used to meet at their drama coach’s lovely country ranch. They were a swell bunch of kids, apparently, and at their last summer meeting in 1997 they all agreed to meet in 20 years. Once reunited, we find that life has dealt them all some melodramatic blows.
Arrogant young Luke (Chris Ciciarelli) grew up and became an evil banker who, arrested on some kind of junk bondsmanship, is on the verge of a hefty prison term. Aaron (Dane Bowman) is grieving over the death of his gay lover, who turns out to have been the kids’ drama coach and perhaps a child molester. Hannah (Melanie Lewis), after sleeping around as a kid, has become Born Again and claims she’s now a virgin. And Elle (Liza de Weerd), happily married to Nate (Barry Flanagan), sees a chance to rekindle a brief tryst with Aaron.
I was in Drama Club as a kid myself, and I don’t really remember it being quite this dull. I recall that it was really about being part of a bunch of strapping young queens and fag hags who loved showtunes and scenes from Arsenic and Old Lace. If there was a straight guy in the group, you’d know that if he knew Sondheim, he’d probably let you blow him.
There is none of this sense of memory in this movie. What kind of a drama club is this? It’s just a group of folks you might meet at any cocktail party with little in common and no real motivation for staying in the same room. Although you might excuse the fact that we all become a bit more dull as we grow older, there is so little sense of fun here that you start to think that these folks were members of the Morticians Club.
Part of the problem is the drone that is McClean’s screenplay, which boasts situations that are unconvincingly facile, simply presented and easily resolved, demonstrating no real understanding of people or emotions. But the characterizations are also alarmingly weak: We get no real impression of what these folks do when they’re not at the reunion, aside from a perfunctory “Oh he’s a banker,” “Oh he’s a doctor” exposition.
The film’s performances are adequate, but the writing is unable to show off the actors to best effect and the results are a weird mix of sentimentalism and self-absorbed self-pity. Probably the most intriguing acting work comes from Bowman’s damaged turn as Aaron, left to grieve his true love, who happened to be his molester (and this is a subplot that really isn’t explored fully enough). Otherwise, the writing so underpropels the characterizations that it’s often hard to tell these people apart. Yet another reason you’ll want to drub this club.