How exactly do you make a movie musical based on a theatrical musical based on a movie about making a musical? Very carefully. Susan Stohman directs this adaption of the Broadway musical which she also directed and she retains some of the major cast from the Broadway show. Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane return as Leo Bloom and Max Bialystock, an accountant and a once famous but now failed producer seeking to strike it rich by making the biggest flop in Broadway history. Bialystock and Bloom hook up when Bloom is sent to do Bialystock's books and sees how it would be possible to actually make more money from a failed production than from a hit.
Bialystock and Bloom search for the worst play ever written, the worst director and the worst actors. The play they come across is titled "Springtime for Hitler" and it is a celebration of the Third Reich. Their assumption is that not only will this show close in a single day, the show might not make it to intermission. There is something to offend absolutely everyone.
This is the story of Mel Brooks' original film, the musical, and now the movie adaption of the musical. It worked and was funny with Gene Wilder and I've seen the show in the Twin Cities, and it worked as a musical. Does it work as a movie musical? Yes it does, but it plays very theatrically. Very. Acting that veers over the top by both Broderick and Lane that had my wife and I looking at each other in the theatre asking if this is for real would probably play very differently with live actors on the stage. And yet even the moments of absurdity still work and the bottom line is that the movie is fun and it is funny.
The entire movie/story is an exercise in absurdity what with the attempt to put on the worst play ever and make money out of the deal. There are sequences that come to mind such as the "unhappy" musical number by the accountants, and everything with the German writer of "Springtime for Hitler". This former Nazi is played by Will Ferrell, an actor whom I have not always appreciated, but who turns in what I consider the scene stealing role of the film as I laughed the most with Ferrell on screen and especially his Nazi saluting pigeons.
The theatricality of the film is something that a viewer will either able to accept and enjoy the movie, or it will be a big turn off. I was able to work with it and enjoy the movie even as it played like a theatre musical on stage (at times with the pause at the end of a musical number). Strohman plays this to great effect, however, and it becomes part of the charm of the movie. By no means is "The Producers" perfect (though there was a man in the audience who apparently thought this was the funniest thing he had ever seen), but it is very well made. The only thing that truly threw me was Uma Thurman as Oola. I kept hearing her slip out of her accent, but my wife did not notice this at all. I would have loved to have seen the woman who won a Tony Award for playing this same role with Broderick and Lane on Broadway. I'm not quite sure why she had to be replaced. But this is only a small bit of irksomeness in a good movie.
As this was the first movie I had been able to see in theatres in months and I had a fantastic time, and I think that is something a movie should deliver: enjoyment. "The Producers" certainly did this well.