It’s not everyday you get a real farce on the big screen. Lots of films have elements of farce and are quite enjoyable as a consequence. In the last year I would say “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” and “Free Guy” are two examples of action films that have farcical moments in them. Most Wes Anderson films also feature the concept of a light, humorous play in which the plot depends upon a skillfully exploited situation rather than upon the development of character. “See How They Run” has the advantage of actually being a film about a play, which is eventually revealed to be a sort of play in itself. That is what makes it a true farce as far as I am concerned.
The story concerns a murder that takes place during a negotiation to turn “The Mousetrap” into a movie. Those of you not familiar with the play simply need to know that it is an Agatha Christie murder mystery. It is also the longest running play in the history of theater, starting in 1952 and still playing on the West End in London to this day. This movie is not a filmed version of the play, but rather a take off on the plat, using “The Mousetrap” as a sort of touchstone or spine for the mayhem. It mocks the machinations of old Hollywood and they manner in which film makers try to take material and rework it to their own vision. The real clause in the contract granting rights to a cinematic version, states that such a film cannot be made until six months after the play closes in London. See how this is going to work?
Making use of techniques used by movies over the years, this film starts off being narrated by the stereotypical victim of these kinds of drawing room mysteries. The performance of Adrien Brody is fitfully droll and sarcastic, with just a little bit of surprise thrown in. The fact that he is in the film explains why his character is resurrected for several flashback scenes. Those kinds of scenes are also mocked in the film in a self reference that will be seen time and again in the movie. No spoiler here, but when you see the climax of the film, you will laugh out loud, hard.
The historical context of the story adds some fun twists to a murder mystery that is as convoluted as any written by Christie herself. I enjoyed having Richard Attenborough played on screen as a young actor treading the boards in the play. The Hollywood Cliché of the producer is only partially exploited, but the film director tries to compensate by being a cad and attempting seduction by casting whenever he can. Once the murder has occurred, the real stars of the film and the source of the greatest comic moments show up. Sam Rockwell is doing a Gary Oldman impression of a fifties era detective inspector. He is great playing the detached slightly alcoholic run of the mill, hardworking detective. He is partnered with eager beaver Constable Saoirse Ronan, who comically takes notes, jumps to conclusions and also plays the hero. There are bad puns, slamming doors, slightly missed moments when trailing a suspect, all of which will provoke a chuckle here and there.
This sort of thing is hard to pull off in a film. So many times what works on stage simply seems frenetic on screen, but here the pacing is cool enough to let us enjoy the oddball characters and the silly assumptions. The final result is a charming little mystery that lampoons it’s own roots in a gently comic way, and evokes enough laughter to justify going out to a theater to see it. I was pleased that the Tuesday Discount brought out a good sized crowd for this movie. It’s great to hear laughter from a collective of souls in the dark.