Since 2007, TV Club has dissected television episode by episode. Beginning this September, The A.V. Club will also step back to take a wider view in our new TV Reviews section. With pre-air reviews of new shows, returning favorites, and noteworthy finales, TV Reviews doesn’t replace TV Club—as usual, some shows will get the weekly treatment—but it adds a look at a bigger picture.
The biggest mystery about Seduced And Abandoned is just how self-aware its stars are—though it’s possible to argue that’s also the mystery of Alec Baldwin’s career as a celebrity. He can be devastatingly funny both on- and offscreen, and his well-regarded podcast, Here’s The Thing,was recently parlayed into an interview show on MSNBC. But this is also the guy who’s repeatedly in the news for one silly incident or another, ranting about some imagined wrong on Twitter and angrily deactivating his account.
The Baldwin we see in Seduced And Abandoned is no fool, and neither is writer/director James Toback. The film charts their journey around the 2012 Cannes Film Festival as they try to raise money for an aggressively sexual movie set during the Iraq War, pitching it as a two-hander starring Baldwin and someone else (Toback’s first choice is Neve Campbell, who worked with him on When Will I Be Loved, his last narrative film). Inspired by Last Tango In Paris, they jokingly call it Last Tango In Tikrit and say it will be dark, sexually “exploratory,” and a direct homage to Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1972 film.
This is where the self-awareness question comes into play: Baldwin and Toback are clearly into their idea, but they have to know that they are embarking on a fool’s errand. The premise is not at all commercial, and the idea of having Baldwin and Campbell star in it is ludicrous. Baldwin has more cachet, but producers and financiers are unafraid to tell him to his face that he’s regarded as more of a TV star. And Campbell hasn’t been relevant for years.
But Baldwin and Toback cleverly use their pitch to explore the shifting nature of Hollywood commercialism, from the lost days of the 1970s and early ’80s, when truly challenging material still received major funding from studios, to today’s mad scramble for cash from a thousand different sources. Baldwin and Toback meet with financiers from all over the world, some of whom pitch shooting the movie in their country, while others suggest they might have more luck if a part was written for a major star from an emerging market, like India or China.
It can be wince-inducing to watch Baldwin and Toback schmooze the idle mega-wealthy of the French Riviera, whose net worth is listed only as “………” Some of the conversations are wrenching, others are just boring, but the access they’re granting viewers is unprecedented, and many of the hoary old sentiments about the “good old days” of moviemaking still ring true.
Even more fun, at least for movie nerds, is the candid conversations Baldwin and Toback have with other filmmakers. Yes, it can be a bit depressing to see Francis Ford Coppola wax on about making The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, but every interview has at least one good anecdote, although not all of them do much past skimming the surface. Baldwin and Toback dine with Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, and Bertolucci. The animated Scorsese, clearly the most with-it of the bunch, is the most fun, and watching him cackle at a dirty anecdote relayed by Toback is an unexpected delight.
The two also meet with actors who, just by signing on for the movie, could immediately guarantee Toback the $25 million he needs (while either pushing Baldwin and Campbell out or requiring superfluous supporting characters to be written into the script). Jessica Chastain talks eagerly about pursuing challenging material and directors who intimidate her. Bérénice Bejo, riding high off The Artist’s success, knows that fame will leave her at a moment’s notice. Diane Kruger is politely horrified at Toback and Baldwin’s pitch.
Annoyingly, the most interesting conversation of all arrives with Ryan Gosling. Can the man do nothing wrong? Reminiscing on being in the business since he was 3 years old (he was part of his uncle’s Elvis-impersonator act), he has some genuinely profound thoughts on how incompatible the act of filmmaking can be with the art of acting.
This might all sound pretentious—and it certainly is. Baldwin and Toback’s bloviating can grate, and the whole project comes across as pretty frivolous when all is said and done. But for film buffs with an interest in the frustrating business side of things, it’s a rare glimpse into a crucial part of the moviemaking industry.