Dennis suggests Peter’s Friends (in Feature Drama). In perhaps the purest case of talented performers overcoming wretched material, I am prepared to recommend this British-set, Big Chill simulacrum. Written by (and costarring) the truly mediocre in every way American comedienne Rita Rudner (as, fittingly, a vapid
American TV star), the movie is elevated (whenever she’s off screen) by the genuinely staggering collection of talented Brits filling out the cast. Check out this lineup: Kenneth Branagh (who did the best he could directing the soggy screenplay), Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Imelda Staunton, Phyllida Law (Emma’s real-life mom), and Hugh Laurie (now an American megastar, thanks to House). Yowza. It’s the tale of some university friends coming together after a decade apart at the behest of the wealthy Peter at his enormous estate. There are tears, and revelations, and laughs, most of which you’ll see coming down the M-1, but, whenever the talented people can sidestep the silly script, there are some moments of real charm and wit. Thankfully, Rudner gets shunted out of the way after a while and the real actors get to strut their stuff. Fry’s affecting and archly witty as always, Branagh’s acerbic and funny, Thompson gets to do some daffy pratfalls as the group’s sad sack, and Staunton and Laurie, as a grieving couple, get to do the heavy drama thing when they’re
not showing their musical comedy chops. Especially lovely is the New Year’s Eve singalong where the formerly-tight group forgets their troubles and sings and dances along to one of the numbers they used to do back in the day. It may sound like faint praise, but Peter’s Friends is worth a look, almost in spite of itself.