Tuesday June 13, 2017
Movie Review: The Fabulous Allan Carr (2017)
Yeah, this doesn’t quite work.
The titular Allan Carr (née Alan Solomon of Highland Park, Ill.) was a sweet, portly, caftan-wearing gay man known for throwing wild disco parties in the 1970s. He made a mint producing “Grease” in Hollywood and won a Tony producing “La Cage Aux Folles” on Broadway, but these were his hifalutin exceptions. Everything else he touched was either so-bad-it’s-good, plain bad, or kill-me-now bad.
Among his works:
- “Grease 2,” the sequel that bombed
- “Where the Boys Are ’84,” the remake that bombed
- “C.C. & Company,” Joe Namath’s biker-flick bomb
It gets worse. Riding high after “Grease” became the No. 1 movie of 1978, grossing the equivalent of $680 million domestic, Carr could do whatever he wanted. And what he wanted to do, apparently, was make a pseudo-biopic of the chart-topping disco group the Village People. That wish became, of course, “Can’t Stop the Music,” starring the Village People, Steve Guttenberg, Bruce Jenner, and—when Carr couldn’t get Olivia Newton-John—Valerie Perrine. Then Carr tapped Rhoda’s mom, Nancy Walker, who had directed nothing but a few sitcom episodes, to direct. It’s a movie so bad it actually inspired the birth of the Razzie Awards.
But “Can’t Stop the Music” didn’t kill his career. What killed his career was the 1989 Oscar telecast. Yeah, the Snow White one. For the opening number, for 15 agonizing minutes, an actress dressed as Snow White serenaded the celebrity crowd, Merv Griffin (for some reason) sang “Lovely Bunch of Coconuts," and then Rob Lowe (of all people) joined Snow White onstage for a “date” and a duet of the Ike and Tina Tuner classic “Proud Mary.” Hollywood was incensed and Carr never recovered. He survived “Can’t Stop the Music” only to be stopped by his music.
A doc that dealt more honestly with its subject, that maybe tried to delve into Carr’s nostalgia for ’50s America (not exactly a gay-friendly time), might have been worthwhile. But throughout “The Fabulous Allan Carr,” I felt director Jeffrey Schwartz propping up his subject. For “Can’t Stop the Music,” Walker gets the brunt of the blame; for the Oscar fiasco, it’s the critics—and the subsequent Disney lawsuit against the Academy goes completely unmentioned. The doc also implies that John Travolta was just a sitcom actor before “Grease,” when there was a little thing called “Saturday Night Fever” between the two, and Michelle Pfeiffer was “discovered” in a grocery store for “Grease 2,” when, c’mon, she’d been on TV and in B-movies for years. Read your Nathaniel Rogers.
Schwartz, who directed two admirable docs, “Tab Hunter Confidential” and HBO’s “Vito,” does have a tendency to gravitate toward schlock. Besides Tab, he gave us “I Am Divine” in 2013, and is currently working on “Goddess: The Showgirls Chronicles.” Is that why he seems to forgive Carr's schlock? Because he sees nothing to forgive?
There's due diligence. Schwartz interviews family friends, tracks down Valerie Perrine, gives us “Mad Men”-style animation to fill in the gaps in Carr's story. But he’s too soft around his subject. He wants us to like him too much. I think of a Franz Kafka line, “A writer is not a nice person.” Documentarian, too.