Starring Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Kathleen Robertson, Lois Smith, Phillip MacKenzie, Larry Cedar
Directed by Allen Coulter
I kicked off my run through the Superman films with Superman and the Mole Men, so it seems somewhat fitting that my last review before Man of Steel should come around full circle. Hollywoodland is centered around the death of George Reeves, star of Superman and the Mole Men and the TV series it spawned: The Adventures of Superman. Hindsight reveals this as a landmark series, and as part of the foundation for the superhero genre that now populates our multiplex theaters every summer. At the time, though, things were not quite all wine and roses. Reeves wasn’t especially fond of the Superman role, even though it gave him fame among the kiddos. If we buy into the film’s character being similar to the real Reeves, he struggled and hoped to get more well-respected roles (much like the Jayne Mansfield character in The Jayne Mansfield Story).
Hollywoodland combines two things I generally try to stay away from in film: movies about Hollywood (as in the filmmaking industry, not the city) and celebrity biopics. The film definitely had moments that reminded me why I feel this way, but the narrative is varied and interesting enough to largely sideline these personal issues. The film is definitely too slow and longer than it needs to be, though. First time filmmaker Allen Coulter tries to fight the boredom back with a time-jumping narrative structure, moving between the investigation of Reeves’s death and flashbacks of his troubled life. Sometimes this works well, and sometimes it feels like a crutch used to spice up a slow-moving storyline.
The most interesting aspect is the film’s examination of the various theories on the circumstances of Reeves’s death. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a mystery, but there is something of a “Whodunit?” air to the film. Hollywoodland is more about the drama surrounding the death of Reeves, and how it is equally plausible that his death resulted from one of a few varying theories. Each theory is built up well over the course of the film, but at the same time it takes too long to develop and reveal some of these theories. None of them are complex, so consequently they’re all fairly obvious. Your tolerance for the film’s pace and length will hinge on how you feel about Adrien Brody and Ben Affleck. I like Brody, and Ben Affleck is surprisingly well-cast as Reeves, so I didn’t mind too much. It is a very slow-moving film, though.
I have to wonder what George Reeves would make of the current film climate, where screens large and small are populated with more superheroes than anyone would have ever expected. In the 1950s, comic book films were virtually unheard of, existing only as B-pictures for the youngins or serials before the “real” movie. Reeves may have hated the role and always looked down on it as cheap and meaningless, but with it he helped pave the way for everything that followed. Kids who grew up in the 1950s became the creative forces of the ’70s and ’80s, no doubt some of them inspired by Reeves and his adventures as Superman. Hollywoodland delves a bit into this cultural fascination that children had with Superman, and does so to great success.
Hollywoodland isn’t a great film, but it’s definitely an interesting one. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to Superman fans, but if you also enjoy a biopic with a noir-ish flair, then Hollywoodland has you covered.