| Games People Play: New York
Anyone who knows anything about the television industry is aware
that there is a cyclical nature to it. Back in the early 1980s, there was much
discussion over the death of the traditional sitcom and then along came
"Cosby" and half-hour series enjoyed a resurgence. Then it was the
hour-long drama that was endangered. Because production costs were
becoming exorbitant, network executives embraced "reality" programming,
something that first found a niche on cable channels ("The Real World"
on MTV). Last year, there was an attempt to cash in on this craze with
THE REAL CANCUN and FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY (featuring the winner
and runner-up of the initial "American Idol" competition), but both failed
at the box office. Now, however, there is a fascinating and enjoyable
movie that manages to evoke the freewheeling exuberance of cable
(programs like HBO's "Taxicab Confessions") with the classic American
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: NEW YORK is the brainchild of James Ronald
Whitney who first garnered attention at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival
with his uneven but unflinching documentary JUST, MELVIN which dealt
with incest and a highly dysfunctional family. That HBO-produced film
went on to a theatrical release before debuting on cable. Whitney's next
project was the Emmy-winning documentary "Telling Nicholas" about how
one family coped with the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Now for his first
quasi-fictional movie, he opted to create a "pilot" for a proposed TV reality
series -- an uninhibited game show in which contestants would compete for
cash. Whitney placed ads in the local trade papers and set about casting
the project. He engaged New York-based cabaret performer Jim Caruso and
relationship expert Dr. Gilda Carle (the 21st-century's answer to Dr. Joyce
Brothers) as judges.
The film, shot on video in documentary style, begins with prospective
performers lining up for the audition and the inevitable weeding out of those
not deemed unsuitable. Eventually there were over 100 applicants who were
asked to pose for the camera and then speak about their lives, a sequence
that owes a great debt to the Michael Bennett-directed Broadway musical
A Chorus Line. Then the perspective entrants were asked to act out a scene
between a honeymooning couple. Many opted to shed their clothes and their
inhibitions on camera. Finally six finalists -- three men and three women --
were chosen to compete for a cash prize of $10,000.
Then the fun really begins. The sextet is divided into teams and given
tasks to accomplish, ranging from the men being asked to obtain urine
sample from strangers to couples having to convince a third party to return
to a hotel to partake in something called "a naked trio."
Between tasks, Dr. Gilda and Jim Caruso interview the contestants
about their lives with each eventually divulging dark secrets, including
eating disorders, a side career as a paid escort, and the impact of the death
of a parent.
The six aspiring performers, Joshua Coleman, Scott Ryan, David
Maynard, Dani Marco, Sarah Smith and Elisha Imani Wilson, are all
charismatic and quite brave in their willingness to bare not only their
bodies but their souls.
Like any good reality show (think "Survivor"), GAMES PEOPLE PLAY:
NEW YORK employs several twists, including an especially clever one at
the end. Whitney and his talented cast provide a fun, fascinating and
ultimately rewarding look at what might turn out to be a must-see cinematic
series. There's already a sequel GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: HOLLYWOOD with
another in the works. At this rate, Whitney may not need the small screen,
provided he can continue to come up with new surprises to his game show.
Running time: 96 minutes
MPAA Rating: NONE (Film does includes nudity,
language and sexual content
unsuitable for children)
|© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.