The funniest and most poignant documentary of the year is The Life of Reilly, the final will and testament of the great Charles Nelson Reilly, who most Gen X and Yers know from his kitschy game show appearances and roles on countless sitcoms, from Car 54, Where Are You? and The Ghost & Mrs. Muir to The X-Files and SpongeBob SquarePants. Directors Barry Poltermann and Frank Anderson asked the Broadway legend, who died earlier this year due to complications from pneumonia, to provide audiences with a gift of rare emotionalism by asking him to perform his one-man show Save It for the Stage one last time. Reilly’s performance is the crux of the film, shot with a minimum of fuss by Poltermann and Anderson, who interject haunting home-movie footage and film clips throughout the documentary as a means of accenting Reilly’s candor and wit. To Reilly, his life was a movie and everyone in it was played by a famous star: Shirley Booth starred as his pessimistic, controlling mother, Hume Cronym as his alcoholic father, Claire Trevor as his lobotomized aunt, and, most amusingly, Maureen Stapleton as the registrar for the future-stars-of-tomorrow acting class he took at HB Studio in the ‘50s. From the Bronx to suburban Connecticut to Hollywood, the funnyman stitched together the tapestry of his family’s life and his rise to celebrity with a richness of imagination and a sense of bittersweet understanding—for the regret that consumed his father after the old man was forced to turn down a job with Walt Disney, the grandparents who made him feel as if he lived his adolescence in an Ingmar Berman movie, and the mother who Booth herself once called “the most horrible woman in the world” (take that David Sedaris’s mom!). “This is some plot,” says a coyly amused Reilly. Indeed, Save It for the Stage‘s riches are innumerable, among them an acknowledgement of experience shaping creative vision and testaments to friendship, the comforts of moviegoing for the outsider, and talking to pelicans.
- L'Orange Films
- 87 min
- Barry Poltermann, Frank Anderson
- Paul Linke, Charles Nelson Reilly
- Charles Nelson Reilly
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