I am not a fan of Fellini. Well, that’s not exactly true, I like early Fellini. But I find “peak” Fellini highly overrated and I pretty much can’t stand late Fellini. Of all the “Great Directors” I a have attempted to appreciate, Fellini is among my least favourite.
And, well, this is among the most Fellini-esque American films I’ve ever seen. It might be the most Fellini-esque “musical” ever made (or at least up until 1979). As much as this film is all about Bob Fosse, it is all about Bob Fosse in pretty much the exact same way that 8 ½ was all about Fellini. All That Jazz is considerably more accessible (I think) but that’s because it’s in English, there are musical numbers and there’s nudity and swearing.
All of this isn’t to say it’s not inventive. Even for a film so absolutely dedicated to a particular style of another director, it’s extremely inventive. And Scheider does Yeoman’s work making Fosse’s unlikable alterego likable. But this is a movie about an aging, womanizing choreographer’s ego trip and his creative problems. If you’re into it, that’s great. If you’re not, well, you have to hope there’s something else.
And the problem for me is, I don’t like Fellini. And when you don’t like the source of inspiration for something like this, it’s hard to live the rest of it, because the rest of it isn’t exactly likable either. Listen, I love Sergio Leone, so when someone (cough Tarantino cough) does overt homages to him, I like it. I love Robert Altman, so when Jonathan Demme makes an Altman-esque film, I like it. But I don’t like Fellini, so when I see Bob Fosse’s Fellini film, well I can’t say that I like it.
But there’s nothing bad about it beyond its pretension and navel-gazing. The cast is excellent and it’s fun to play “spot the famous person” given how many theatre and film actors there are here in major and minor roles (John Lithgow! Wallace Shawn! and so on and so forth).
But no matter how many ideas there are, and no matter how creative it is, and no matter how many wonderful people are in it, I just don’t like it because I don’t like this style of filmic navel-gazing.