If you're even remotely familiar with the career of Tanna Frederick, then you already know she drew raves for her beastly performance in a 2011 stage adaptation of Sylvia.
Trust me, beastly is a compliment.
I couldn't help but chuckle as I watched Frederick once again come to life under the direction of renowned indie director Henry Jaglom, who has built a career in film by being one of Hollywood's true indie outsiders.
Then again, maybe that's unfair.
Jaglom isn't so much an outsider as he is a filmmaker who has consistently refused to compromise his artistic vision for studio approval. Since his filmmaking debut in 1971 with A Safe Place, Jaglom has managed to both maintain a strong presence within Hollywood while exercising an even stronger indie cinematic voice.
Jaglom's lastest film, The M Word, is a film that continues both Jaglom's collaboration with leading lady Tanna Frederick and his long-standing devotion to writing and directing films that feature richly developed and authentic characters who radiate a naturalness that is compelling and thought-provoking. The M Word, and I'm not about to tell you what the "M" stands for here, is the latest of Jaglom's films to tackle, in surprisingly entertaining ways, a certain aspect of what it means to be a woman in the world. While one could, I suppose, argue that writing about the experience of womanhood from the male perspective could be presumptuous, The M Word is filled with so much respect and affection for its characters that it's pretty amazingly clear that Jaglom writes and directs from a place that is genuine and insightful.
Of course, it helps to have an actress the caliber of Tanna Frederick by your side. As Moxie Landon, a talented actress on a Southern California children's show with even bigger plans, Frederick gives a performance that is funny, energetic, inspired, and more than a little emotionally resonant. In the film, Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos) portrays Charlie Moon, a network executive sent by the main office to uncover who is responsible for embezzling station funds and, as well, whom might be expendable for the struggling station.
It may not be a surprise when sparks fly between the brash and duty-minded Moon and the loyal and occasionally quite horny Moxie, but Jaglom does a nice job of taking a rather predictable situation and having it play out unpredictably. Moxie has her eyes set on developing a show for the station, The M Word, a topical documentary that she considers to be one of the final taboos for network television. Along the way, The M Word serves up plenty of insights and entertainment centered around the female experience, the corporate side of creativity, and, just perhaps, a message about how it's those unmentionable aspects of our lives that help to build us into who we are and, even moreso, it's those people who endure life with us who are truly most special.
Of course, The M Word is also just about laughing. A lot.
In addition to fine performances from co-leads Tanna Frederick and Michael Imperioli, both Corey Feldman and Gregory Harrison shine as supporting players along with the always terrific Frances Fisher. Frequent Jaglom collaborator Hanania Baer's lensing is even better than usual as Baer allows the camera to linger at times to beautifully capture body language and facial expressions. Baer's camera loves this cast and they, in turn, truly shine.
There are moments in The M Word that are simply exquisite in both their honesty and their simplicity. There are scenes, for example, in the studio office where you're watching the scene unfold and thinking to yourself "Yep, that's exactly how it would happen." It's as if Jaglom realizes that sometimes the most challenging moments in life are also, underneath it all, really quite funny.
It's good. It's bad. I think it's called being human and Jaglom seems to embrace it.
Released on April 9th through The Rainbow Film Company, The M Word will unquestionably entertain Jaglom's longtime fans and will likely also attract new ones. For more information, visit the Rainbow Film Company website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic