TIFF 2012 Recap: Jason Reitman’s Live Reading of American Beauty

 Kicking off the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival on a high note, film director Jason Reitman led a live read of American Beauty at the Ryerson Theatre.

With the one-night-only performance serving as the festival’s special event, the Juno and Up in the Air director has previously led his “Live Read” series at the Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA) since launching a year ago.

Noticing that it was more fun to read other people’s screenplays with different actors, Reitman has since brought new life to contemporary classics such as The Breakfast Club (with a cast that included Jennifer Garner and Aaron Paul), The Big Lebowski (featuring Seth Rogen) and The Apartment (with Steve Carell and Natalie Portman).

While the procedure is the same at each live read, what’s amazing about Reitman’s projects  is the fact that there is no preparation beforehand.

With the actors reading the scripts for the first time, the performances really becomes a testament of the actors’ talents.

“This is watching the film-making process,” said Reitman as he introduces his show. “We never got a rehearsal.  What you are seeing (here) is a first-shot.”

With American Beauty as the director’s choice of screenplay to recreate, the Oscar-winning film has a special connection to the festival after winning  TIFF’s People’s Choice Award in 1999.

The screenplay which was originally written by Alan Ball,  is about Lester Burnham, a depressed suburban father (played by Kevin Spacey) going through a mid-life crisis while failing to connect with his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) and his daughter Jane (Thora Birch).  But after developing an infatuation with Jane’s attractive friend Angela (Mena Suvari), he decides to turn his life around.

Bringing the film to life again on the stage, Reitman made special decisions in casting his actors.  Featuring relative newcomers such as Adam Driver (who plays neighbor Ricky Fitts), Sarah Gadon (as Angela) and Mae Whitman (as Jane), the live read also included the likes of experienced actors such as Christina Hendricks (who took on the role of Jane) and Bryan Cranston (who was cast as a sad and confused Lester).

Essentially reading the same script from the original film, the point here is how the actors deliver their lines and make it their own.  With no technology except for background music and movie screenshots to set the scene, the majority of the show is up to the actors’ capabilities.

With Reitman reading the scene descriptions, every actor was near flawless.  Because of the small cast, this also meant the actors had to double up on roles.  While Hendricks gave a great portrayal of the bored and frustrated Carolyn, she stood out playing the teenage school friend that Sarah Gadon’s Angela expressively calls a “Cunt.”

However, it was Cranston who stole the show with his improvisation and charming nature.  Animating the crowd with his hilarious delivery, he put the audience in fits of laughter at parts that weren’t even that funny in the movie. At one point when the show was experiencing technical difficulties, the veteran actor even entertained the crowd with some beat-boxing.

Nevertheless, witnessing Reitman’s live read of ‘American Beauty’ was a real treat.  With no flashy special effects, cameras or rehearsals beforehand, the show was a great way to really appreciate what it takes to be a professional actor.

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