“Director James Toback is preaching to the choir with this one,” declares the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw: “it’s hard to think of a movie which would be more eagerly gobbled up at Cannes. It’s guilty-pleasure romp of a documentary, filmed at last year’s Cannes film festival, all about the gorgeous, deadly and heartbreaking business of cinema itself. The 68-year-old Toback is asking himself, and us: can he have one more hit before he dies? Or is this the long goodbye, an agonising chase after less and less money, as his career gets colder and colder? With that question, the film morphs into a fascinatingly explicit meditation on death.”
Variety‘s Leslie Felperin: “The opening scenes introduce Alec Baldwin and Toback having a lively discussion, both onstage at Lincoln Center and in private, about Last Tango in Paris, as excerpts from Bernardo Bertolucci’s immortal 1972 film are shown via split-screen (clearly one of Toback’s favorite devices, as he showed in his 2008 docu Tyson). Baldwin and Toback are hoping to remake Tango with Baldwin playing the Marlon Brando part and Toback regular Neve Campbell in the Maria Schneider role, but set in Iraq during the 2000s.”
“Talking to financiers,” writes Jada Yuan for Vulture, “they realize that the cast they have is worth, says Baldwin, ‘about four dollars and fifty cents,’ and the only way they’ll get their $15-$20 million ask is by casting something like [Ryan] Gosling, so they go ahead and try to pitch him. He doesn’t sign on to the hypothetical movie, but does give them a delightful interview about his Hollywood experience.” And she runs through a few of his best anecdotes.
In the Hollywood Reporter, Jordan Mintzer notes that “the doc provides a quick-and-dirty history of the Cannes fest itself, using dozens of clips and archive photos, as well as interviews with various critics (including THR’s own Todd McCarthy) who explain why the two weeks in May are perhaps the most important of the year when it comes to movies. Auteur giants Bernardo Bertolucci, Roman Polanski, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese all speak about bringing early works to the fest, and then appear as recurring characters throughout, candidly revealing how even the greatest directors are subject to the whims of investors and the ever-increasing bottom line.” Cannes itself “is the best proof of why movies and money will forever be married, and for the most part, unhappily. As a veteran who grew up in Hollywood’s transformative 1980s, Toback knows this as much as anyone, and he and Baldwin have delivered what’s ultimately a sharp and impassioned video of a honeymoon gone sour.”
While Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn offers five bullet-pointed “key takeaways,” the Playlist‘s Kevin Jagernauth argues that this “enjoyable but lightweight” film is “more content to revel in the surreal, abstract and sometimes harsh truths about finding money, rather than endeavoring to find new avenues or—god forbid—find a way (like many directors do) to work on a smaller budget. The movie says nothing new in that regard.”
Updates, 5/20: At the AV Club, Mike D’Angelo finds the doc to be “totally incoherent, lurching from one topic to another with no rhyme or reason whatsoever…. Toback imposes his obsession with death on the proceedings at the last minute, with even Baldwin laughing on-camera at the blatant shoehorning. Seduced and Abandoned is fun to watch but maddeningly negligible, to the point where its title becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“Toback will be 69 this November, while Baldwin is 55,” notes David Thomson in the New Republic. “They have never worked together until now, but they make a bouncy, boyish team.” Cannes “s so expensive an event that you know for certain that few people there are paying their own way. They are on some kind of expense account, like children who want Daddy to keep them funded. Seduced and Abandoned is exhilarating because it suggests that these sophisticated infants, these self-pitying pirates, these people who know a bus is always coming if someone needs to be disposed of, might also be geniuses for a moment. Orson Welles said it wasn’t worth the exchange, 5 percent of movies for 95 of exhaustion and disappointment. But he, Toback, Baldwin, and three-quarters of the men and women in Cannes trust no other way to die.”
Updates, 5/21: “There’s a reason it’s called show business,” write Richard and Mary Corliss for Time. “Truth be told, any investor would jump at Last Tango in Tikrit if Toback were to replace his leading man with the star of three of his earlier films: Robert Downey, Jr.”
At the Daily Beast, Richard Porton notes that “in one of the documentary’s most memorable interludes, producer Avi Lerner minces few words to say that he basically thinks that Cannes’ preoccupation with art is idiotic since the movie business can be reduced to an endless quest for sex and money. Almost every critic and director who attended Cannes in the 1980s and 1990s insists that the festival was a much less frenetic and money-driven event in those years.”
Writing for Sight & Sound, Geoff Andrew notes that “Toback ended his film by asking the various contributors whether they were ready to die. A tad indulgent, perhaps, but a very entertaining disquisition all the same.”
Matt Mueller interviews Toback for Thompson on Hollywood.
Updates, 5/22: “Two days after the packed screening I attended,” writes Michał Oleszczyk at RogerEbert.com, “I interview Toback in his room at the Carlton Hotel, amidst a homey disarray that accords with the director’s lack of pretense. Energetic, outspoken, looking like a slightly heftier Billy Joel, Toback immediately plunges into the topic of aging and facing mortality, which pervades Seduced and Abandoned.”
Viewing (3’16”). The Guardian chats with Toback and Baldwin.
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