Much as we love Robert Altman, we’ll be candid, or else you’ll think we’re afraid to ever criticise such a legend. Sometimes, watching The Company is like watching paint wonder whether or not to dry. The other director whose work comes to mind? Warhol, mostly. Not much happens, very slowly. And what does happen is ballet.
On the plus side, the visuals?the paints, if you like?look lovely. Altman’s view of ballerinas is clearly influenced by Degas. Everything’s tinted in pinkish hues and burned golden light (no red shoes, though). But let’s be clear: this is no subversive McCabe And Mrs Miller, and no satirical The Player. It’s Gosford Park, only more mum-friendly.
Bear in mind that The Company began life as Neve Campbell’s pet project. Keen to show there was more to her than Scream-ing, the young actress developed a story to show off her pre-acting talent. A ballet dancer since age six, she collaborated with Barbara Turner (Georgia, Pollock) on a screenplay about the everyday trials and triumphs of a ballet company. When Altman agreed to direct, she was “delighted”. Well, you would be.
Technically, he films the dance sequences brilliantly. The music’s by Van Dyke Parks, though there’s much classical, and about nine versions of “My Funny Valentine”. Neve and the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago rehearse, perform, survive injuries and nagging parents. She has a vague, under-explored affair with James Dean lookalike Franco. In fact one of the frustrations of The Company is that subplots do suggest themselves, only to remain unprobed. Surely that’s cutting Altman off from his greatest strength?
McDowell’s a camp, bossy “artistic leader”, a luvvie with inspirational sermons like: “It’s not the steps, it’s what’s inside that counts.” There are times when it’s like Chicago without the songs or Showgirls without the flesh. “I hate pretty,” hisses McDowell, but the film is, at best, just pretty.