Barrymore is a film version of a theatrical performance of a play by William Luce. Christopher Plummer convincingly plays the legendary actor John Barrymore. People like watching live theater because the performances are never the same twice. When filmed, the performance is flattened and removes the excitement of the stage.
Barrymore is the filmed version of the Tony Award-winning one-man show by Christopher Plummer. While it is best to see it live, the big screen version has its own thrills. Plummer won the Tony in 1997 for the play and he is a bit old for the role. Barrymore is supposed to be a troubled alcoholic and died at 60 while Plummer is not in his early 80s. But to Plummer’s defense, he is the type of actor that knows how to act in front of a camera and an audience. This is why Barrymore has both the quiet moving moments as well as the loud hammy scenes.
The movie takes place in 1942, shortly before Barrymore’s death. He tries his best to rehearse his trademark role Richard III of Shakespeare. He has a discussion with an offstage prompter, played by John Plumpis. But aside from that, most of the play is monologue by Plummer.
At one part of Barrymore, Plummer strokes an imaginary cat. You can feel that the cat is real and yet you can’t see it. Director Erik Canuel does various opening out of the play that sends viewers to the streets, Barrymore’s dressing room, and to an empty theater.
Plummer doesn’t overplay the character and at the same time capture the personality that’s larger than life. It is like watching an expert at work. Barrymore has a 45 minute behind the scenes documentary Backstage with Barrymore along with the play. It is running on several theaters.