GOLDA’S BALCONY (2006)
Starring Valerie Harper.
Screenplay by William Gibson.
Directed by Jeremy Cagan.
Distributed by East-West Ventures. 95 minutes. Not Rated.
Golda’s Balcony was a one-woman show in the theater. A single person standing on stage, doing a huge monologue for the entire running time.
This makes it inherently hard to translate cinematically. Little things like having the main character voicing the words of other characters, which can work onstage, look awkward on film. A person just talking and talking for 95 minutes, no matter how interesting what they say may be, can get taxing to even the most hard-wired attention span.
Based on the life of the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, the 2003 play by William Gibson (he also wrote The Miracle Worker) became a hit with its strong lead performance by Tovah Feldshuh. The film version stars television star Valerie Harper (formerly Rhoda Morgenstern of The Mary Tyler Moore Show), who also had toured with the production.
Harper, who isn’t Jewish despite the fact that her best known roles always seem to be, does a wonderful job here. She is obviously in love with the role and relishes the dialogue she has been given and treats it with the proper respect.
Nearly buried beneath padding, makeup and a Brillo Pad wig, Harper is at points strong, defeated, pragmatic, angry, funny and even occasionally sassy (when she ponders on whether Moshe Dayan takes off the eye patch when making love). She inhabits one of the most important women of the 20th Century, and Meir has more than enough fascinating stories to keep things going. You also get to find out more about the leader as a woman, how her important role effected (and essentially ruined) her family life.
That said, the decision to film Harper with computer graphics and green screen special effects swirling around Golda is distracting, particularly in such an old-fashioned feeling story. It almost feels like director Jeremy Cagan is trying to turn the play into a Power Point presentation. Power Point presentations can work on film – although the Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth is the only practical example I could possibly come up with to support this statement. Eventually the audience does get used to the busy backgrounds behind the lead, but it takes time and it never feels completely comfortable.
Golda’s Balcony is a fascinating attempt, though I do think it would have probably been more satisfying had they either done a straight videotape of a live performance of the play or had they taken the time to actually flesh out the story and change it to a more traditional multi-character drama. What works in the theater does not always work in the cinema. The movie of Golda’s Balcony is at heart a good play more than a film.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 11, 2007.