It was a December evening at the movies like any other. The audience is waiting for the film to start, completely tuning out the Fathom Events promos that run before. All of a sudden, Woody Harrelson pops onto the screen to make a major announcement. He has decided to shoot an entire film in one take and live stream it for audiences around the country. This would be an insane proposition for any director, let alone an actor who is making his first go behind the camera. It was a cinematic high-wire act that I just could not resist. I felt genuinely nervous for Harrelson as Lost in London was about to begin but now that’s it’s all over I have to say – –
He did it.
The film is a semi-autobiographical comedy in which Harrelson plays himself during one of the worst nights of his life. After a performance of a play that he’s not enjoying being in, his wife Laura (Eleanor Matsuura) finds out about a sex scandal that he’s been caught in. Furious, she leaves him alone in London for the night, agreeing to meet with him at midnight to talk things over. Harrelson then falls into a never ending string of disasters as the evening wears on, some of which involve Owen Wilson who has grown tired of his longtime friend’s attitude.
Harrelson has done an astonishing job staging this film. They could’ve easily made this a one room bottle film and have achieved the same goal, but instead, we visit 24 locations through one extended take. We go from restaurants to nightclubs to jail cells and everywhere in between and it feels seamless. This smoothness is all the more impressive considering that most of the sets are in and around one building, as it never feels like we’re being manipulated to hide production transitions. The actors hit most of their marks perfectly, with only one major flub that was only noticeable after the Q&A with Harrelson and his crew. The only major issue is the audio. Since we’re constantly transitioning from inside to outside, each setting has a different resonance. We have sequences inside a massive auditorium that are a bit echoey and traffic in the moments outside that make some of the dialogue inaudible. However, this only becomes a major problem every so often, as the majority of the film takes place in locations where the crew does have control of the audio.
All of these theatrics would grow stale rather quickly if the film itself wasn’t up to snuff. Fortunately, Lost in London is a biting and often hilarious look into the way society views celebrities, and the way they, in turn, see each other. Harrelson turns all of the story’s guns on himself and gives a strong performance in the process. We find him in a place where he’s not quite a ‘has-been’ but certainly not a major star either. Being in that in-between spot drives him insane and we can feel that frustration pouring out of the screen. Wilson’s relaxed delivery is the perfect counter balance. While he’s not in the film a great deal, the relationship the two of them establish leads to the film’s sharpest moments. It’s hard not to get a few belly laughs out of Harrelson constantly poo-pooing Wes Anderson out of jealousy.
At one point in the film, Harrelson is confused for Woody Allen, fitting considering that his writing often mirrors the sardonic tone of Allen’s strongest work. Every character has so much to say and it’s flying out at a mile a minute. At times it does feel play-like, with gaggles of extended monologues that occasionally enter into ponderous territory. However, the dialogue is so detailed that we get a really strong sense of who even the subliminal characters are, and British character actors Peter Ferdinando, Martin McCann and David Avery revel in chewing up the scenery. This certainly isn’t a subtle film, but there are quieter, more character-driven moments that break up the more theatrical elements.
Lost In London is one of the only ‘all in one-night’ films that feels like it actually could happen within that short space of time. There is not a wasted second here and it often scores huge laughs as a result. It feels like a scrappier cousin to Birdman in both style and content while still establishing a voice of its own. It’s hard to say if the film will attain a following now that the gimmick has been carried out, but with some cleaning up of rougher technical elements, it certainly has a shot. Harrelson shows great potential as a writer/director and under a more conventional format, he may just make a great film one day. For now, he just has a pretty good one that still presented us with something we’ve never seen before.