As any Angeleno can attest, Hollywood rarely gets it as wrong as when it depicts onscreen the city that exists just outside its studio gates. And although criticizing a commercial blockbuster for its lack of verisimilitude is a bit like accusing the pot of being black, when the offending flick is La La Land and the misrepresentation is what it means for a struggling actor to live and audition in L.A., don't be surprised when the actors strike back.
Happily, that’s what comedian Jimmy Fowlie does in So Long Boulder City, his laugh-packed, take-no-prisoners drag riposte to writer-director Damien Chazelle’s much-hyped and Oscar-heaped jazz homage to the MGM musical, which is currently drawing satiric blood at Celebration Theatre.
Whereas much has already been written about La La Land’s unexamined bigotry or the “white savior” narrative that is wincingly embedded in its roots-music subplot, Fowlie zeroes in on the movie's risible, if heretofore mostly unreported, L.A. inaccuracies, which he threads through his wickedly funny recreation of La La Land's autobiographical one-woman show-within-a-movie, also called So Long Boulder City. Created and performed in the movie (albeit off-camera) by Mia, the neophyte actress played by Emma Stone, the personal disaster of the stage debut forms the pivotal third-act reversal in the film's Fred-and-Ginger romance between Mia and Ryan Gosling’s aspiring jazz pianist Sebastian.
Making the most of the few onscreen clues left by that never-seen performance — which is represented in the movie by little more than a fleeting glimpse of some DIY stage scenery and a backstage peek at a suggestively overstuffed rack of costumes — Fowlie brings Mia’s show to outlandish life. His madcap, 60-minute extrapolation of earnest dramaturgical cluelessness is not only eminently worthy of the venomous heckling by the movie's onscreen audience, but the laughs it generates are equally rooted in the manifold implausibilities taken directly from Chazelle’s script.
Appearing in a shoulder-length auburn wig and a dress unflatteringly cut to emphasize her athletic physique, Fowlie’s drag Mia acerbically riffs on the movie’s most exasperating departures into alternative facts — like its depiction of four low-wage L.A. roommates sharing a sprawling, 8,500 square-foot luxury apartment in Hancock Park or an unlocked and unguarded Griffith Observatory that is available for Mia and her boyfriend’s midnight homage to Rebel Without a Cause.
Elsewhere, Fowlie fills in the considerable blanks of Mia’s biography in reminiscences that suggest a background considerably less wholesome than might be implied by Emma Stone’s portrayal. Mia’s doting and classic movie-loving “actress” aunt in Boulder City, Nevada, is unmasked as a muttering schizophrenic; there are hints of eating disorders and substance abuse; and a confabulated adolescent experience involving some unsavory romantic attention from a teacher at Hoover Dam School for Girls reveals an alarming capacity for romantic self-delusion that will follow her through life — first at the undergraduate musical theater department of Boise State University and finally on the night of the performance itself.
How many of the evening’s sometimes overly insider-ish jokes ultimately land will probably depend on how steeped one is in La La trivia and L.A.’s insular acting culture. Half of Mia’s vainglorious and talentless incompetence comes via director Jordan Black’s expertly stilted pastiche of arbitrary blocking, botched lighting cues and agonizingly drawn-out costume changes. It is a tour de force of bad ideas and worse execution. And if Fowlie’s comic momentum ultimately flags, even that is strangely true to life — unlike so much of the movie from which So Long Boulder City draws its inspiration.
Celebration Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood; through Aug. 19. Celebrationtheatre.com.
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