Comic Review Written and Drawn by David Yoder
Lost in London: Woody Harrelson’s Bogus Journey
Written Review by David Carter
There was a Q&A following the live broadcast of Woody Harrelson’s one-shot and one-take odyssey titled Lost in London. At the Q&A you can see a clearly dazed and exhausted Harrelson try and answer the questions from the panelist sitting next to him on a cramped stage that was used earlier in the movie. At one point he mentions that this whole movie is a love letter to his wife, which is a surreal statement when you remember that the movie is about how his infidelity and ego nearly destroyed their marriage, but it’s an appropriate statement given that everything about Lost in London was a surreal experience. From the casting, the setting, and the fact that it’s based on a true story (the log line of the movie even points out that “Too much of this is true”), the movie is a crossroads of celebrity, ego and Murphy’s Law all intersecting at once. It’s essentially Birdman meets Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Lost in London is the story of Woody Harrelson having the worst night of his life. While in London after giving an underwhelmingly received performance at a local theater, Woody (playing himself, as most of the celebrities in the film are) gets the bad news that a British tabloid is running a story with photos of him picking up multiple women who propositioned him for sex. The problem is that Woody has a wife and kids, all of whom are currently in London with him. After trying to block his wife from seeing the tabloid and failing, Woody is whisked away by middle eastern royalty for a night out on the town. Woody promises he’ll only be out for a couple of drinks and that he’ll be home by midnight to explain his actions. What follows is a night of reckoning for Woody and his pride. He degrades himself in front of bouncers at a club by singing the Cheers theme song to get into a club (it doesn’t work). He meets a beautiful and mysterious woman only for it to go horribly wrong in the most ludicrous way possible. He bumps into his “best” friend Owen Wilson only for it to devolve into a hilarious falling out between two people (regardless of how self centered they are) who care about each other. I could go on but whenever this gets a home video release it’s fun to have some of the surprises sneak up on you. That was the fun of the whole experience: where would this go next? Who would show up next? And would they pull this off? That last one, is sadly lost to the passing of the moment. You can’t talk about this movie without talking about the experience or the impact of its live debut.
Broadcasting live performances obviously isn’t new, hell CBS Playhouse 90 did it on near weekly basis. What sets Lost in London apart from those old T.V. plays is its scope. Those old CBS dramas where plays with strict staging, camera switches, and commercial breaks. So if something ever did go wrong it was easy to fudge it so that the audience wouldn’t notice it too much. Lost in London ups the ante by having it be one-take, one camera. So if at any point an actor missed their cue or dropped their lines, or the sound or visuals got funky it would have been all up there on a huge canvas. There’s even the added level of anxiety that what you are watching is an autobiographical account of a man’s lowest point. It could all come off as a misguided vanity project, but I don’t think vanity projects are usually this risky. You can even tell that Woody and crew weren’t completely sold on the idea for a long time and it took some gentle nudging from Owen Wilson for him to keep it live. I’m glad Owen did, because the live aspect sets it above other one take films such as Russian Ark or Victoria, the latter of which was a direct influence on Lost in London. When the movie goes off with very little incident (there’s some lines that get eaten by small sound issues, and there was even a missed cue from an actor that Woody did a great job improvising to hide it) it made you feel like it was an achievement.
The performances are delightful. Eleanor Matsuura is great at playing Woody’s wife Laura. My biggest complaint is that she really only appears at the beginning and end of the movie, and I thought it would have been a plus to have her be a bigger presence over the story. Owen Wilson is a show stealer. He really leans into his Wes Anderson-y character persona. The various London actors who fill out the cast are capital “P” professionals. The standout for me was Martin McCann as the wet behind the ears cop Paddy. He’s Woody’s biggest ally after he gets arrested and he really bring a sweetness to the part that seemed refreshingly sincere considering how mean the movie can get. Woody is still the stand-out. He’s in just about every scene and while you know he’s playing an heightened version of himself, you can tell that this stuff really affected him and changed him. He really proves why he’s one of our most reliable actors.
Lost in London itself isn’t anything revelatory, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s a story that would be right at home on HBO or IFC pilot for a Woody Harrelson TV show. Wacky cameos, cringe humor, and poking fun at your persona are all things that are very much apart of the common comedy landscape. However, the one-shot aspect of it takes it over from “comedic incident” to “long dark journey of the soul”. The two aspects really compliment each other. I hope when this hits home video that people plop down and watch it. It’ll probably be cleaned and polished, but seeing as it aired January 19th 2017 (making it the final internationally released movie to be produced and exhibited in the Obama administration) with all its bumps and scratches is something I hope I’ll never forget.