Judge Patrick Bromley approached this film with expectations considerably smaller than the sky, which is probably the best way to see it.
There are moments in your life that are bigger than you think.
Both the cover art and plot synopsis featured on MGM's release of Bigger Than the Sky give the impression that the film is a Cyrano de Bergerac–inspired romantic comedy about John Corbett (Raise Your Voice, Elvis Has Left the Building) attempting to romance Amy Smart (Starsky and Hutch ). It isn't. While both actors do appear in the film, and it does center on a production of Cyrano, nothing in that plot synopsis rings particularly true. It's a great example of the DVD bait-and-switch, in which what's promised on the outside has little to do with what's contained within. In most cases, this is cause for frustration, but I suspect that here it's for the best—the actual Bigger Than the Sky is no doubt far more interesting than the predictable love story we're meant to take it for.
The movie is about love, all right, but it's not the romantic kind—it's about love of theater. It tells the story of a schlub named Peter (Marcus Thomas, Drowning Mona), a going-nowhere sad-sack who finds himself inexplicably drawn into a play audition at the local community theater. Despite a total lack of experience—not to mention talent or ability—Peter winds up with the lead role in the show (this year's production? Cyrano de Bergerac!). As he struggles to find his inner thespian, Peter slowly finds himself welcomed into his new theater family: Michael (Corbett), the flaky but gifted community theater celebrity; Grace (Smart), the beautiful and quirky romantic lead (just once I'd love for this character not to be quirky); Ken Zorbell (Sean Astin, The Goonies), Peter's egomaniacal competition; and Edwina (Clare Higgins, Hellraiser), the tortured and eccentric director of the production.
There are scattered moments of insight throughout Bigger Than the Sky, and a palpable passion for the subject matter—this is a film written and directed by people who genuinely love acting. Director Corley has a knack for tone, especially in the movie's opening moments (which promise a Garden State–style movie that's far better than what we actually get). So why does the film not entirely work? Well, for starters, lead Marcus Thomas (who was quite funny in the long-forgotten Drowning Mona) is far too wooden—his performance as a lifeless mope is a bit too "method" to work, and no amount of energy or enthusiasm from the supporting cast can keep the film's center from sinking. Amy Smart, whose appeal continues to elude me, offers little assistance as his romantic/dramatic counterpart; she's a hollow assemblage of actressy quirks, intended to pass as inspiration. Sean Astin goes way too far over the top as the movie's only villain, a self-centered blowhard so cartoonish he makes Billy Zane's performance in Titanic seem positively subdued. It pains me to be so hard on Samwise Gamgee—after all, I suspect he only participated in the film for the sake of his mother, Patty Duke. She shows up in a dual role as identical twins both working at the theater—the movie's lamest joke, which it never really recovers from.
MGM has appropriately provided an adequate but unspectacular disc for this adequate but unspectacular film. It's presented in a decent-looking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and boosted with a 5.1 surround audio track. As the movie is almost entirely dialogue, the track doesn't allow for much of an audio workout—the only special attention is afforded to the songs on the soundtrack. There are no extras (save for a bonus trailer for Hotel Rwanda that pops up automatically), which is a shame; as affectionate as the filmmakers seem to be toward their subject matter, it would have been nice to hear their thoughts on an accompanying commentary track. It's the rare film that doesn't take the easy road and mock community theater (we'll call it "Guffman-izing"), and yet here's one that treats it with dignity and respect. After all, theater is theater to the actors involved.
Ultimately, I suppose it's the acting crowd that Bigger Than the Sky will appeal to, despite the efforts of the studio to push the movie on a mainstream audience as a light and likable love story. I guess you can't blame MGM for trying, but don't be fooled—if it's a romantic comedy with John Corbett you're looking for, go and rent My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Just don't say I didn't warn you.
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