A Wonderful Life

The late Charles Nelson Reilly directed five Broadway plays, won a Tony for acting, was nominated for three Emmys, and knew full well that his legacy would be as a flamboyant double-entendre machine on '70s game shows. Shot before he died in May at age 76, The Life of Reilly, the warm and hilarious adaptation of Reilly's acclaimed one-man show, Save It for the Stage, is almost entirely without reference to The Match Game. Rambling, blithe, nostalgic, and out for revenge, Reilly presents a witty, anecdotal timeline of his life, and the bittersweet milestones play like a Spalding Gray monologue loosened up with a few shots of tequila. There are the stories of his racist mom, a lobotomized aunt, and a TV exec who told him he'd never find work as a homosexual — and there's also the more charming tale of his Uta Hagen acting class, which yielded nothing but future A-listers (Steve McQueen, Jason Robards, Jack Lemmon, and Anne Meara, to name a few). Directors Barry Poltermann and Frank Anderson aren't exactly reinventing the wheel here, stylewise, but by introducing the performance with man-on-the-street interviews that emphasize how little most of us know about Reilly's talent, they give their film and subject added poignancy.
Wed., Nov. 21, 2007

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