Live theater is always talked about as being an exhilarating experience, and that for the actors, there is nothing to compare it too. Lost in London Live however, tries to take that notion and ratchet up the difficulty, by filming an entire movie, live, in one shot, and broadcast it to theaters around the world. Writer, Director, and Star Woody Harrelson created and successfully pulled off cinematic history, as there has never been a film shot and broadcast live before. The complex nature of this film means that the review will be more informal than normal, mostly because most people will never see this movie, as it isn’t getting a theatrical run, it was one night only. The special event also included a Q&A, with Woody Harrelson, along with members of the cast and crew.
Lost in London Live, tells us story that is described in the opening moments with “too much of this is true,” which considering the antics contained within the roughly 90-100 minute run time, means that Woody had quite a night in London some 15 years ago. The film plays out across 14 locations in London, each serving as a little vignette, that tells the story of the misadventures Harrelson has, after a tabloid story shows him cheating on his wife. The film stars about 30 cast members, and a crew of 200-300 people, all of whom worked tirelessly to bring this film to life. During the Q&A, thanking the cast and crew was the first thing everybody did, and even after the frantic nature of this undertaking, it was apparent just how much respect and admiration they all had for completing this. The story is pretty good, if not a little disjointed, as there are so many little pieces that get introduced, characters come, and go, and a lot of different stories are told as part of the evening. Not all of the mini stories work, but each is incorporated to film as one wacky scenario after another. While mostly a dramatic film about Harrelson’s fear that he has lost his wife and family, the film is also very funny. The banter that drives the film has a dry sense of humor, which works very well within the film, given how dramatic the situation is in many respects. Lost in London feels very much like many independent dramedies, and that’s a good thing, as it incorporates an intriguing story, mixes in some humor, and winds up as a being and entertaining, and self deprecating, night at the movies.
It really was remarkable watching so many moving parts come together, especially all of the actors working together. Harrelson as the star, is in just about every scene, but it is his scenes with the other characters that bring out some of the best moments. The interactions with Owen Wilson, also playing a dramatized version of himself, has some hilarious conversations with Woody, as he tries to help him cope with the possibility of his marriage ending, which ends up backfiring as the two come to blows after Woody finds out the he isn’t Owen’s best friend, an honor which goes to Wes Anderson, who is name checked several times. The other standout supporting character is Irish actor Martin McCann, who plays Woody’s arresting officer, the two share several scenes together towards the end of the film, and the back and forth between the two is a joy to watch. Many of the other characters are mostly forgettable, as they ultimately serve to get Woody to the end of the film, though Peter Ferdinando’s turn as “twin” police officers that loathe Woody, make for a few hilarious moments in the films waning minutes. There are also a couple of fun cameos, one being a funny pre-recorded phone conversation with Bono, doing his best Rastafarian accent, a personality change, which in the film is a result of Woody recently turning Bono onto weed. The second is the one that was advertised ahead of time, Willie Nelson, or as the film calls him, The Texas Dalai Lama, a nickname I will forever use now because of how perfect it is. Willie appears as a dream sequence in jail, and is another standout scene for the film.
With a project like this, it cannot be ignored what an accomplishment the film ended up being, while it wasn’t necessarily the best film, the ability to complete a feature-length film live on the spot in one take is nothing short of impressive. The Q&A was a nice addition as well, as it gave a little more insight into the process. One surprising aspect of the filmmaking process, was that they only rehearsed for about five weeks, which seemed pretty short considering the scope. With such little rehearsal time, there was also a chance that there would be mistakes, and luckily there only seemed to be one, though it wasn’t clear to me or others at the time, but Ferdinando’s cop was supposed to enter a scene where Woody was making his one phone call, but didn’t do so for several seconds, or an eternity for Harrelson and McCann, who thought the snafu was much longer than it really was. When talking about the mistake, they showed the audience the scene again, and while it was clear that both actors were looking for Ferdinando to renter, they both did a nice job extending the scene until he arrived. Ferdinando expressed how badly he felt, as he thought he had ruined the movie, and even hid from the Q&A, it wasn’t until Woody rewatched the scene that they realized it wasn’t that bad, that he came to the stage. Harrelson stated that he worked on the script right up until the moment they started rolling, as he was always adding notes, and it is a real credit to the work of Director of Photography Nigel Willoughby, and his camera operator, who were able to capture the film using only one mini 4k camera. It is also really quite impressive that Harrelson chose this as his directorial debut, and he did express a want to direct again, just not in the live format. What is equally impressive, was that there were about 150 microphones throughout the different locations, and with the exception of a few scenes outside, all of the audio came through without issue, though it was a little jarring at times as there would be an echo moving from scene to scene.
Overall Lost in London was an enjoyable, and impressive film, that really takes the audience on a wild ride through one night in London. The film won’t garner any awards, and the gimmick will certainly overshadow the work, but all involved should feel extremely accomplished for succeeding in what they set out to do. In the end, Harrelson expressed that he had a sense of pride for what he created, and that he enjoyed the experience, but he will never being doing a live movie again, though I would like to see what he can do with traditionally directed film.