The movie is too long (nearly two hours), but the acting—Gere, Molina, the peerlessly edgy Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden as Irving’s loopy Swiss-German painter wife—keeps you giggling. And the story has something up its sleeve—a dream finish. It seems that Richard Nixon was driven to near apoplexy by Howard Hughes and whatever Hughes had on him—and it’s possible that the Watergate burglary was an attempt to get hold of the Irving manuscript. I’m not sure I believe it entirely (although I’ve heard it before), but in The Hoax I want to believe it, and that’s what separates a failed con from a triumphant one.
In the acid showbiz comedy The TV Set, the network chief Lenny (Sigourney Weaver) attempts to buck up her new British colleague, Richard (Ioan Gruffudd), when his wife decamps with their son back to England. One thing she has learned, she says, is that “spouses are not necessarily a fixture on the schedule.” Grotesque Hollywood executives are as common in indie movies as they are in Hollywood, but this one has a rare fluency. As played by Weaver with a hard-charging dementia honed in Christopher Durang farces, Lenny is a character of bloodcurdling stature.
The TV Set is yet another filmmaker’s whine of dashed dreams and Faustian bargains and integrity under siege, written and directed by the overprivileged Jake Kasdan, son of Lawrence. Except it’s deftly calibrated and acted with relish: Kasdan is really good! He showed a light touch in his 1998 debut, Zero Effect, but has worked almost exclusively in TV since. (Is The TV Set inspired by his experiences on Freaks and Geeks and Grosse Pointe?) In the film, a pudgy, bearded David Duchovny plays a writer who uses his depression over the suicide of a brother to create a TV comedy with some emotional bite, but the project begins to come apart under Hollywood gravitational forces with the casting of a fluff-bunny leading man (Fran Kranz) and doubts about the comic potential of … suicide.
Duchovny uses his patented solipsistic nasality (that’s a compliment) to make the writer both a good guy and a bit of a pain (who would build a network sitcom around a suicide?), and his scenes with his manager (Judy Greer) are perfect studies of Hollywood communication: When he asks her how various network readings/screenings went, she always says, “Great! Really great! They had some questions … ” Greer’s high-strung sexiness has never played so well, and Lindsay Sloane does wonders as a ripely available actress who’s not quite so available out of character. As for Kranz, he’s so convincing as a terrible Method actor that he must be a very, very good one. In the film, Weaver’s Lenny grimaces slightly when she says the TV pilot is “smart”—it’s a pejorative. I say The TV Set is smart, and I’m smiling.