I’ve just watched the eye-opening new documentary from Room 237 director Rodney Ascher. The Best of Matthew Broderick takes as its subject the career of actor Matthew Broderick, but don’t expect an exhaustive survey of theories describing hidden meanings of Broderick’s films. This documentary is far less explicit than Room 237, and also far more alluring.
Ascher wisely eschews voiceover narration and ‘talking head’ interviews in favor of a montage of primary sources presented without commentary. The first half of the movie is a series of clips of Matthew Broderick movies from the early 80s through the mid 90s, including WarGames (1983), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), Family Business (1989), Glory (1989), The Freshman (1990), The Lion King (1994), and The Road to Wellville (1994). There’s even some rare footage of young Broderick on Broadway starring in the coming-of-age Neil Simon play Brighton Beach Memoirs.
The middle of the movie is where things get really interesting. Ascher cuts from a short clip from The Road to Wellville to the opening sequence of The Pest (1997). By then, I’d be so accustomed to watching Matthew Broderick that for a moment I thought I was still watching Broderick but it turns out I was actually watching John Leguziamo, who stars in The Pest. Leguziamo lacks every bit of Broderick’s effortless charm and grace, and performs some offensive ethnic stereotypes that Broderick would never touch.
The appearance of footage from The Pest – which doesn’t feature Matthew Broderick at all – in a movie ostensibly about Matthew Broderick really threw me for a loop. But I was still totally unprepared for what came next: the “Cuban Pete” musical number from The Mask (1994). Cuban Pete is one of the all time classic comedy scenes, but much like The Pest it has nothing to do with Matthew Broderick, or at least Matthew Broderick as he is conventionally understood. However, the jarring unBroderickness of John Leguziamo is such a stark contrast from the infectiously joyous yet menacing character of The Mask’s Cuban Pete, you might almost think Matthew Broderick played the latter.
The Cuban Pete sequence is interrupted briefly for a very short clip from The Cable Guy (1996) consisting only of Matthew Broderick saying the word “Hairplugs.” This clip is repeated at least eighteen times before the Cuban Pete sequence resumes.
Following “Cuban Pete,” The Best of Mattew Broderick turns its attention to the scene in Election (1999) where Jim McCallister (Matthew Broderick) secretly disposes of two ballots, depriving Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) of the school presidency. Then there’s a series of short clips from Inspector Gadget (1999) presented with a superimposed flashing red ‘X’ and a siren in lieu of the original soundtrack.
The movie ends with one scene from each of the last two Kenneth Lonergan films: Margaret (2011) and Manchester by the Sea (2016). In the first, an exasperated Matthew Broderick tells Anna Paquin to stop smoking marijuana in Central Park. In the second, a repressed Matthew Broderick shares an awkward meal with Gretchen Mol and Casey Affleck.
In contrast to Room 237, Ascher doesn’t force a cavalcade of conspiracies down the audience’s throat. Instead, we must draw our own conclusions from what we’ve just seen. Personally, I think Matthew Broderick’s soul transferred out of his own body and into Jim Carrey’s body sometime in the mid 1990s. It’s possible it returned a decade or so later, but I can’t say for certain.
TL;DR – Mysterious and provocative, Room 237 is a fascinating journey into the many identities of Matthew Broderick.
What the rest of the critics are saying:
“Excuse me. I really must be going now.” – Cassiano dal Pozzo, London Evening Standard
“We are on a journey that risks the dark.” – Calderon de la Barca, Tablet
“It’s simply not possible. And I don’t find this funny anymore.” – Fabio Chigi, Film School Rejects
“Matthew Broderick is back, baby! And he’s better than ever.” – Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com
“Man is asleep; this movie wakes him from his slumber.” – Celidonio Arbizio, Shared Darkness
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I really have to be on my way.” – Olympia Pamphili, Paste Magazine
“I don’t really like movies.” – Virgilio Malvezzi, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews
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