Thank God Woody Harrelson made Lost In London.
If this bold experiment – a 100-minute feature film, shot in one take (for real, no cgi stitching), and broadcast live to 500 theaters – had been undertaken by someone like Shia LaBeouf or James Franco, the hate-watchers would be lining up to tear the thing to pieces. But Harrelson is so goddamn likable that watching the film becomes an edge-of-your-seat experience, a tightrope act where you’re rooting from beginning to end for him to succeed.
The good news is he does. When Lost In London is eventually released on VOD and home video, it will likely go through some post-production clean-up. I kind of hope it doesn't; this remarkable experience should be preserved as is. Though there are a handful of mic hits and a few moments of murky imagery, Harreslon and his team pull off this technical feat without a hitch, aided adeptly by director of photographer Nigel Willoughby, camera operator Jon Hembrough, and an unseen army who keep this digital successor to After Hours on point. It’s such a technical marvel that what might be lost in Lost In London is that Harrelson, a first-time writer and director, has crafted a genuinely engaging, funny, and soul-baring yarn.
Based on "the worst night of" Harrelson’s life, the film finds the actor at a curtain call for a play he hates doing (“Drama doesn’t make anybody happy”). He exits the stage door to learn his drunken partying with three young women has been plastered all over the tabloids. The next hour and change show him rushing to try to keep his wife (Eleanor Matsuura) from seeing the newspapers, being dragged to a nightclub by Iranian royalty, getting some hilarious tough love from Owen Wilson, vomiting into the mouth of a hippie gal (Zrinka Cvitesic), and getting locked up by London police for defacing a taxicab. Oh, and Willie Nelson visits him in a dream sequence.
The film’s uneasy, anything-can-happen energy is akin to the 1950s live dramas of Playhouse 90 and Kraft Theater, but the added level of autobiographical honesty takes Lost In London to another realm. Over the course of the story, Movie Star Woody Harrelson is brought crashing down to Earth over and over again. Bouncers don’t care that he was on Cheers, no matter how much of the theme song he sings to them. The cops don’t care that he’s taking his kids to meet Harry Potter in the morning. He is declared less important than a busted ashtray in a taxi. Every encounter carries the message: you are a fucking asshole, Woody, and you will be held accountable for it. What could have been just a gimmicky vanity project takes on the tone of a heartfelt confessional, with Harrelson confronting the worst parts of himself. In some strange way, presenting this kind of raw atonement for one’s sins via such a technical feat somehow makes the whole thing feel more genuine. Harrelson, who cited Fantastic Fest favorite Victoria as an inspiration, took to the q&a stage following this broadcast and said "I would never do this again, ever.”
Fair enough, but would anyone? This is a genuine cinematic first, and it’s hard to imagine anyone inviting the levels of stress this project must have generated. But if Lost In London is what the actor/writer/director can do with one take at 2AM, we can only hope he decides to take the director’s chair again, next time with an even bigger palette at his disposal.