US Title: Neil Simon’s London Suite
Neil Simon was one of the most successful playwrights of the 1960s and 1970s, with a run of hits including Barefoot in the Park, the Odd Couple and Plaza Suite, all of which were made into movies. And fine movies they were, too. No less an august body than the American Film Institute reckoned that The Odd Couple was the 18th funniest American comedy of all-time.
California Suite, not a sequel to Plaza Suite as much as the same idea with a different cast and location, will never be as well though of as that, but it’s an intelligent, funny look at marriage through the eyes of several couples staying in one Beverly Hills hotel over Oscar weekend. There seems no discernible reason why anyone would think, 20 years later, that there was even mild interest in a sequel, but Neil Simon penned this TV movie follow-up nonetheless. Maybe he needed some quick cash.
The only characters carried over from California are actress Diana (indie favourite Clarkson) and antiques dealer Sidney (Grammer), originally essayed by Maggie Smith and Michael Caine. Although Grammer and Clarkson don’t have the acidic touch of the original twosome, that’s the fault of the script, not the actors. In fact, it’s a testament to their acting abilities that this is the only storyline which even remotely holds your attention, as both easily convey the tenderness between the mis-matched spouses which was so evident in the first film.
While the original featured some of the best 1970s acting and comedy talent, the TV movie version features faces familiar from sitcoms. Both Michael Richards and Julia Louis-Dreyfus from Seinfeld are featured, the former as an anal-retentive tennis fan who puts his back out and the latter as a newly-wed who’s lost her husband in the can’t-find-him sense. Neither raise so much as a smile. Louis-Dreyfus, in fact, offers a performance of such skin-crawling ineptitude that I was moved to scream “Shut up, Julia” at the television every time she appeared.
As a Scot, I was particularly offended by the quality of inexplicable ‘Scottish’ accents on display. Although he is by far the worst offender, sounding like Cardiff meets Bombay, I can almost understand why Richard Mulligan’s character is a Scotsman. But the hotel’s assistant manager and doctor are nominally Scottish, too. In a London hotel, where was the need for this? Paxton Whitehead is a comedic actor of some gift, but my native tongue is not his friend. And saddling him with the name Dr McMerlin just so that you can crowbar in the line “He really is a magician, you know” is not funny in any way shape or form. Ever.
I don’t want to blame Simon entirely for the dog’s dinner that London Suite turns out to be, although there’s no denying that it’s one of his weaker efforts. Filling the cast with sitcom stars and putting it in the hands of a safe sitcom veteran like director Sandrich hardly gave the film a chance to transcend the genre. Yet even the humble sitcom can be inspired—think of Fawlty Towers or Larry Sanders—but this film is more of a Married...With Children. It makes the 1980s TV series Hotel seem like Shakespeare in comparison. It’s dull, predictable, insipid. If this film was a colour, it would be taupe. If it was a dessert, it would be tapioca.
Only Clarkson, Grammer and the late Madeleine Kahn, as a widow finding love second time around, can walk away from this wreck with any modicum of dignity intact. This film gets one point for each of them.