'Coastal Elites' Review: Five raw, realistic quarantine monologues that should have been saved for the stage
Four privileged elites paralleled by a nurse who has just finished a 14-hour-shift - crisp and glaring, these performances are more film school material than a film buff's dream
Spoilers for 'Coastal Elites'
When Paul Rudnick and Jay Roach decided to collaborate for five individual monologues originally intended to be performed at the Public Theater, little did they know their attempt would become a glaring reminder of the vivid line separating how the elites and the commoners have waded through the phenomenon that has been quarantined. Of course, theatrical deliveries had to be shelved, and Roach and Rudnick's narrative was amalgamated into a five-part anthology of soliloquies with actors pouring out the most entitled, privileged and criticism-worthy personalities of roles they are best known for. With the likes of Bette Midler, Sarah Paulson and Dan Levy, it's easy to be swayed with hopes of something momentous and chi unlike anything before. And while some might label any screw up as satirical narrative, perhaps 'Coastal Elites' should have been saved for the stage, instead of airing virtually for the screen.
Middler, known for her fashionably dramatic portrayals, plays the Queens public-school teacher Miriam who has been spurred to MAGA-hat tearing madness from trauma originally associated with her husband. It's almost like the story of the two young women who were recently arrested for ripping a little boy's MAGA hat and posters outside Biden's DNC speech in August. Middler does her best to relay a self-aware, cultured woman, who despite their wit and strive, fall apart some times. She uses leaning into the camera and distorting her face to signify her loathing for conservatives - all the while looking menacing and monstrous herself.
Schitt's Creek's Dan Levy puts on the unbelievably talented with little recognition avatar once again, too well, as Mark in the film. His soliloquy sees him meander into the depths of booby traps within the entertainment industry, which are often disguised as playing into the stereotypes. Guilt-tripped by the realization of having sold himself out in his audition for a gay superhero, Levy is precise and crisp as ever, even though ample is left to be desired from this role. A character evolution arc tops that list of miss-outs, much like Sarah Paulson's vapid and phony Clarissa who is an online life coach mirroring the slew of self-help influencers that have populated our social media this quarantine. There's clear hypocrisy in her sunshine and butterflies approach to her clients as her soliloquy sees her battling an internal conflict: was she wrong to wake out on her extremely conservative family? Green screens in the backdrop had helped her relocate into an alternate reality, but how real is she being to herself in this life?
Realer than Issa Rae's character for sure because the 'Insecure' actor's 'Coastal Elites' avatar is a clear personification of the title of her popular show. Rae is an absolute delight, as ever, as the billionaire's daughter dragged to the White House. Nestling in the luxury of the Lincoln Bedroom, Rae's character is coaxed into rebranding her image in the New York society. Imagine having the privilege to consider these life-altering choices, or even having the option to consider them.
It's a striking contrast with the final addressal from a young nurse played by Kaitlyn Denver, who is as raw and real as she was in 2019's 'Unbelievable'. Denver's nurse doesn't speak much, having just wrapped a 14-hour shift at Mount Sinai. It's obvious she neither has the time to feel, nor express. “If you start crying, you’ll never stop,” she says with absolute dryness, almost as if stating a matter of fact. Her little sighs speak more than any of the other four's soliloquies panning over several minutes.
Strung together with the other four, Denver's delivery is almost like a slap to the face of anybody who has complained about quarantine with a roof over their head and sleeps in their schedule. And daunting as the slew of monologues might be, perhaps having them executed on the stage to an auditorium full of eager listeners would have been better than this Zoom-therapy session type set up.
Roach and Rudnick make an interesting team, but the direction would have been more exciting to watch unfold in person. Albeit crisp and glaring, these performances are more film school material than a film buff's dream. The screen does something to these raw admissions of breakdown and self-conflict that doesn't allow all of that frustrated agony to permeate through the glass. Denver is easily the saving grace of this almost 90-minute ride if nothing else salvages it otherwise.
'Coastal Elites' premieres on Saturday, September 12, only on HBO.