The Company (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Company is Robert Altman's ensemble drama about a short period in the life of a ballet company. It demonstrates some of the creative process that goes into a show; tells a few backstage stories of rivalries, loves, firings, and injuries; and focuses a bit on the life of one mid-level dancer (Neve Campbell) on the verge of stardom. Is it Showgirls remade for highbrows? Well, not exactly, but there are some similarities.

Frankly, I watched this thing in complete confusion. I can report that it is one of two things:

a. A brilliant satire on the empty-headed world of artistic poseurs and their sycophantically appreciative audiences.

b. A demonstration that Robert Altman is utterly clueless.

Here's the basic summary of what happens. I can't really use the word "plot" since that would imply some type of momentum that holds one's attention. A dance company is in the process of producing a ballet called The Blue Snake, as directed by a new choreographer. The choreographer seems to have no idea what he's trying to do, the costumes are about as subtle as the San Diego Chicken, and the whole project smacks of the pretentiousness of the turtle neckers who fancy themselves the only repository of man's artistic sense.

At the end of the film, The Blue Snake is finally produced and shown in some detail. It is the most baffling, pretentious piece of pseudo-intellectual clap-trap that you are ever likely to see. It is like a fourth grade Halloween Pageant performed by really graceful and artistic athletes. I started to smile when they began performing, and was about ready to start howling with laughter when I saw that the audience of the play-within-a-film was supposed to be mesmerized, pleased, even dazzled, by the brilliance of this work.


In one scene, Neve Campbell was topless from the side and far from the camera. In another scene, she appeared to be nude behind a very thick shower curtain.

Two anonymous members of the dance troupe appeared topless in the locker room.

That's when I was beset with the confusion reflected in the second paragraph above. I thought to myself, "Is Altman making fun of the ballet, as well as the idle culture-vultures who go to highbrow performances and museums to mask a lack of education and taste? Or is it possible that Altman himself really thinks this performance of The Blue Snake is a great artistic achievement?" Who the hell knows? I hope it was the former.

I'll say this, though. If it was satire, no movie critics seemed to pick up on it.

If you are a great fan of ballet, you'll probably enjoy all the insider stuff and some of the snippets of the performances of the famous Joffrey company, which is featured prominently in the film.  If you are not interested in ballet, you need to take a pass, because the Neve Campbell character is the only one who seems to have much life outside the theater and rehearsal rooms. Apart from the effort to develop her personal story, an effort which is half-hearted at best, there is virtually no character development.

Come to think of it, the lack of character development makes a pretty good complement for the lack of plot.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic

  • commentary by Robert Altman and Neve Campbell

  • two featurettes

  • one extended scene

It's a shame that the film is so inert and undramatic, because its complete box office failure prevented any significant number of moviegoers from seeing Neve Campbell's performance, in which she did all of her own dancing amid actual members of the Joffrey Ballet, and seemed right in place, despite long unedited takes and intimate camera work. Based upon the reactions of professionals who have seen this film, Neve's performance may be the best instance of an actor simulating a convincing professional performance without camera trickery since Robert Redford did his own hitting and fielding in The Natural.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: two and a half stars. James Berardinelli 2/4, Roger Ebert 3.5/4

  • British consensus: one and a half stars. Mail 1/10, Telegraph 5/10, Independent 3/10, Guardian 3/10, Sun 9/10, BBC 2/5

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It grossed a bit more than $2 million dollars, maxxing out at 54 screens.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. If you really love ballet, you'll probably appreciate the insider stuff and the performances. If you prefer movies to ballet, you can skip this one. Possibly Altman's worst film. (And I've seen Popeye). The 5.7 at IMDb is a fairly accurate reflection of the film's appeal, and it's that high only because the actual performances of dance are interesting enough (if you like to watch dance) to make up for the lackluster plot and characterization.

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