Here’s the takeaway for Wednesday night’s launch of the 10th annual Tribeca Film Festival: The movie wasn’t very good and everyone had a great time.
For Tribeca, that’s a sensible oxymoron. Its sponsors are the toniest (American Express, Goldman Sachs) and co-founder Robert DeNiro is beyond reproach, but ultimately Tribeca has never claimed to wholly dedicate itself to independent film; given previous premieres of “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones” and “Spider-Man 3,” it’s happy to skip artistic cred in favor of pleasing the populace. Of course, we’re talking about a populace comprised of some of the country’s wealthiest residents, but rich people like bread and circuses, too.
So here, then, is the nine-point breakdown of what made Tribeca’s opening night succeed despite itself.
1. Great setting. Just great. Tribeca gambled on the weather with an outdoor screening at the World Financial Plaza’s North Cove and it paid off with a beautiful sunset on the Hudson. It was the perfect backdrop, especially if you had the silver wristband that got you into the stage-left section that offered free wine and passed appetizers.
2. The Bangles and P.S. 22, not so great. The preshow featured a seemingly random performance of “Walk Like An Egyptian,” by Bangles lead singers Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson backed by the P.S. 22 choir; emcee Denis Leary appeared taken aback by the tepid applause that followed. Truth was, the women sounded uncertain singing their own song and the kids’ choir… sounded like kids.
3. American Express — We love you, but. God knows Tribeca would not exist without Amex, but so much of the opening night’s remarks seemed devoted to festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal praising the credit-card company, which was followed by the Amex marketing head doing the same.
4. Elton John! Not only did he take the stage to introduce his film, but that stage had a grand piano on it. And everyone knew what that meant.
5. No Cameron Crowe; no Leon Russell. The director and co-star of opening-night film “The Union” were present only via prerecorded messages. Crowe’s finishing his Pearl Jam doc and “We Bought a Zoo;” Russell’s touring Australia. Perfectly reasonable excuses, but it would have made the evening seem less noteworthy… if it weren’t for that piano.
6. “The Union” is not a great movie for an open-air screening. It’s probably not a great movie, period, but much of it feels like Crowe’s home movie — intimate and well produced, but burdened by sometimes-murky camera work and on-screen conversations lost to crosstalk and outdoor acoustics.
7. The open-air screening was great for “The Union.” Lured by the promise of that piano, the movie saw virtually no walkouts. However, the audience’s disconnect was apparent: There were multiple ongoing conversations — some at normal volume — and heads were bent over their iPhones. Kudos to that beautiful outdoor setting; in any other venue, that audience behavior would have inspired a riot.
8. Elton John! Once “The Union” ended, every head turned toward the screen. Rosenthal made the introductions, John took the stage and all was right with the world. First was “Tiny Dancer” (a nod to Crowe’s “Almost Famous”), then “Rocket Man.” Then came two songs from John and Russell’s album “The Union;” it was only then that some audience members began to peel away. Their loss; they missed John’s closer, “Your Song,” which he dedicated to the Tribeca audience.
9. Wasn’t it great? Some went to the afterparty at P.J. Clarke’s; others went home; everyone was in a good mood. “Wasn’t that great?” said one distributor; he wasn’t referring to the film. “I mean, who does that?”