Title: Carol Channing: Larger Than Life
Entertainment One US/ Dramatic Forces
Director: Dori Berinstein
Screenwriter: Dori Berinstein, Adam Zucker
Cast: Carol Channing, Barbara Walters, Debbie Reynolds, Lily Tomlin, Tyne Daly
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 1/16/12
Opens: January 20, 2012 in LA; February 3, 2012 in NY
If you’re a diehard fan of Broadway, happy to shell out over $100 for a decent seat to any musical today and the equivalent amount discounting inflation way back, you’re the perfect audience for Dori Bernstein’s “Carol Channing: Larger Than Life.” Ms. Channing, now ninety years old and still able to get up on the stage, take some reminiscent steps with adoring younger actors, dominates the documentary which is all to the good. We don’t need yet another non-fiction work featuring people with knowledge of a person but nary a look at the subject. Instead Berinstein’s film features the title character everywhere, in notably archival flashes of the stage work in her signature musical, “Hello Dolly.” The pacing is swift, the animated Hirschfeld drawings a marvel of technology, the commentators not overstaying their welcome.
Channing is one entertainer who proves that one can make it big in the entertainment world with a raspy voice, huge saucer eyes, and lips puffier than Angelina Jolie’s. She accepts the accolades of ordinary folks on the streets of Manhattan and L.A. almost with surprise that so many recall her past work, talking without hesitations or “you know”‘s or “kind of” or other speech peculiarities as though she were relating experiences that occurred just the other day. In her most humorous aside, she notes that Yul Brynner once begged her not to remind the public that she beat his own record of 5,000 performances in “The King and I,” but now that Brynner is no longer with us “I don’t think he’ll mind.”
In one of the most unusual romances imaginable, she gets together with the sweetheart she knew and set aside in junior high school at the age of twelve, a relationship that took seventy years to make her and Harry Kullijian realize that they should have remained together forever. She notes with poignance that she spent 42 years miserably married to Charles Lowe, a man who ruled every aspect of her life.
Interview subjects–none of whom has a bad word about her (though Channing makes a caustic comment about the casting of Barbra Streisand in “Hello Dolly”–include Barbara Walters, Tyne Daly, Jerry Herman (who saved “Dolly” when it almost expired in Detroit), Lily Tomlin, and Debbie Reynolds. There are even cameos by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson. “Larger Than Life” could not be a more apt subtitle for the doc.
Rated PG. 87 minutes (c) 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+