Last night, I was fortunate enough to watch Woody Harrelson’s live-film experiment Lost in London unfold on the screen in real time. The film tells the story of one of Harrelson’s drunken, early 2000’s tabloid scandals in one continuous and unbroken shot. In a feat that has never been attempted before, it was live streamed straight to theaters across the world as it was reenacted in the streets of London. Written and Directed by Harrelson, who also stars as himself, Lost in London was designed to be an experimental hybrid between theater and film, and the result was truly an event unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. If I had to compare it to anything, I suppose I would describe it as Birdman, if it were written by stoners and performed as an endurance test. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t, but at the very least it was consistently fascinating.
It’s surprisingly difficult to talk about Lost in London as a film, because it isn’t really a film. It’s something else. Some new form of experimental storytelling that at times seemed to be able to simultaneously succeed and fail at its desired goal for a scene. For example, the pacing of is all over the place. It’s often fast paced and an appropriate match for the single-take kinetic energy it had going for it, but in other moments it slows to that awkward “this-is-live” dead air you can sometimes find on SNL. However, when the plot became too generic, or started to drag on, I found myself using these breaks in excitement to step back and marvel at the technical gymnastics occurring behind the camera. Having a story move from place to place around an actual city without editing is insane. If more people take to using this format to make a movie then some of these kinds of kinks will probably be worked out. But for now, Lost in London stands alone, and is therefore one of a kind.
Harrelson gave an truly excellent performance. That may not sound surprising, since he was playing himself in a movie about one time when he got drunk and ran around outside, but he totally managed to play this fictionalized version of himself as a rather complex character. The scenes in which he breaks down and cries, or prays to God for help are surprisingly touching. When you then consider the fact that some of these moments were being performed immediately after a silly slap-stick stunt scene without a break in between, it becomes downright incredible.
My favorite aspect of Lost in London, however, has to be the presence of Owen Wilson, also playing himself. The scene these two men share is absolute comedy gold. Harrelson’s writing really shines, and movie picks up its pace as they have a meta (and ultimately self-deprecating) conversation about their career highs and lows. My favorite gag here being Harrelson’s repeated hatred for the films of Wes Anderson, which he criticizes for being too flashy and over the top in their direction (clearly a wink at this movie itself being an ambitious and showy project). The in-jokes and physical comedy bits shared by the duo are some of the true highlights of Lost in London.
While the film does have some real solid moments and genuine laughs (including perhaps the only throwing-up gag I’ve ever loved in a movie) it is mostly to be praised for its incredible concept. One crazy night told as one unbroken take, broadcast directly to audiences worldwide. That really is something special. Of course, even that is far from perfect, with the actors’ body mics constantly echoing off each other, and the handheld camera work occasionally slipping into Cloverfield territory. Overall, though, it’s incredible that it worked as well as it did, and that is what will be remembered from Lost in London.
After the performance was completed, Mr. Harrelson and the cast gathered for a Q&A session with the international audience, which served to further cement the brilliance of this stunt in my mind. They talked about missed cues, and dropped lines, and improvised moments, none of which could be detected from the audience. They discussed the sudden difficulty they faced in filming at one of their set locations (a police barricade shut down part of the city after a WWII-era bomb washed to shore). They talked about lightning fast costume changes, and rigging several blocks with well-hidden cables and satellites to make sure it could be properly broadcast. The more these acclaimed professionals giggled and reminisced like theater kids at a cast party, the more my jaw dropped to the floor thinking about the insanity of the experiment I just watched work.
It is a very solid attempt at an incredible feat of filmmaking, with great performances and a couple of well-written scenes. I’d hesitate before recommending Lost in London however, if only because so much of its spectacle comes from it being done live. If you’re already curious, certainly do check it out, but if you’re looking for a good movie overall, this misses that mark a bit more than it hits it.