Will Gardner in college?
Aside from Peter Weir making ‘Dead Poets Society’, there hasn’t been a storyteller who is able to write successfully for Josh Charles. It seems like he comes across best when he plays characters who are being inspired, rather than someone like Eric Taylor. He did so in 2018’s ‘Amateur’, which made me wonder if that’s the next level in Josh’s career as an actor. Though showrunners Michelle King and Robert King wrote Will Gardner not with a specific person in mind, it does feel like the role was just waiting for him.
The Setup: Joe Talbot (Josh Charles) is not your typical creepy college guy. His two friends, Stu (Richard McGregor) and Steve (Jack Black), probably could fit the mould. There doesn’t seem to be any future outlook with these two as they push Joe to move on from his breakup by focusing his sights on another perspective relationship. It’s probably a sign to find different people to hang out with if those you spend time with people who consider happiness and contentment as something to run from. Why our protagonist doesn’t avoid them is a mystery, as he clearly doesn’t think that the likes of Stu is someone he aspires to be.
The Inciting Incident: Joe finds himself at the centre of an inter-dimensional war. While that seems like it is pointing towards the story being Science Fiction, it ends up coming across as more ‘Lord of the Rings’ than ‘Stargate’ due to the absence of any sort of explanation of how something can ‘cut’ through dimensions. Though we see a bit of his dad (who unearthed the crystal that powers the ‘dimensional saw’), the focus of the story is more of Joe and his journey.
The Stakes: The world ending. What Joe hasn’t been told by his mother (Ellen Geer) was that a necklace owned by his dad is the key to unleashing the power of the staff. The prologue text crawl made me expect an epic battle to happen, but based on the sparse number of characters involved (the scene with the biggest number of extras is a party with Joe’s peers in attendance), it could have been something that had changed due to budget restrictions or last minute studio notes (I could see that the text preceding the prologue as an addition after the director’s cut had been submitted to producers).
The term ‘straight to video’ was a bit of a nasty mark during the 90’s. Thankfully in 2021, that is no longer a category only shared by films that didn’t quite make the grade. I find it quite interesting that a film that barely got attention when it was released has somehow managed to be watchable during the COVID-19 pandemic years. Josh already exuded the screen presence we know so well during his stint with ‘The Good Wife’, and I’m a bit surprised that he isn’t given more opportunities such as this. So if you’re deciding on an additional character to add to your current script, there is clearly a gap for that specific combination (fingers crossed it finds Josh or his agent!).
The effects seemed to have been the bottom of the list (there might have been a way to salvage it, but time might have played a part), hand-to-hand combat sequences are quite cringey, and what saves it from being unwatchable is the performances of Josh Charles and Rutger Hauer. Andrea Roth was okay too. It just seemed like she wasn’t really allowed to make the role her own, aside from what is on the page. That’s the feeling I got, because there are times Joseph’s reactions are just too much. Could it be that Anita Brandt Burgoyne was directed to keep the ones that were over the top? Jack Black’s performance also followed that direction. The reason I don’t hold it against him is that I had seen ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ and ‘Jumanji: The Next Level‘. When the right role is there, Jack can definitely ‘bring it’.
I think I count myself lucky that I see Josh as Will Gardner first then Knox Overstreet (and other characters he has played) second. There is so much of Will in Joe Talbot, or at least the person who’d partner up with Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) when the time comes. It seems only the Kings were able to offer him a role that successfully mashes up a more rounded character. ‘Away’ has him too serious that it comes across as melodramatic then ‘Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later’ hones in on his Ivy League status. What was missing was knowing the right amounts and mixing it up with subtle humour as well as deadpan. The only time I found myself chuckling was when Joseph comments to AT about the seeming absence of the floor while they were descending in a lift.
If you’ve been recently sucked into the rabbit-hole of fanfiction inspired by ‘The Good Wife’ as a Willicia fan, then this would be a delight. We might not get an answer on why Alicia chose Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) rather than the other guy that asked her out. Maybe I’m too much of an optimist to believe that if Season 2 went another way, they would have made it. Julianna Margulies sees it as inevitable that the relationship (if it ever made it into one) would have crashed and burned. This made me wonder if I give Alicia too much credit compared to what she gives herself (her response to Will is telling). I do see her as redeemable, though Matt Zoller Seitz would likely disagree and remind me that the character “despite her glamour and poise, was as cuddly as a porcupine“.