Woody Harrelson, ever the sidekick, is the hero in his newest movie. Not only because the film, Lost in London, is about a loser (Harrelson) and how he finds redemption, but because he was the director and mastermind behind its impressive premise: one shot, one take, 120 minutes, live-streamed directly into theaters.
Last night, Lost in London was beamed into more than 500 theaters in the US and UK, as Harrelson and a cast of 30 acted it out in real time. Keep in mind: this was no stage play. The movie was shot at 14 different locations around London with a single cameraman at the helm. A similar method was used to shoot the 2015 drama Victoria, which was filmed in one take on the streets of Berlin, but it wasn’t broadcast live. During Lost in London’s post-screening Q&A, Harrelson was quick to remind the audience that this has never been done before, ever.
And certainly Harrelson earned his bragging rights. He appeared in every scene of a two-hour, traveling movie, shot in a single, unedited take from 2AM to 4AM after six weeks of rehearsals. It was no small accomplishment, and aside from one missed cue and an unexploded World War II-era bomb in the River Thames that almost shut down the production entirely, things went off hitch-free.
Lost in London is based on an (almost) true story. In 2002, Harrelson was arrested in London for vandalism after breaking the lock and ashtray on a taxi door. The movie documents the events surrounding his arrest, including a fight with his wife over rumors that he had hired prostitutes the night before.
Unfortunately, Harrelson’s choice to make Lost in London a replica of one bad night in his real life muddles its formidable structure. Viewers should be marveling at the seamless way in which the camera floats from a bar to the street into a hippie van. Instead, there’s the constant distracting awareness that you’re trapped in a moving vehicle with a pouting movie star. Harrelson has called that night the worst of his life, but he’s the one who tried to kick his way out of a moving cab. And his constant admissions that he’s a fuck-up only make his fuck-ups feel like a badge of honor instead of a significant personality flaw.
The rest of the main cast is more famous — and more pleasant — than Harrelson. Owen Wilson, recruited to cheer up our moping hero, provides the only deeply enjoyable moments of the movie. His lines are a slapdash puzzle of celebrity references, a delight for those buzzed by the thought of a famous-people happy hour. (He says Matthew McConaughey is equipped with the “best torso in Hollywood.”) Willie Nelson, aka the Dalai Lama of Texas, shows up as a braided hallucination while Harrelson is behind bars. Even Bono makes a vocal appearance in a (prerecorded) phone call in which he adopts a bizarre Jamaican accent, for reasons probably only clear to Bono.
Lost in London is deeply obsessed with celebrity and what it can and can’t do for you. But celebrity here really only includes men. The movie features only four female characters with speaking roles, none of whom had more than a handful of lines. And they’re all reduced to stereotypes: Harrelson’s wife (played by Eleanor Matsuura) is subjected to a parade of dull Asian jokes; the other female characters are party girls obsessed with their neck fat, and a flighty yoga instructor concerned about chakras.
Character development was perhaps secondary to the film’s production, given all the pressing complications involved. But the production is the only thing that saves Lost in London from being just another middling slog about a rich man confused by the state of his previously enchanted life. Because of its obvious limitations, even the movie’s stutters come across as charming oddities. During a bar fight scene, Owen Wilson dips from the camera’s view just long enough for some unseen assistant to apply fake blood to his lip. And the movie’s lack of scene cuts meant viewers got to travel to each new location along with the actors. (That did make me feel carsick more than once.)
Did I, like any other red-blooded human, hope something would go wrong? Did I long for a forgotten line or a stray dog to ruin a scene? No doubt. But other than a perpetual slick of drool on Harrelson’s chin, unwiped by makeup artists, there were few disruptions to remind audiences they were even watching a live stream.
Lost in London was probably better than it should have been, and not as good as I wanted it to be. But maybe it’s more significant that it happened at all. (As of now it doesn’t look like the movie will be broadcast again, but that could change). Now that the method has been proven, the door is open for someone to do something more with the format than explore the pitfalls of their own bedraggled love life. And fuck-up or not, you gotta give Harrelson some credit for getting the first draft out of the way.