Thursday, July 23, 2020

Smart women rule in both 'Kaye Ballard' doc and 'Toss It,' an anti-rom-com

Viewers of a certain era especially should enjoy "Kaye Ballard: The Show Goes On," a boffo, warm-hearted documentary with one of the all-time most versatile performers in stage, screen and television at the center of it all.

That Ballard, born Catherine Gloria Balotta in 1925, hails from Cleveland's near West Side and got her first professional gig on the East Side at the classic Chin's Restaurant (where future "Barney Miller" trooper Jack Soo was headlining), becomes a bonus for the most parochial among us. Then, the cavalcade of legitimate entertainment legends surrounding her in this fast-paced, if easily structured showcase start instigating more than a few smiles, memories and "Aha" moments, too.

Naturally, it begins with a joke -- Ballard saying, "I wish I were 90 again" -- and ends with a sight gag of her sending up Leo, the famous MGM lion. In between, all the stars seriously align, literally and figuratively, and just about everyone agrees that this was a lady that did much more than simply make people laugh out loud

"She was great at anything she had to do," says Carol Burnett, who not only co-starred with Ballard on TV's early "Garry Moore Show," but years later hosted the singer/actress/comedienne on her own Saturday night variety hit. "Kaye wasn't just a great comic. She could also sing up a storm."

And Ballard does that many times in various clips, not only as a multi-Broadway musical and Hollywood sidekick, but as a full-throated songstress, too. I mean, it claims here, she was the first to introduce a ditty called "In Other Words" (before it was re-named the more familiar "Fly Me to the Moon"), as well as, maybe more impressibly, the "Cabaret" film standard, "Maybe This Time," which songwriters Kander and Ebb apparently penned specifically for her before Liza Minnelli took it and ran.

Obviously, this movie is a love letter to its star, complete with stories about many great friends -- two guys named Marlon Brando and Richard Burton particularly come to mind -- and many other fun surprises that won't be spoiled today.

Ballard, who passed away in January 2019, just one month after the Palm Springs Film Festival premiered this doc, always worked hard for her many good notices. It's terrific that she's finally getting some long overdue, universal recognition here and now.

"Kaye Ballard: The Show Goes On" is streaming currently on digital platforms across the country, including the virtual screening room at Cleveland Cinemas (at least through July 29). 

Unrated by the MPAA (but only a few words could possibly offend); 1:30; $ $ $ $ out $5

Also trying to find an audience during the current pandemic is a mostly intelligent effort, "Toss It," which producer, director, writer and star Michele Remsen calls an "anti-romantic-comedy."

Certainly it might be just that, but a little chutzpah on the part of a still-rising talent never hurts, especially since her movie's Big Apple screening was cancelled, and Remsen had to wait until May to receive her "New York Women in Film and Television"-associated grant for making it.

The 40ish filmmaker, who has picked up a slew of other awards in her day, mostly for her all-around work with a 2011 short called "Juke," sets the "Toss It" action (read: pointed dialogue) around four women we meet during this Philadelphia story. That's where an opening wedding reception is set (wink, wink), and it's a lengthy and impressive sequence to be sure.

Remsen portrays the somewhat sassy Emily, who has been doing the old give-and-take routine since her college days with the somehow fittingly named Finn (Phil Burke). Naturally, their discussion still centers around love and why they just can't discover it with each other.

After this night proves no exception, not-so-picky Phil beds up with matron of honor Marie (Jenny Zerke), who's genuinely in love with the ever-angry bride (a fine Allison Frasca), herself not really enjoying a first evening of marriage to Finn's nice-guy brother (Eric Goss).

Add in the parents of the latter siblings -- with mom (Blair Ross) nicely playing much shrewder than dad (Stephen Borgadus) -- and well, we're off and running with a film that enjoys its bumpy course. (It includes an implausible turn which happens in Las Vegas and likely should have stayed there.)

Some pretentiousness creeps in down the stretch, too. However, the adept Remsen allows the clan's 93-year-old Uncle Claude (funnyman Malachy McCourt, as a kind of lecherous old cross between Charles Coburn and Robert Prosky) plenty of room to steal enough scenes and keep it all suitably watchable.

"Toss It" is playing now on Amazon, Google Play and other streaming services.

Unrated by the MPAA (with adult themes and everything that entails); 1:53; $ $ $ out $5

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