Movies Like Plays
December 3, 2009 12:29 PM   Subscribe

I like movies that are driven mostly by dialogue and characterization, as opposed to events and actions. Examples include Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Big Kahuna, Glengarry Glen Ross, and The House of Yes. What are some others?

These movies generally take place in one setting and cover a short period of time. Production is minimal. Many are based on plays. My Dinner With Andre doesn't count.
posted by dephlogisticated to Media & Arts (54 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Before Sunrise?
posted by cali59 at 12:33 PM on December 3, 2009

Why doesn't My Dinner with Andre count? It's a classic . . .

Most of Mamet's productions are pretty dialogue heavy, just like Glengarry is (I'm pretty sure dialogue is what he's primarily known for, right?)

Also, a ton of Altman films . . . Gosferd Park and A Prairie Home Companion come immediately to mind.
posted by Think_Long at 12:34 PM on December 3, 2009

Slacker! Almost completely dialogue; you don't get deep characterization on any one person in particular but you get a great sampling of eccentricities across the board. The setting moves throughout Austin but you see exactly how it moves, and the action is all in one day.

Richard Linklater's movies in general (Dazed and Confused, Waking Life, Before Sunrise) fit this description pretty well.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:35 PM on December 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

I love all those films too, and for the same reason. Notice that they were all originally stage plays, which explains the characteristics you mention.

I'll check my shelf when I get home, but off the top of my head, Richard Linklater's Tape (2001) fits into that pattern very well.
posted by rokusan at 12:35 PM on December 3, 2009

Richard Linklater's Tape. Single hotel room setting for the entire movie.
posted by thepalephantom at 12:36 PM on December 3, 2009

That is, notice that they were all based on stage plays... and they all retain that feel.
posted by rokusan at 12:36 PM on December 3, 2009

Sex, Lies and Videotape
posted by selton at 12:37 PM on December 3, 2009

Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is another ringer here.
posted by rokusan at 12:38 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Big Chill.
posted by handee at 12:40 PM on December 3, 2009

Your question reminds me of this previous question.
posted by purpleclover at 12:42 PM on December 3, 2009

Vanya on 42nd Street
posted by Joe Beese at 12:42 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

What about: Swimming With Sharks
posted by bleucube at 12:42 PM on December 3, 2009

The Big Lebowski.
posted by rbs at 12:45 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Man from Earth
posted by belladonna at 12:46 PM on December 3, 2009

Best answer: Sleuth (1971 version with Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier)
The Philadelphia Story
His Girl Friday
Naked (1993, Mike Leigh)
Secrets & Lies (also Mike Leigh)
(in fact you'd probably like a lot of what Mike Leigh's done)
Vanya on 42nd Street
Secret Honor (if you like monologues)
All About Eve
Rear Window (it's a Hitchcock suspense picture, but it's pretty dialogue heavy, has unity of place, if not time, and of course it's awesome)
posted by wabbittwax at 12:46 PM on December 3, 2009

More adaptations of plays: Bug, Sleuth (the 1972 version), Doubt, Rope, Harvey, Holiday.
posted by Iridic at 12:46 PM on December 3, 2009

Torch Song Trilogy (not surprisingly adapted from the stage) - one or two big events and the rest is just talk (and music)

The Big Chill

The Breakfast Club (there's the sneaking around bit, but that's the only real action I remember)

Same Time, Next Year - again, was a play

12 Angry Men

Hey, a list...Films based on plays
posted by K.P. at 12:47 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Six Degrees of Separation - one of Will Smith's earliest films. Also with Stockard Channing. Great script.
posted by mark7570 at 12:51 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Naked (1993, Mike Leigh)

That one gets quoted in my household much more than is appropriate, yes. Good call.

It's happening now. It's happening now. It's happening now.
posted by rokusan at 12:55 PM on December 3, 2009

Best answer: Seconding Tape. The whole thing is a single scene in a hotel room. Richard Linklater directs Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Robert Sean Leonard, the only actors in the film.

Closer is actually adapted from a play. If you know this it's pretty obvious, and it's not exactly subtle even if you don't.

Also seconding Rope by Hitchcock. A single dinner party. The movie is shot without cuts except for changing recording reels, so it has an extra stage-like quality to it.

Lifeboat is set entirely on... well, a lifeboat, obviously.

Waking Life is driven almost entirely by dialog, but it's also really trippy and more than a little pretentious, so there's that.

Both Before Sunrise and its sequel, Before Sunset are essentially single conversations set over the course of a few hours. This is particularly evident in the latter.

Those are what I can come up with off the top of my head.
posted by valkyryn at 12:59 PM on December 3, 2009

Best answer: The Savages - minimal plot, heavy on the dialogue

Pieces of April

I think Junebug could work - a "small" but revealing character study

Some of Woody Allen's best, especially Hannah and Her Sisters, might also qualify.

And seconding The Philadelphia Story, which is my second-favorite script of all time.

(The favorite goes to Casablanca, which might not be quite what you're looking for, but it is actually originally based on a play...)
posted by bookgirl18 at 1:01 PM on December 3, 2009

Movies like plays ... how about a big honkin' list of movies based on plays?
posted by jbickers at 1:07 PM on December 3, 2009

Bodies Rest and Motion
posted by greensalsa at 1:08 PM on December 3, 2009

Best answer: Copenhagen and Death and the Maiden are right up your alley.

Possibly The Decalogue? (Two caveats: 10 episodes = 10 hours; the first episode is one of the heartbreaking films I have ever seen in my life, and I literally sat on the floor weeping after it was over. You have been warned.)

Other possibilities: In the Mood for Love, The Straight Story, Good Night and Good Luck, Longford.

Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is another ringer here.

It's definitely worth a watch, if only for the scene of Tim Roth and Gary Oldman playing tennis with questions (bonus for people who like this sort of thing: Tim Roth and Gary Oldman in leather trousers), but I watched it again recently and I do have to say that overall, it's not a very strong adaptation of the play (which is, admittedly, insanely brilliant).
posted by scody at 1:22 PM on December 3, 2009

HBO's "Conspiracy", about the Vansee conference that set the Holocaust in motion, is very much this sort of film.
posted by DWRoelands at 1:22 PM on December 3, 2009

The Japanese movie After Life. Really great film.
posted by Cogito at 1:23 PM on December 3, 2009

My previous question on films with small casts is relevant.
posted by fire&wings at 1:25 PM on December 3, 2009

"Lolita" (Kubrick version)
"Dog Day Afternoon"
"Twelve Angry Men"
"You Can Count On Me"
"Howard's End"
"Turtle Diary" (Good luck finding it.)
"Proof" (I haven't seen the movie, but I loved the play.)
"Bringing Up Baby" (Lots of plot, but a VERY talky (and wonderful) comedy.)

The following three are fascinating to watch as a triple feature. They are all adaptations of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya," each very different from the other two:
"September" (Woody Allen)
"Country Life"
"Vanya on 42nd Street"
posted by grumblebee at 1:29 PM on December 3, 2009

two girls and a guy

the movie is basically 3 people in an open floor plan/loft type apartment. i would say that less than 10 minutes of the entire thing involves anything else.
posted by nadawi at 1:41 PM on December 3, 2009

Melvin Goes to Dinner--directed by Bob Odenkirk (Mr. Show). A group of people are out for dinner; they don't all know each other; they end up revealing intimate details of their lives. Awkwardness and weirdness ensues, a lot of it quite amusing.

What Happened Was...--A lonely woman working in a law firm invites a similarly lonely co-worker to her apartment for a dinner date. Much awkwardness and weirdness ensues, a lot of it kind of disturbing.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:46 PM on December 3, 2009

Seconding Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. It takes place in more than one setting, but is very dialouge-driven. I believe it started out as a play, too.
posted by joedan at 1:52 PM on December 3, 2009

And I don't get a moment to spare for some bust-out humanitarian down on his luck.

I had a somewhat similar AskMe from 2007; lots of stellar suggestions.
posted by porn in the woods at 1:53 PM on December 3, 2009

Made for TV, but Wit would be a good choice too. Also based on a play.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:07 PM on December 3, 2009

The Dresser
Witness for the Prosecution
Dangerous Liaisons
The Queen
The Verdict
Sense And Sensibility

There are also a bunch of classic British TV series (available on DVD) that you'd probably like. They were mostly filmed on just a few sets and are very talky. My favorites are...

Upstairs Downstairs
I, Claudius
To Server Them All My Days
The Charmer
Paradise Postponed
posted by grumblebee at 2:25 PM on December 3, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions! 12 Angry Men is a great example of what I'm looking for.

I excluded My Dinner With Andre because I knew it would be a tempting suggestion and it's not quite what I'm after—I have nothing against the film, but for the purposes of this question, I'm more interested in movies with a well-defined storyline.
posted by dephlogisticated at 3:57 PM on December 3, 2009

The Birthday Party
The Caretaker
The Homecoming
The Business of Strangers
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:45 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can't believe no one's mentioned Metropolitan (YouTube link with some sample scenes). The (excellent!) film is one party-small-talk scene after another; you could almost literally count the number of exceptions on one hand. There's probably about 10 minutes combined of "stuff happening" in the traditional movie sense.

And! While it's so totally worth renting or owning, but it does seem you can stream the whole thing online.
posted by rafter at 7:02 PM on December 3, 2009

American Buffalo
Based on a David Mamet play.
Lots of great dialogue and character and conflict.
Very little actual action.
Dustin Hoffman.
Good movie.

Also wanted to second Tape, and Melvin Goes to Dinner.
posted by St. Sorryass at 7:05 PM on December 3, 2009

Also Birth (trailer). The set-up you get from the trailer is the whole plot; it's really just: let's present this strange idea, then explore it for a while. Definitely very play-like in that it's almost completely dialogue- and character-driven with very few different settings. Might be one of the few "thrillers" that meet all your criteria!
posted by rafter at 7:11 PM on December 3, 2009

Cat on a hot tin roof. I can watch that movie over and over.

The movies written by Jaoui and Bacri, especially Un air de famille (based on a play) and The Taste of Others.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:39 PM on December 3, 2009

Gosford Park, perhaps. Yes, it's technically a mystery, but as somebody (probably Altman) said on the commentary track, "It's less a whodunit than a thatitwasdone."
posted by Lexica at 7:52 PM on December 3, 2009

Seconding the Metropolitan recommendation and also Bringing Up Baby (which also happens to be hilariously funny). Another movie from the same writer/director as Metropolitan and also worth a try would be Barcelona. Some additional movies would be The Winter Guest, The Winslow Boy , A Man For All Seasons , and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
posted by gudrun at 11:06 PM on December 3, 2009

Copenhagen? With Daniel Craig? It's two great tastes that taste great together, and I had no idea.

Scody, I love you.
posted by Gorgik at 11:11 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Equus is mostly dialog (never actually seen the screen version or the play, but I've read it multiple times, and it's great.

The play K2 also fits the bill (two guys talking on a mountain), but I've never seen the movie, and simply the cast list tells me that they altered the play.

Breaker Morant is a trial movie, and you might find that genre a good source as well.

Ordinary People

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

I always thought the characterizations in The Matador were great, but it's not the same as the others w/r/t action, etc.

How about No Man's Land. There are long sections that are just dialog in a static setting.
posted by Gorgik at 11:55 PM on December 3, 2009

dont think anyone said my favorite:

David Rabe play w/ Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright Penn, Chazz Palminteri, Anna Paquin, Garry Shandling, Meg Ryan, etc etc
posted by rooftop secrets at 1:38 AM on December 4, 2009

Do not, do not, do NOT watch the film adaptation of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It is dreadful, which is a shame, because the play is one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. God, the dead air time in that movie... Gene Siskel used to say, "I always ask myself, 'Is the movie that I am watching as interesting as a documentary of the same actors having lunch together would be?'" and R&G Are Dead is the quintessential example of that.

However, if someone is putting on a production near you, and it's getting good reviews, GO IMMEDIATELY.

nthing Vanya on 42nd Street, and in that same vein, Looking for Richard.

My Man Godfrey
Inherit the Wind
Night On Earth
The Thin Man
Barton Fink

If you don't mind subtitles, La règle du jeu (Rules Of the Game)

The Remains of the Day (even more dialogue-and-character-driven than Howard's End)
In the Company of Men
Broadcast News

and the top quotable film (IMHO): The Princess Bride.

Frankly? If you want stuff that's primarily dialogue-and-character driven, you want television. Sports Night, Deadwood, Rescue Me, The Wire, Arrested Development, The Shield, Mad Men, Pushing Daisies, Scrubs, The West Wing, etc. etc. etc. Stage is the actors' medium; film is the directors' medium; but television is the writers' medium.
posted by tzikeh at 1:52 AM on December 4, 2009

Talk Radio
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 5:38 AM on December 4, 2009


Also, seconding the recommendation for No Man's Land.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:55 AM on December 4, 2009

You might wanna track down the filmed version of Abigail's Party. It's *excruciating* and wonderful.
posted by The Whelk at 12:08 PM on December 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't think The Station Agent has been mentioned yet.
posted by drlith at 12:16 PM on December 4, 2009

Walking and Talking.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:53 PM on December 5, 2009

Dropping back in to mention Return of the Secaucus Seven.
posted by gudrun at 2:14 PM on December 19, 2009

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