Reviews praise Tom Hanks, but find Nora Ephron's portrait of New York tabloids too episodic
"Lucky Guy," Nora Ephron's Valentine to New York's vanishing tabloids starring Tom Hanks, has hit Broadway and while falling short of masterpiece status most reviewers were kind to the "Sleepless in Seattle" writer's ode to newsprint.
Critics praised Hanks, whose presence above the title has easily made "Lucky Guy" the hottest ticket on Broadway this season. The play, which has already grossed more than $1 million a week during previews, doesn't need the critical seal of approval to be a box-office smash, but from the sound of things, Hanks and possibly Ephron, who died of cancer last summer, may also be a hit with Tony voters.
"Lucky Guy" recounts the rise and fall and rise again of columnist Mike McAlary, whose barroom brashness and Jimmy Breslin-inspired prose made him one of the city's foremost chroniclers of Big Apple crime and punishment.
The play, directed by George C. Wolfe, also stars Courtney B. Vance ("Law & Order: Criminal Intent"), Maura Tierney ("The Good Wife") and Hanks' former "Bosom Buddies" co-star Peter Scolari.
Ben Brantley writes in the New York Times that Hanks makes an "honorable Broadway debut" even though Ephron's episodic script doesn't allow him much leeway to put flesh on a character who is conveyed almost entirely through anecdote. The play itself falls short of Ephron's best work, Brantley writes, but he still found it to be an enjoyable ride through a bygone era.
"Unlike some of the movies Ephron wrote and directed, and many of her peerlessly sharp essays, 'Lucky Guy' often feels only newsprint deep," Brantley writes. "But as a love song to a fast-disappearing, two-fisted brand of journalism — a field in which she began her long and varied career — it has the heart and energy of the perpetually engaged, insatiably curious observer that Ephron never ceased to be."
Bloomberg's Jeremy Gerard was floored by Hanks' embodiment of the peaks and valleys of McAlary's life, writing that the Oscar winner deftly manages to convey the reporter's youthful bravado and the professional arrogance that overtook him when he became one of the city's highest paid columnists. It was the final scenes of Hanks as McAlary, stricken with cancer, but enjoying a career resurgence that really had Gerard reaching for the superlatives.
"Having won his Pulitzer, McAlary delivers his self-effacing farewell speech to a newsroom shocked at his diminished state," he writes. "The words are his, but — especially as delivered with wrenching humility and humor by Hanks — I was reminded of Lou Gehrig’s farewell in 'Pride of the Yankees': 'Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.' By this time, we’re with Broadway’s newest star all the way."
Variety's Marilyn Stasio was equally rapturous when it came to Hanks but said the play isn't destined for a long run once he inevitably returns to Hollywood. In the meantime, she implied, Hanks' eastward migration is a boon for New York theatergoers.
"Tom Hanks is a natural," Stasio writes. "Although he hasn’t trod the boards in years, the affable movie star takes to the stage like a fish to water in 'Lucky Guy,' Nora Ephron’s affectionate nostalgia piece about that gritty era of the 1980s when big-mouth tabloid journalists like Mike McAlary were the media stars of big, bad, dirty Gotham City. Helmer George C. Wolfe has embedded Hanks in a terrific ensemble of veteran character actors and a helluva time is had by all."
In the Huffington Post, David Finkle called Ephron's take on the newspaper wars of the 1980s an '90s "charismatic," but attributed the bulk of its success to Hanks. He made it clear that the "Philadelphia" star should be clearing out some space in his trophy cupboard.
"As McAlary, Hanks takes charge of the stage, surely proving to any potential skeptics that he's as strong on stage as he is on screen," Finkle writes. "With unlimited stamina and carrying his own inner spotlight, he shows McAlary as gruff and tough and then moderately less so after recovering from a near-death 1993 automobile accident when drunk and later developing cancer from which he recovered only briefly. With the ultra-assured performance, Hanks has to be a Tony-nom cinch and an on-odds favorite to win."
The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney said the play suffers from being "talky," but he also credited it for being "intelligently written." The digital disruptions currently roiling the media have given the play added weight, he writes.
"While the play focuses on a specific character and milieu, its crowning distinction for many will be as an affectionate elegy for an already remote era in journalism," Rooney writes. "The very nature of breaking news – of deadlines, scoops and exclusives – has changed so radically with the 24-hour news cycle and the decimation of the newspaper business that these characters seem almost aware of the inexorable extinction of their breed. That thread enhances the dramatic texture, but also adds poignant notes to the memory of both McAlary and Ephron."