Nora Ephron's Broadway hit 'Lucky Guy' with Tom Hanks is a profound, poignant swan song
With that in mind, there is absolutely a movie in this yarn, as Ephron originally intended it. McAlary's story, which at one point finds itself soaked in elements of disgrace as he suffers a near-fatal (alcohol-influenced) automobile accident and, perhaps worse, writes a story refuting a rape claim based on what turned out to be bad information from his police sources, is intriguing when seen in the abstract as a metaphor for the profession he held so dear.
What is the state journalism today? Has the Internet brought it to a pandering place of infotainment, ethics ever flirting with slippery slopes? Or do its glory years still lie ahead, the free flow of information demanding stewards of fact more than ever? Perhaps its darkest modern hour came all too recently when shoddy reporting led, this very month 10 years ago, to a manufactured "war" in Iraq, nadir to any zenith Woodward and Bernstein might have reached nearly three decades prior. There are themes to play with in McAlary's rise-fall-rise story that could be profound in that light. In short, the material has a shot at landing in the pantheon of dramatic realizations of the form, from Sidney Lumet's "Network" to Michael Mann's "The Insider," Alfred Hitchcock's "Foreign Correspondent" to Billy Wilder's "Ace in the Hole," the aforementioned "All the President's Men" to Billy Ray's "Shattered Glass."
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Hanks admitted that a movie version is still possible. With these kinds of receipts coming in for the Broadway production, one could probably bank on it.
McAlary's story, at least, ended on a happy note. He earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for his exclusive reporting on the wrongful arrest, savage beating and forced sodomizing of Haitian club-goer Abner Louima (portrayed briefly but powerfully by actor Stephen Tyrone Williams in "Lucky Guy"). It was a story he broke and continued to report while undergoing aggressive chemotherapy. It was a tough time for him to be tackling such a thing, but, in so many words, it was his job.
It also recalls Ephron's intense work ethic in her waning years, during which only a close circle of friends and family knew of her condition. Writing in The New York Times Magazine about his mother, Jacob Bernstein reflected on that intriguing connection. I'll close on his words, and leave you with this from me: "Lucky Guy" is a beautiful remembrance of a hard worker. It's a poignant tale of ambition. It's a profound study of a vital profession. But it is, above all, a declaration: Do the job that demands to be done.
"In the play my mother wrote, there’s a scene toward the end, in which McAlary, sick with cancer, goes to the Poconos to visit his friend Jim Dwyer, then a columnist at The Daily News. It’s a glorious summer day, and McAlary’s 12-year-old son, Ryan, wants to do a flip off the diving board, but he gets scared and can’t do it. So McAlary takes off his shirt, walks to the edge of the diving board and says to him: 'When you do these things, you can’t be nervous. If you think about what can go wrong, if you think about the belly flop, that’s what’ll happen.'
"And then McAlary does the flip himself and makes a perfect landing.
"It’s a metaphor, obviously, for his view about life. And I’ve come to think it might as well have been about my mother. The point is that you don’t let fear invade your psyche. Because then you might as well be dead.
"As she saw him, McAlary was a role model not so much in life, but in death, in the way that he used writing to maintain his sense of purpose and find release from his illness. In the six years my mother had MDS, she wrote 100 blog posts, two books and two plays and directed a movie. There was nothing she could do about her death but to keep going in the face of it. Work was its own kind of medicine, even if it could not save her…"
"Lucky Guy" is currently in previews at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York. It opens April 1 and will run through June 16. And if you're able, you should absolutely see it.