‘Last Tycoon’ paints earnest portrait of Hollywood
Series depicts 1930s glamour and dark side
Maybe now’s the right time for F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Based on the author’s unfinished story, Amazon’s The Last Tycoon (streaming Friday, eeeE out of four) is a slightly melancholy but ultimately sympathetic look at a Hollywood producer in the 1930s golden age of movies. Of course, back then the glitzy films played against a backdrop of the Great Depression and rising fascism in Europe.
Amazon’s adaptation, created by Billy Ray (The Hunger Games), stars Matt Bomer as Monroe Stahr, a hotshot producer and widower who pours his heart into the films he makes for Pat Brady (Kelsey Grammer), the head of Brady American Pictures. Lily Collins and Rosemarie DeWitt round out the central cast as Brady’s ambitious daughter, Celia, and unsettled wife, Rose.
The series is surprisingly upfront about the darker side of the movie business in the era, contrasting gorgeous period costumes and a grimy Hooverville next to the studio.
It’s both a love letter to the age of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and a (somewhat gentle) critique of the industry, touching on Nazi censorship, union suppression, sexual harassment and other shady dealings necessary to get the sparkly pictures made. Tycoon, of course, levels this criticism while showcasing the starlets, painted sets and musical numbers that defined filmmaking at the time, but it pays more than lip service to the problems.
There’s a timeliness to the story, as the fictional filmmakers try to find their place and worth in a fraught political and economic climate, not unlike modern artists.
Monroe, who is Jewish, sits in a meeting with a Nazi censor who picks apart his films and can do nothing in response, or the studio’s films won’t play in Germany. Nothing, that is, except make a thinly veiled attack at the Third Reich in a subsequent picture that they won’t be able to fight, without admitting that the Nazis are just as evil as the fictional fascists he creates.
Monroe and Pat make the studio run, and the two actors portraying them are the crux of Tycoon. Once Bomer and Grammer get comfortable in their characters, the series takes off, and Grammer, especially, shines, making a predictable and often villainous character surprisingly sympathetic.
Bomer uses the same charm and charisma that made him famous on White Collar but gives a more understated performance. Monroe is a damaged yet hopeful man, which Bomer easily conveys through his magnetic eyes.
The biggest problem with Tycoon is its hour-long format, which tends to drag about halfway through, and you can’t help but wonder what an exacting producer such as Monroe would have edited out. This is felt most severely in the pilot, which is slow and a bit clunky, taking too long to get to the meat of the story and the important characters.
Tycoon manages to capture the wistful tone Fitzgerald so often employed, while also being a breezy binge-watch.
The author may never have finished his story, but the Amazon series makes a strong case for continuing it.