A renowned choreographer and director Joe (Roy Scheider) is working on a brand new stage play set to be his finest yet. But as he struggles to balance work, family and womanising on the side, his health takes a turn for the worse, in this film from renowned choreographer and director Bob Fosse.
The film starts at a dance audition and segues into rehearsal scenes like a Flashdance or Staying Alive style dance competition movie. But as workaholic Joe cuts his latest film by night while staving off an increasingly aggressive cough it develops into a Synechdoche, New York style tale of a creative obsessive working himself to the grave.
Then in the final act, as he drifts in and out of reality, it begins to feel like Derek Jarman does A Matter of Life and Death, with song and dance numbers thrown in. This makes it a totally original musical as the song and dance numbers go from ‘actually happening’ to entirely imaginary. Scheider gives an excellent performance, making a plausible dancer, and investing his often troubled and troubling character with charm and likability in spite of his significant flaws.
Fosse’s direction is jazz hands-on, including innovative and selective use of foley to show Joe’s growing troubles, and a repeated montage of his pill-popping, cigarette smoking habits draws attention to his downward spiral in energetic fashion. So in the end it remains entertaining rather than depressing, in spite of the amount of genuine stress Fosse must have poured into it.