Live from New York, week in, week out. It must take its toll on those involved in Saturday Night Live. Question that no more. Peel back the curtain with this documentary, Saturday Night, from director James Franco. His intention here is exceptional, but his execution is far from it. Looking at how an average working week is for the Saturday Night Live crew should make for interesting reading, but having been shelved for several years, the dated styles and topics of discussion make for a relatively disconnected series of events that depict a rough week in the life of those working on a supremely stressful show. We can take the post-Saturday Night interviews of Bill Hader as evidence of that stress, and as he features here, it seems as though he, like many of the others that feature here, is worlds away from the memories of this long-running sketch show.
Who can blame them? When Franco does manage to depict Saturday Night Live with interest, he showcases the stressful nature of planning and executing live comedy every week. Fear is never illuminated, but implied. It is the best he can do considering the interference the feature soon received upon its completion. But that should be no excuse. Saturday Night had a range of accessible stars who fit the bill of what Franco wished to project. This is not a vanity project, thankfully, but it is a rendition of what Franco thinks are the most important moments of assembling a show. He is too close to the interviewees to offer an unbiased account of the highs and lows. Instead, he asks those around him to fill in the notably large gaps.
Forte provides the best bits because he is available to sit down and chat through the generalities. He talks of the star power these special guests have; the coaxing they need to feel comfortable at times. It is never shown, though. Bad luck on Franco’s part, especially considering he follows the week in which John Malkovich shows up. Malkovich nods his head, is amicable and agreeable, and a generally pleasant figure. If that is the case for every week, then fine. But Franco fails to grab at the lower moments, the inevitable lulls that so many cast members have spoken about after their time on the show.
“Tell me about the pitch meeting,” Franco asks of Will Forte. As Forte gears himself up to deliver a surely interesting, if tedious, spiel, Franco interrupts. “We know what it is,” and it is with this first talking head encounter that we get a feeling for how Franco will adapt himself as a documentarian. He hopes his interviewees will cut through all the useless bits and pieces and give him a straight answer. Sometimes, a straight answer just isn’t deep enough to convey the emotion and desire necessary to a piece. Franco has something here, and while Saturday Night is not quite up to scratch, there are moments within that will, undoubtedly, serve rather well for those wishing to know a little more about what goes on behind the scenes of Saturday Night Live.