In what could be one of the hidden gems of Cinequest 2019 Jeff Daniels pulls a tour de force as a playwright who has, in his words, lost his voice and found nothing more important to say.
What should not be lost on the audience is Daniels, who also wrote the screenplay, is an accomplished playwright himself. How much of the film is viewed as autobiographical is subjective; what is clear is Daniels still has talent for days and has lots to say to current and future generations.
Accomplished playwright Joseph Harris (Daniels) is a Pulitzer prize winning playwright living and based out of New York City. His work has dried up, yet his reputation remains strong. He takes a job writing a new piece set to debut Steubenville Playhouse in Michigan (Daniels is from Michigan and runs The Purple Rose theatre there). Greeting him when he arrives at the train station is Kenneth, an aspiring playwright, who views Harris as his artistic hero. Kenneth quickly realizes that Harris wants no part of the production, and so he has to do whatever he can to keep the “guest artist” in Michigan.
What unravels throughout the night is truly a tour de force as Harris both belittles and inspires Kenneth in his work and goals, while also learning about himself in the process and why he has been such a rut. The unlikely duo either has to find common ground or Harris will lose the commission he so desperately needs and Kenneth will have to leave the theatre and go back into the family business if he is fired from his dreams. Inspired by real life events, the film marks director Timothy Busfield’s jump to feature film from TV directing.