The film No Pay, Nudity by theatre actor turned director Lee Wilkof essentially hinges on a particular feature: that an audience is willing to suspend disbelief.
How else can it be expected to believe that Gabriel Byrne is an American and not an Irishman, (with no accent on top of it), and not only that, is an unsuccessful actor, a schlub, a schmo. Add this image to Nathan Lane unrecognizable (and hugely fat), as well as Frances Conroy as a heavily made-up type, and it is clear that the film could be a bit of a difficult sell. The movie is a celebration of less-than-successful careers and this is a subject which is tough to watch.
Luckily, the main trio, despite seemingly hammy, manages to draw the attention to where it is supposed to go, onto the actors themselves, and specifically on Byrne’s take on a sad clown (which later on in the film becomes a literal incarnation, as he takes on the role of the Fool in a hometown production of King Lear, rather than, say, King Lear). Though in Shakespeare’s King Lear, the Fool is the only one that sees clearly, Byrne’s Lester Rosenthal (who also has to be believably Jewish), has to mix pathos with uplift and not come off as pathetic, which is a balance that the film is determined to acheive, and doesn’t always seem like it will do so. Yet an appearance from a past love of Lester’s, Lisa (a wonderful Valerie Mahaffey) a non-actor comes towards the conclusion and yet changes the equation considerably. Here, the pathos of Lester and Lane’a Herschel, (who narrates to comic effect), and Conroy’s Andrea hanging around the Actor’s Equity lounge is contrasted with a modicum of self-worth.
For the struggle of the film, which is resolved but takes a few beats too long to coalesce, is why would we care if they don’t themselves do?
The actor’s struggle has been documented many times in a film but perhaps not to this degree. No Pay, Nudity strips bare all pretenses and, in the end, is all worth it.