Alexander Dinelaris builds his semiautobiographical drama Still Life on a pedestal of admirable intentions: The central character, Carrie Ann (Sarah Paulson), is a photographer prodigy who hasn’t shot a single frame since the death of her father (Sopranos vet Dominic Chianese, relegated to a couple all-too-brief flashbacks); in his playwright’s note, Dinelaris confesses that, similarly, he could not ”write a single word” to say at his own father’s funeral. But even an honorable objective — or a stable of first-rate actors, including Paulson, Chianese, Frederick Weller, and Tony winner Adriane Lenox (Doubt) — can’t mask the fact that this meandering meditation on death and life lacks focus or an original message. Carpe diem doesn’t count.
Weller plays Jeff, a trend analyst who becomes a love interest for Carrie Ann and a sacrificial lamb for the playwright. It’s a cheap ploy, but it allows Weller — who has mastered the art of portraying greaseballs and boobs — to display charisma and wit and (who’d have thought) a heretofore unseen sexy side. Jeff also must be the nicest guy in the world, because Carrie Ann is written as a completely unlikable, slap-worthy shrew. Paulson is not exactly short on charm (as anyone who watched her short-lived sitcom Cupid knows). And she does what she can, displaying a giggly, natural chemistry with Weller. (In one of the few scenes that rings true, the duo try to mask their nervousness by pounding shots of crème de menthe. ”Another?” Carrie Ann asks. ”Sure,” shrugs Jeff. ”You know, cause it’s the kind of drink, you can’t have just one.” And while inhibitions are lowered, she stops his mouth with a kiss that practically sucks all the air out of the room.) But as Lenox’s mentor says to her: ”Pick up your camera and start taking pictures again. Cause you’re a miserable bitch when you don’t.” She said it — we didn’t. C-