What is Lost in London? It’s a movie directed, written by, and starring Woody Harrelson that recounts a particularly memorable night in the actor’s past, and it’s also a major experiment. Shot across 14 real-life locations, the film was streamed in real time as it was shot (similar to recent TV musicals like Fox’s Grease, but without the luxury of sets). It loosely tells the story of the night in 2002 when Harrelson was arrested for trashing a taxi in London. With co-stars Owen Wilson and Willie Nelson (everyone famous in the cast is playing themselves), the actor recounts the events of a night spiraling out of his control. The video above shows a bevy of Woody’s celebrity friends, including Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Lawrence, and Will Ferrell, attempting to discourage the actor from endeavoring on this project, but all of their advice seems to have fallen on deaf ears because the movie was broadcast live in cinemas on January 19.
Generally, the possibility of total calamity is a major selling point in the live-air experience. For example, people love seeing actors break out in laughter when they’re not supposed to on Saturday Night Live. In the end, we all generally like seeing famous people just existing without the polish of post-production editing. There’s also a stagey, let’s-put-on-a-show quality to these events that makes them endearing, if not enduring. The live episodes of 30 Rock were super fun in retrospect, but they’ll never be considered among the best. In his review of Harrelson’s film, Vulture writer Jackson McHenry imagines the possibilities:
“Maybe Woody would flub a few lines somewhere in the nearly two-hour set piece, which was being filmed live in a single take. Maybe a camera operator would trip, compromising the single camera that was transmitting Harrelson’s misadventures to theaters across America. Maybe one of the cars, used in the film’s smattering of chase scenes, would make a wrong turn and the project would grind to a halt, actually lost in London. Shouldn’t you want every live event to fail in at least one small, but obvious, way? It certainly makes for a better story.”
But having seen the film, McHenry can also attest that things went fairly well for Harrelson, with only a few messed up lines and sound cues scattered across the movie’s approximately two-hour runtime. It seems like an ambitious way to tell a relatively low-key story, but as Harrelson noted in the Q and A that followed the film, “They say that tragedy plus time equals comedy. Even though it was a night I really did not enjoy, I thought, ‘This could be funny.’” By actively reliving this moment in his past with a renewed perspective, it would seem that Harrelson is putting the tragedy plus time equation into practice.