“Saturday Night Live” has been harshly criticized over the years for failing to deliver quality episodes each and every week, but have you ever stopped to think just how difficult that really is? In James Franco’s all-access documentary, “SATURDAY NIGHT,” audiences finally get a behind-the-scenes look at the arduous task of putting together a 90-minute live show. Capturing every step of the creative process – from the actors and writers pitching their ideas to the week’s host (in this case, John Malkovich) to putting on the final show – the film delivers an honest look at the high-stress, dog-eat-dog world of sketch comedy. With only 24 hours to conceive and write their sketches (and guys like Will Forte seemingly sleepwalking through most of it), it’s amazing that any of them can be funny at all. Perhaps more shocking, however, is that only nine of the 50 proposed ideas actually make it into the final show.
“SATURDAY NIGHT” focuses on just a handful of them, and it’s here that we see the evolution that each one goes through along the way, including rewrites and last-minute edits that come out of rehearsals. We also learn that while some sketches (like one lampooning the Empire Carpet commercials) bring down the house during the initial round of table reads, by the time it comes to performing it at dress rehearsal only hours before the live show, it falls flat with the audience, forcing the producers to pull it from the line-up. Franco gets some good interviews with the cast and crew, even putting himself on camera to discuss his own hosting experience, but he doesn’t really document anything that someone with the exact same access couldn’t do. “SATURDAY NIGHT” is still a fascinating study of a particular facet of the entertainment industry, and if there’s anything to take away from the documentary, it’s that these guys are only human. As one producer aptly declares when discussing future cast members: “If you’re a perfectionist, don’t come here, because nothing is ever perfect.”