Leatherheads


Even in 1925, "hi, mom" was a thing.

Even in 1925, “hi, mom” was a thing.

(2008) Comedy (Universal) George Clooney, Renee Zellweger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Root, Jack Thompson, Max Casella, Wayne Duvall, Keith Loneker, Malcolm Goodwin, Matt Bushell, Tommy Hinkley, Tim Griffin, Robert Baker, Nick Paonessa, Randy Newman, Grant Heslov, Mike O’Malley, Heather Goldenhersh. Directed by George Clooney

The NFL is the most powerful sports league in the United States. The championship game, the Super Bowl, is one of the most-watched sporting events on planet Earth. The league makes billions in advertising and sponsorship revenue, broadcasting rights fees, game attendance and merchandising. Millions follow their teams week after week during the fall. But it wasn’t always that way.

Carter Rutherford (Krasinski) is on the top of the world. The star football player for the Princeton Tigers football team, he is matinee idol handsome, a war hero, admired by millions and blessed with a bright future ahead of him. Pro football? C’mon, it’s 1925! Pro football is for miners, farmers and lumberjacks, the pay is ridiculously low, there are no rules to speak of and the crowds are ghastly.

Dodge Connelly (Clooney) is at rock bottom. The star player for the Duluth Bulldogs pro football team is trying to hold together his club by the skin of his teeth. They have to forfeit a football game because the game ball – the only one the team has – is stolen. As much as he loves the game, Connelly knows the future is bleak. He’s no longer a young man, he has almost no skills to speak of and football is all he knows. To make matters worse, the Bulldogs main sponsor is pulling out, and the team is about to fold.

Lexie Littleton (Zellweger) is on the ladder to success. A brassy dame hustling, scratching and clawing to make her way as a reporter in a man’s world, she’s given a plum assignment by her editor (Thompson); a lieutenant (Casella) in Rutherford’s unit has stepped forward, claiming that his war record is false. Littleton is to get the confidence of Rutherford, build him up with a series of puff pieces and then when she gets the dirt, print the exclusive. If she does it, there’s an editorial position for her.

Connelly hits upon the bright idea of enticing Rutherford into pro football. In order to do it, he’s going to have to fast talk Rutherford’s agent/publicist CC Frazier (Pryce) into even considering pro football. When Dodge brashly guarantees ten grand per game, Frazier and Rutherford (mostly Rutherford who loves the game and wants to play past his college years) agree to join the Bulldogs. Littleton, smelling a fish story, decides to tag along.

At first, it looks like the most brilliant idea ever. Huge crowds show up to see the college star – even at Bulldog practices. The players begin to work harder to get into shape and Rutherford suggests some “effective” plays he used at Princeton. Of course, being a natural athlete better than most of the people playing the game doesn’t hurt and the Bulldogs begin to win. Connelly does his part by playing up the new guy and making sure he’s the one to score the touchdowns and that Rutherford gets all the glory. Dodge is far more interested in getting the girl, but when she discovers the truth, everything is at risk.

A nice period piece that captures the very early days of professional football nicely although I’m sure the NFL would take issue with some of the more, ahem, sordid aspects of the Duluth Bulldogs. Krasinski does some fine work as the ultra-preppy Carter “The Bullet” Rutherford. He was still best known for his work in The Office at the time (which was still on the air) and launches his film career with a completely different character than his Office work and does a great job in the process.

Clooney does his usual solid job; he seems to have an affinity for period pieces (O Brother Where Art Thou, Goodnight and Good Luck) and he plays a wise-cracking, hard-nosed Leatherhead well. Zellweger seems born to play the brassy, sassy dame with more than a little moxie. She looks right for the flapper era, and gets the cadences right.

Clooney captures the period nicely, with speakeasies and swell hotels. While the football sequences are mostly played for laughs rather than for any kind of authenticity, they are at least staged in an entertaining manner. Randy Newman’s score is reminiscent of his work in Ragtime and Parenthood; look for his cameo in one of the bar scenes.

I’m not sure whether Clooney intended an homage to screwball comedies or to actually make one; either way, it’s a bit light on jokes to match up to the better examples of the genre. The chemistry between Zellweger and Clooney isn’t as convincing as it could be.

Leatherheads is flawed, but generally entertaining. They try for the kind of screwball comedy that made things like His Girl Friday, Sullivan’s Travels and Adam’s Rib, but don’t quite get there. With a better script and better chemistry between the leads, this could have been a memorable movie, but it’s still worthwhile on several fronts – just not really anything you’d want to sing the praises of too loudly. Definitely worth the rental at least if you don’t have anything particularly pressing that you’d like to see. It’s not a complete waste of your time and money at least.

WHY RENT THIS: Nice era re-creation. Clooney and Krasinski do fine jobs.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Fails at being a true screwball comedy. Chemistry between Clooney and Zellweger not quite there.
FAMILY MATTERS: There is a smattering of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Due to a dispute with the Writer’s Guild of America over credit on the script, George Clooney removed himself as a voting member of the Guild.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: Infamous prankster Clooney is shown playing some memorable pranks on his unsuspecting cast and crew.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $41.3M on a $58M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Flixster, Vudu
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Eight Men Out
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Minions

Friends With Benefits


Friends With Benefits

Just a couple of couch potatoes.

(2011) Romantic Comedy (Screen Gems) Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson, Jenna Elfman, Richard Jenkins, Bryan Greenberg, Woody Harrelson, Andy Samberg, Shaun White, Nolan Gould, Emma Stone, Masi Oka, Rashida Jones, Jason Segel. Directed by Will Gluck

 

Humans crave intimacy on several levels, beginning with the base physical and into the higher realms of friendship and love. We need it as surely as we need food to eat and air to breathe; without it our lives are empty and meaningless.

Jamie Rellis (Kunis) is a corporate headhunter with a history of relationship issues. Her assignment is to find an art director for GQ Magazine in New York and she thinks she’s found one. Dylan Harper (Timberlake) works as an art director for a small internet company and mainly takes the interview for the free trip to New York, especially after he breaks up with his girlfriend.

It turns out that Dylan and GQ are a match made in heaven, but Dylan is reluctant to take the job offer – he likes it in LA and isn’t particularly disposed to leaving his family and friends behind.  However, a night on the town with Jamie convinces him that New York is the place for him to be so he accepts.

Jamie helps him get settled and soon the two become friends – mainly because Dylan doesn’t know anybody else. One night when he is hanging out in her apartment watching movies with her, the two begin to talk about relationships and sex. Both are single and as it turns out, both are missing sex.

After some discussion, they both come to the agreement that sex shouldn’t need emotional connections – it should just be a completely physical act separate from love. They then agree to have sex without commitment or emotional attachment.

At first it’s a novelty and a whole lot of fun. As time goes on Jamie begins to feel less and less satisfied and realizes this isn’t what she wants at all so she decides to start dating again and lets Dylan know that the sex is coming to an end. She does date again, a man named Parker (Greenberg) and at first he seems to be what she’s looking for but after going to bed with him after the fifth date he calls it off. Furious, she tells him off, then cries about it to Dylan. He invites her to California for the Independence Day weekend and although reluctant at first, she flies west with him.

She meets his family – his father (Jenkins) who’s in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and his sister Annie (Elfman) who has been caring for him. Dylan and Jamie share an evening where it appears there’s a deeper connection between them – until Dylan runs his mouth to his sister afterwards, overheard by Jamie, claiming that this is just purely sex for him. Afterwards, she lets him know in no uncertain terms that she wants nothing to do with him.

The two however both realize that they have deep feelings for one another but neither knows how to navigate their way back. Is it possible to salvage anything, and make a relationship out of a purely sexual friendship?

I look at this in a lot of ways as a kind of 21st century version of When Harry Met Sally. The question about sex and friendship between men and women is one that still rages in debate. Gluck, who co-wrote the script, definitely has his ideas on the subject, although he approaches it in a different way than the previous film which asked “Can men and women who are sexually attracted to one another be friends” while this movie asks instead “Can men and women who are friends have sex without ruining their friendship” which is an entirely different ball of wax.

The movie hinges on the leads, and Timberlake and Kunis are very attractive and have some chemistry between them – the relationship doesn’t feel as contrived as it does in other romantic comedies. The problem here is that it just isn’t sure whether it’s a romantic comedy or a raunchy sex comedy – and at times that schizophrenia torpedoes the otherwise good intentions of the film.

Kunis is becoming one of my favorite actresses with stellar performances in Black Swan and Forgetting Sarah Marshall to her credit. She is sexy and sweet, able to do drama and comedy equally as adeptly. She’s come a long way since “That 70s Show” and may against the odds wind up becoming the biggest star to emerge from that show.

Timberlake is developing nicely as an actor and although this doesn’t really build up his career up acting-wise, the box office success continues to cement his reputation as a bankable leading man and to be truthful the performance doesn’t set his reputation back either. He’s still a little stiff in some ways, but he’s definitely getting better at it – he is certainly a star in the making.

I like the dialogue here. The relationship between Dylan and Jamie is acerbic at times, with the two trading snappy one-liners in the style of a screwball comedy in a good way. Maybe the movie really isn’t a raunchy sex comedy or a sweet rom-com – maybe what it really is could be termed a modern screwball comedy. The jury’s still out on it but the results are the movie doesn’t work as smoothly as I might have liked it to and maybe that led me to be harsher in my rating than it deserved because it does do a lot of things right, particularly in the case of Kunis and Timberlake. It just doesn’t add up to a cohesive whole.

WHY RENT THIS: Some decent chemistry between the leads. Snappy dialogue.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Can’t decide whether it wants to be a raunchy sex comedy or a sweet rom-com.

FAMILY VALUES:  As you might guess, there’s a whole lot of sexual content and a fair amount of bad language, some of it sexual in nature.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In director Will Gluck’s last movie (Easy A) Clarkson also played the mother of the lead character (Emma Stone, who cameos here early on as Dylan’s girlfriend).  

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are about seven minutes of outtakes, mostly having to do with flubbed lines and pranks. The Blu-Ray also has a featurette on the choreography of the flash mob scene.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: No Strings Attached

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $149.5M on a $35M production budget; the movie was a big box office hit.

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

NEXT: Marvel’s The Avengers!

Lucky


Lucky

The happy couple - how lucky!

(2011) Comedy (Phase 4) Colin Hanks, Ari Graynor, Ann-Margaret, Jeffrey Tambor, Mimi Rogers, Adam J. Harrington, Allison Mackie, Tom Amandes, Michelle Davidson, Olivia Sather, Heather Marie Marsden, Sean Modica, Jill Carr, Elizabeth Uhl. Directed by Gil Cates Jr.

 

Love and marriage can be a killer. Compromise and understanding are keys to any relationship, but especially in any marriage, particularly in new ones. Getting to understand your partner in any relationship is the key to making it work.

Ben Keller (Hanks) is a bit of a noodle. He is a quiet, shy sort who works as an accountant. He seems generally nice although a bit socially awkward. He has a crush on the receptionist, Lucy St. Martin (Graynor) and has had since school but has never acted on it, not really. She’s aware of his affections but she is much more pragmatic; she has her eye casting about for men in a different economic strata. Ben is beneath her notice, frankly.

That is, until Ben wins the Iowa State Lotto and over $38 million. Overnight he’s a millionaire and Lucy suddenly sees him as husband material. Soon they are dating and before long, they are married, much to the satisfaction of Pauline (Ann-Margaret), Ben’s mom who had despaired of her shy son ever finding a match.

Lucy may be all about the money and Ben doesn’t seem to be too shy about spending it on her – from building her a dream home to an expensive Hawaiian honeymoon. It is in fact while in Hawaii that Lucy discovers that Ben has been keeping a secret from her and it’s a doozy – mild-mannered Ben is a serial killer and as Lucy looks a little more deeply into this, she discovers that his victims bear a more than passing resemblance to herself.

The director is the son of a Hollywood producer (best known for producing the Oscar telecasts) who is directing the son of an acting legend (Hanks, son of Tom). That really is neither here nor there but it is some interesting trivia. The premise here sounds tailor made for a black comedy directed by the likes of the Coen brothers but Cates comes off as a bit inexperienced here.

This kind of material needs a deft touch, one that is light where it needs to be but unfortunately the direction is mostly heavy-handed. We are hit in the face with an anvil rather than tickled gently with a feather. While the former gets our attention initially, it gets old quickly and eventually leaves us numb. The latter may not necessarily be as attention-getting at first but it stays with us longer for far more pleasant reasons.

Hanks is rapidly getting a reputation for playing nice guys with a dark side (as he does in “Mad Men”) and this might be his quintessential role. He resembles his father in many ways but he is much more of a sad sack than Daddy ever was. He isn’t quite the indelible lead man his father is but he has the DNA for it, not to mention that he adds his own stamp.

Graynor is kind of a cut-rate Renee Zellweger in a lot of ways, particularly in her delivery. She’s kind of a skinny Bridget Jones without the accent here. I get the sense she’s emulating the screwball comedies of the ’30s in the way she makes her character sassy and plucky. It’s not really original in any way but she at least captures the essence of the character nicely.

Veteran character actor Tambor plays a detective who is investigating the disappearance of several young girls. Tambor’s laconic delivery is perfect for the role and he always seems to deliver the goods no matter how small the role (and this one is small but memorable indeed). Ann-Margaret is also a welcome addition. In fact, the cast is pretty solid.

The filmmakers seem to be caught between making a screwball comedy and a black comedy and wind up with neither. There are some great moments (as when Lucy has a frank conversation with Ben’s victims) as well as some that could have been. Unfortunately, this is a movie where it felt like each turn it could have made could have gone better if they’d taken a different direction. Chalk it up to inexperience and hope the next one is better.

WHY RENT THIS: Nice performances from Graynor and Tambor. Competent black comedy.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks consistency.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some bad language, a bit of violence, some sexuality and a couple of gruesome images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Hawaii-themed restaurant scene was actually filmed at a zoo exhibit in Omaha.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a music video by David Choi singing “I Choose Happiness” from the movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $8,564 on an unreported production budget; no way this made any money.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Thin Ice

Top 5 “I Can See Dead People” Movies


Charlie St. Cloud (see review) playing catch with his deceased brother is only the latest in a long line of Hollywood films in which the living interact with the dead. There is a certain appeal in knowing that death is not The End, either of consciousness or box office receipts as well. The theme continues to be while not a certain box office draw, at least extremely marketable even now – perhaps especially so given the use of digital effects to make the dearly departed even more spectacular than ever.

HONORABLE MENTION

There are several movies that didn’t make the top five but were worthy of mentioning here. Beetle Juice (1988) was one of Tim Burton’s most bizarre and delightful films, and the delightfully kitschy afterlife still resonates with hipsters everywhere – I would love to do the calypso to Harry Belafonte in the next life. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) explored the love between the dead and the living much more believably than the over-earnest (and in the case of Demi Moore, overacted) Ghost. A Christmas Carol (1938) is my all-time favorite holiday film but doesn’t make this list because it is the Spirits that are the central supernatural characters, not Jacob Marley’s ghost. Finally, 13 Ghosts (2001) had some truly terrifying images but just missed because the means of seeing the dead people came with wearing special glasses, and this list is organic if nothing else.

5. GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)

 

Saturday Night Live veterans Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd were at the top of their games when this supernatural comedy became an icon of 80s movies. “Who ya gonna call” remains a catchphrase we still use today, a quarter of a century later. Second City TV alum Harold Ramis (who would become a fine filmmaker in his own right) and character actor Ernie Hudson would make up the rest of the Ghost Buster team, while Sigourney Weaver made for one hot femme fatale, getting possessed by a demon in her refrigerator. Usually the demon in my refrigerator looks a lot more like cheesecake (although come to think of it, she had a couple of scenes where she looked an awful lot like cheesecake). Rick Moranis, he of SCTV and Honey I Shrunk the Kids fame was designated comedy relief. New York was threatened by a supernatural event of biblical proportions, not to mention a gigantic Sta-Puft marshmallow man, and only Egon, Stantz, Venkman and Winston stand in the way. Together with their proton packs and containment devices, they take the horror elements, temper it with a little science fiction and make it dang funny. The movie did spawn a sequel as well as a couple of animated kiddie shows centered around Slimer, the ghost that, ummm, slimes Venkman in the original. Fans of the movie will be gratified to note that the long-rumored much-delayed third movie is finally greenlit and will be filming this fall for a Christmas 2012 release.

4. TOPPER (1937)

 

Made during the height of the screwball comedy era, this is the movie where Cary Grant perfected his screen persona of the debonair and charming rake. George and Marion Kerby, a pair of gadabouts, played by Grant and Constance Bennett, live the good life during the Depression but its cut short when they die in a car accident in their beloved speedster. The car is ultimately purchased by Cosmo Topper, played by Roland Young, who also has an accident but survives; however, the result is that he can see the Kerbys and they take it as their life’s ambition….um, make that afterlife’s ambition…to turn around the stuffy Topper’s prim and proper life and teach him the meaning of fun. The point was that life was too short not to live it to the fullest, a point that may have been lost on Depression-era audiences who were struggling just to keep their families fed. Still, Topper is and remains an iconic movie of the era, one that would inspire not only several sequels of its own (although none with Grant, who had become too big a star by that time) but also a TV series in the 50s, a TV movie and now, a remake starring Steve Martin that is reportedly going to begin filming soon.

3. FIELD OF DREAMS (1989)

This not only has the distinction of being one of the greatest “I See Dead People” movies of all time, it is also one of the greatest baseball movies of all time as well. Kevin Costner became a baseball legend for this movie as a farmer who hears voices in his cornfield, telling him to build a baseball stadium…well, actually it says “If you build it, he will come.” He turns out to be Shoeless Joe Jackson, who eventually brings the rest of the Black Sox, and then later other dead baseball players as well. The movie uses baseball as a metaphor for America, and addresses all sorts of issues but primarily the regaining of lost innocence. Not everyone could see the ghosts, but those that needed to did. With a cast that included Amy Madigan as Costner’s long-suffering wife, Timothy Busfield as his skeptical brother-in-law, James Earl Jones as a reclusive writer from the 1960s and the great Burt Lancaster as a doctor and ex-ballplayer, the movie touches a chord in every heart, American or not, who sees it. Certainly I still get misty every time I put it on. The cornfield ballpark that the production crew built in Iowa still stands as a tourist attraction, although it was listed as for sale as of July 2010.

2. THE FRIGHTENERS (1996)

A pre-Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson directed this cult favorite. It served as something of a bridge between his early horror films, with the black humor of movies like Bad Taste and the visionary effects sense of the LOTR trilogy. Michael J. Fox starred as Frank Bannister, a charlatan who offered to rid people of ghosts haunting their homes by using fake Ghostbuster-esque science. The kicker was that he really was psychic and could see ghosts, thanks to a near-fatal car accident (near-death experiences are a favorite way for Hollywood to explain why living characters can see and interact with the dead). He used a trio of ghostly accomplices to scare clients into believing they were being haunted. Yes, it was a bit of a scam, but one case would lead Frank to take on a malevolent ghost bent on killing the living. Jeffrey Combs had a memorable turn as a deeply disturbed FBI agent who was on Frank’s trail, and Chi McBride, John Astin and Jim Fyfe played Frank’s ectoplasmic sidekicks. The movie has a bit of a quirky side to it, but the combination of Fox’s likability, the terrific-for-their-time special effects and the mythology of the film’s reality make this a favorite that I like to revisit whenever it plays on cable, which it does frequently.

1. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

The movie that gave this Top Five it’s title and with one of the best twist endings ever is director M. Night Shyamalan’s magnum opus, a movie whose success he hasn’t been able to match either artistically or commercially since. Young Haley Joel Osment plays a disturbed boy who is able to see the dead; Bruce Willis plays a child psychiatrist whose life was destroyed by a patient of his (played in a brief but memorable turn by Donnie Wahlberg) who is trying to help young Cole (Osment’s character). Toni Collette plays Cole’s mom in a role that helped establish her as an important actress. The film served as a career resurrection for Willis, whose Die Hard-style action movies were falling out of vogue. It also established Willis as a more mature actor whose performances can be surprisingly nuanced given the right director. Some of the imagery is pretty terrifying, but the movie turns some pretty interesting corners before the final jaw-dropping scene which had audiences worldwide blindsided. Many believe it to be one of the best movies of the 90s and in many ways, it is as iconic to that decade as Ghostbusters was to the 80s.

Date Night


Date Night

Steve Carell is flabbergated; he thought Tina Fey was smashing through the glass ceiling, not the glass door.

(20th Century Fox) Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Mark Wahlberg, Taraji Henson, Common, James Franco, Leighton Meester, Kristen Wiig, Mark Ruffalo, Ray Liotta, William Fichtner, Mila Kunis, Jimmi Simpson. Directed by Shawn Levy

At a certain point in every relationship, routine sets in. That can be deadlier to a marriage then money problems or even infidelity.

The Fosters, tax preparer Phil (Carell) and realtor Claire (Fey) live normal, unprepossessing lives in suburban New Jersey. They have two kids who can be the spawns of Satan but for the most part, are ordinary kids. They pay their taxes, mow their lawn and attend book clubs together. Every week, they go on a date together to the same steak house and always order the potato skins. They play the “what’s their story” game with other diners, imagining some rather colorful goings-on. Sex is occasional, growing more and more occasional.

They are both shocked when one of the couples they are closest to announce that they are splitting up. Brad (Ruffalo) confides in Phil that they had evolved from being a loving couple to being really excellent roommates, while Haley (Wiig) asserts to Claire that it’s the best decision that she’s ever made, that at last she can explore her own sexuality without any constraints and that Claire should “run with the birds,” a reference to a really bad feminist novel their book club is reading (and, you can be sure, one that will pop up again during the movie).

Both of them are secretly concerned that they are now dwelling in a comfortable rut and the other might be getting bored in the relationship, so when the next date night rolls around, Claire puts on makeup and a pretty dress rather than her usual comfortable clothes. Phil, surprised and delighted, resolves to go to a trendy restaurant in Manhattan rather than their usual steakhouse.

The problem with trying to go to a trendy restaurant in Manhattan spontaneously is that there is usually a waiting list to get in. Phil and Claire arrive too late to get a walk-in table, so the snooty host dismisses them to the bar, there to wait an eternity in all likelihood.

An opportunity arises when a hostess arrives in the bar, looking for the Tripplehorn party of two. When nobody responds, Phil on the spur of the moment decides to take the reservation of the missing Tripplehorns. Spur of the moment decisions can lead, as we all know, to lifetime regrets.

In this case, it leads to a case of mistaken identity. Two beefy gentlemen (Simpson and Common) show up at the table and firmly but politely ask the Fosters to follow them out. The Fosters, believing they’re from the restaurant, comply and are flabbergasted to see guns being pointed at them and the beefy gentlemen demanding that a flash drive belonging to a well-known mobster be returned to them forthwith.

Threatened with immediate execution and with the beefy gentlemen not believing their assertions that they are not, in fact, the Tripplehorns, Phil tries to stall the beefy gentlemen until an opportunity presents itself to escape. When it does, the Fosters go straight to the police until they are shocked to discover that the two beefy gentlemen are actually cops. Mortified and terrified, they go to a shirtless security expert (Wahlberg) to try and find the elusive Tripplehorns and elude the beefy gentlemen and other beefy gentlemen like them.

There’s plenty to like here, but the best thing about the movie is the chemistry between and Fey and Carell. They’re believable as a married couple who have been married to each other for awhile. There’s obviously love between them, but it isn’t as obviously on display as it might be for newlyweds.

They are just ordinary people caught up in events beyond their control. They don’t whip out submachine guns and start blowing people away, Phil isn’t an ex-Navy SEAL and Claire isn’t a third degree black belt. They are intelligent and inventive, but no more so than any one of us would be. They’re totally believable which gives the movie its heart.

Most of the rest of the characters are meant to be caricatures, particularly Wahlberg as the studly security expert. He spends the entire movie without a shirt and the sight of his pecs and abs gives Phil an inferiority complex the size of Mount Everest. The same sight lights Claire up like a Japanese lantern in the summer night.

Where the movie suffers from is that it takes a scattershot approach to comedy. There are lots of bits of business that are more or less extraneous and are meant to try and generate laughs, but come off as feeling a bit forced – the prime example is the sequence involving a head-on collision between the sports car Phil and Claire have “borrowed” from the security consultant and a taxi leaving the two vehicles hopelessly stuck together with armed bad guys shooting at them and the police (the non-corrupt ones) trying to arrest them.

The resolution of the movie is very sweet and I thought very realistic. While I think my relationship with Da Queen is a bit stronger than the one between Phil and Claire – I don’t see us questioning our relationship because another couple splits up – the movie end on a profoundly sweet note and I don’t have a problem with that. In these tough times, a little sweetness can make a lot of difference.

This is meant to be, I think, a screwball comedy and it certainly has many of those elements. The situation escalates from the slightly off-kilter to the totally absurd. There are plenty of laughs, some of which are a little on the blue side, but this is definitely got moments that will keep you chuckling for awhile.

REASONS TO GO: The chemistry between Carell and Fey is genuine. Wahlberg has a small but memorable role.

REASONS TO STAY: Too much needless “business.” Some of the laughs seem a little forced.

FAMILY VALUES: Some sexuality and sexual situations are the culprits here. There’s a little bit of foul language as well; probably not for the more impressionable sorts but generally fine for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Shawn Levy also tackled married couple dynamics in the remake of Cheaper by the Dozen.

HOME OR THEATER: Very doable at home.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Class and a mini-review of Winter’s Bone to kick off our coverage of the Florida Film Festival.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day


A lovely trio of Depression-era fashionistas.

A lovely trio of Depression-era fashionistas.

(Focus) Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Lee Pace, Shirley Henderson, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Payne, Mark Strong, Christina Cole, Stephanie Cole. Directed by Bharat Nalluri.

In these economic times we are all of us riding the thin line between success and poverty, with one push in either direction sending us skittering towards one or the other. While in some sense this is almost always generally true, in only one other era was this more the case than the one we live in now – the Great Depression.

Guinevere Pettigrew (McDormand) is a vicar’s daughter who works as a governess. Plain, socially awkward and somewhat plain-spoken, she finds herself dismissed from one position after another. After her latest dismissal, her agency declines to find another placement for her – ever. Desperate, knowing starvation and homelessness are awaiting her she impulsively steals a placement as a social secretary for a flighty and somewhat promiscuous actress by the unlikely name of Delysia Lafosse (Adams).

Adams, an American working in London as World War II looms, came to the UK as a lounge singer but hopes to find success enough in the West End to propel her to Hollywood. She has her sights set on a part in a new play produced by Phil Goldman (Payne) and is willing to do anything – and anyone – to get what she wants. Ditzy and disorganized, she lives in a swanky London flat that turns out to be the address of Nick Calderetti (Strong), the hot-headed nightclub owner she works for and is sleeping with. However, her heart belongs to Michael Pardew (Pace), a talented pianist who has just finished serving a term in jail for a “misunderstanding.”  

Miss Pettigrew is completely out of her element, but all the characteristics that made her unsuitable as a governess are just what the doctor ordered for Delysia. Conversely, Delysia is able to make the dowdy governess blossom with her knowledge of fashion, make-up and hair. The two are perfect for each other.

However, the world around them is spiraling out of control. The part that would make Delysia’s career is in danger of going to another actress, Charlotte Warren (C. Cole) but accepting that role would put an end to her relationship with Michael, who is returning to New York. Add to that the complication of Edythe Dubarry (Henderson), a fashion maven whose engagement to lingerie designer Joe Blomfield (Hinds) she wants Miss Pettigrew to rescue. However, Miss Pettigrew is attracted to the quiet, gallant Joe herself while Edythe begins to suspect the Miss Pettigrew isn’t who she says she is.

Based on the 1938 novel by Winifred Watson, the film rights had belonged to Universal since 1939 languishing there for nearly 70 years before finally getting made by Focus, the studio’s independent and art film arm. Director Nalluri takes the elements of a screwball comedy and adds a 21st century romantic comedy ethos to it. The results are neither fish nor fowl, but an odd amalgam of both, rendering a not-unpleasant effect.

McDormand, one of Hollywood’s most consistent leading ladies, is quite understated as the somewhat timid Pettigrew. Adams, who is blossoming into not only a fine actress but also a charismatic lead, is sensational. She takes a character that sleeps around and is something of a birdbrain and gives her humanity and charm. You wind up liking this girl even though in real life, you probably wouldn’t…unless she was Amy Adams, that is. She also gets to sing a song, “If I Didn’t Care” which just about brings down the house. Lee Pace, so good in TV’s “Pushing Daisies” is somewhat lost in his role. Better are Henderson and Hinds, character veterans who have richly earned reputations for solid performances, and they don’t disappoint here.

Screwball comedies, so popular in the 1930s, are a skill in and of themselves. When done properly, they are some of the best entertainment value there are. In all honesty, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day doesn’t really hold up with the best of that genre, but is sufficient enough that because they are so rarely made these days, its rating might be skewed up a bit because of it. With the economy rapidly mimicking that of the Great Depression, I wouldn’t be surprised if we begin to see a lot more of them in the coming years. That, in itself wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

WHY RENT THIS: Decent screwball comedies are rare and this one is definitely that. Adams and McDormand are two of the best actresses in Hollywood, at the top of their games here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: 21st century audiences may find this a bit dated stylistically speaking.  

FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for all ages; almost no raunchiness to speak of, although the Delysia Lafosse character’s promiscuity is implied.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Miss Pettigrew’s father is revealed to be a minister. Actress McDormand’s father is also a minister.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: An interview with the author’s son, who gives some fascinating insight into how the movie came into being.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Inkheart