The following post is brought to you by a nonstop flight from New York to Utah in which Nathaniel, sandwiched inbetween two strangers, dared to (re)watch this Amy Heckerling misfire. Let's begin...
1. The title card "An Amy Heckerling Film" always worries me. She’ll always have Clueless and Fast Times at Ridgemont High but otherwise her films are a mess, aren't they? The Look Who's Talking? franchise, Loser... I mean: YIKES. She’s a two hit wonder. And right away you can sense that I Could Never Be Your Woman is not raising it to three. The screenplay is forced and stale. The first three scenes are all over the map and also too spot on (if such a dichotomy is possible). A politically reactionary monologue/rant from Mother Nature (Tracey Ullman) is followed by grotesque plastic surgery images overlayed with cutesy music and credits is followed by an unfunny introduction scene in which we meet a bantering divorced couple (Jon Lovitz & Michelle Pfeiffer --only in the movies, pairings such as these) who both appear to have issues with arrested development and tease each other about their age.
2. ...Woman bears the very distinct 'honor' of being Michelle Pfeiffer's first straight-to-DVD movie, a rather ignominious defeat for a “comeback” performance from one of the great stars but in some ways this movie's elusiveness was a gift in disguise. The twin triumphs of her 2007 villains (Hairspray and Stardust) look much better adorned with a cheery "we've missed you!" yellow ribbon.
3. Michelle rolls her eyes constantly. I counted ten eye-rolls in about that many minutes. [Nathaniel puts on rose colored glasses for this next sentence] I imagine this to be Michelle's own running commentary track --hey it is a DVD-- on the tonally garish screenplay, the forced gags, the cheap fish in a barrel shots at aging and other things frowned upon in pop culture... like Britney Spears. [Off with the glasses, tough love time] Either that or she's lost. Eye rolls are not a character choice so much as they're a sign of 'I have no idea what to do with this' despair. In fact, Hollywood historians believe that only Winona Ryder was ever successfully able to base an entire character on the ocular flip.
Pfeiffer plays "Rosie" the top creative force on a fading hit TV sitcom about Brianna, a teenager (played by Clueless's Stacy Dash), called You Go Girl . The show wildly overuses cliched hip hop slang and yet the character of Rosie has totally incongruous moments in which she seems to know nothing at all about what she does. She actually asks her daughter what the adjective "ghetto" means. Huh?
4. Stacey Dash is hilarious... in a subtle way. This script is terrible (and the script within the script for You Go Girl even worse) but even the way she says “yeah” is funny --or funny in theory, if the movie knew how to capitalize on it. It doesn't so she's mostly wasted. But here is reminder (in miniature) that Hollywood missed a golden opportunity when it opted not to throw quality comedy scripts her way post Clueless more than a dozen long years ago. Maybe she should have been on that black actress list I wrote up some months ago.
5. Michelle acts well with children. Saoirse Ronan (playing Izzy, Rosie's daughter) with her ice blue eyes (already familiar and used to great effect in Atonement) and ratty blond hair just like her screen mother's 'do' makes for a believable offspring. Ronan was born in NYC and raised in Ireland but she does a perfect American accent... I've already forgotten if that's her natural voice or not from Oscar's red carpet. Saoirse & Michelle have two amusing scenes in which they play with Barbies and bring their issues into the game with them.
6. "Makeovers are so played out" Rosie says in one of her few lucid moments (seriously now, this woman's IQ fluctuates wildly from scene to scene). She's protesting a You Go Girl plotline forced upon her by the suits to highlight her scene-stealing casting find "Adam" (Paul Rudd). While they suit Adam up, Rosie and he start flirting and he compliments her impossible beauty and hair. Question: How does Michelle still look so fine even while utterly messy? The woman's DNA is magical, magical I say. There's even a joke about how she achieves the look with an “egg beater.” Unfortunately this joke leads to Pfeiffer's least convincing screen moment when she stares at an egg beater and laughs in recognition of a private joke. It's an incredibly awkward acting moment, her worst since that shrill climax to otherwise sharp work in The Story of Us. I kept thinking of that 'if you rest you rust' truth... even major movie stars can seemingly forget what to do in front of the camera after a long break. Didn't Julia Roberts seem extra stiff in Charlie Wilson's War last year? I'm glad Pfeiffer had this as warm up before she wowed in Stardust.
Selfish note from an actressexual to all great actresses: Don't take several year breaks for plastic surgery recovery, child rearing or for any other reason! Work your talent to the bone. Especially if you're a one in a million sensation.
Yo, Yo, Yo. P.Rudd be gettin' janky widdit. Don't be frontin', aiiiight?
The previous sentence is a close approximation of I Could...'s way with slang.
The previous sentence is a close approximation of I Could...'s way with slang.
7. Audition scenes are so played out (Pt 2) I said it. Not the movie. See, the movie's IQ fluctuates rapidly, too. Before that self-aware makeover revolt, Heckerling employs the even more exhausted comic audition scene. You know the type: a series of terrible untalented people humiliate themselves until the perfect candidate strolls in, looking that much better in comparison. That would be Adam, a ham and a half, who is about to win the part and Rosie's heart, too. At one point during the terrible auditions, based around a scene involving a nerd getting a wedgie (um, yeah), Rosie utters the line
I have to rewrite this scene. I mean, they can’t all be that bad.You said it, Michelle. Not me. You wrote it Amy Heckerling. Not me.
8. The writing is terrible. There are stray lines and even --no surprise with a cast of this caliber -- bad jokes that amuse through skillful delivery but the movie is not very flattering to anyone. Golden comic opportunities are lost like a scene where Rudd courts Pfeiffer (pictured below)with Mother Nature looking on. It should be the type of scene that gets you giggling consistently and makes you want to hit rewind to watch each performance separately but, though sweet, it's not particularly funny. I love multiple actor wide shots and so few filmmakers even try for them anymore, preferring the over the shoulder one actor reaction shots and constant quick cutting. But it takes a cast at the top of their game and a sharp eyed director to maximize this type of group comedy.
9. How does this movie really feel about older woman/younger man romance? I couldn't tell you exactly. Mother Nature is decidedly against it. Rosie keeps changing her mind. For a film with aging as a theme it's very skittish and indecisive. The film keeps making fun of the older folk even though we're supposed to sympathize with Rosie. It also has some tough lighting that isn't flattering and doesn't help Paul Rudd or Michelle Pfeiffer pull off characters that are supposed to be younger than they are. Rudd is playing 29 (he's 39 next month). Pfeiffer is playing 41 or thereabouts (the actress turns 50 next month)
It's unclear why the characters can't be the real ages of the actors --no one on You Go Girl, a high school sitcom, is anywhere close to their teen years though this topic is not really addressed in teh film. Possibly there's a joke in there about the casting of high school movies that got left on the cutting room floor?
10. Clueless, it's not. Heckerling's great 1995 comedy has Jane Austen for its skeleton. Here, without a masterful blueprint, the plotting leaves much to be desired. There's a lame subplot involving Rosie's vindictive personal assistant who is attempting to sabotage her relationships with Adam by setting him up with Brianna. If it falls flat as "conflict" goes, it still affords us a mini Clueless reunion between Dash and Rudd.
The other Clueless alum in the movie is Wallace Shawn who makes a brief appearance as Izzy's angry teacher that Rosie has to meet with. His scene is the type I always hate: Some poor schmuck is set up to be 100% insensitive even though, if played differently, one could imagine the character being well meaning. Think of that audience baiting scene in Juno where the step mom tells off the ultrasound technician. It's just there to reinforce your love of the main characters and the poor supporting actor is basically playing "target". Cheap 'them against us' audience manipulation to make sure you're attached to the principals.
11. Beauty and Her Geek. Charisma is key and Paul Rudd and Michelle Pfeiffer both got it by the gallon. Their chemistry and star power makes this watchable but, listen, they're only human. They can't make it work. In fact, though Rudd hasn't misplaced his charisma he misjudges this performance on more than one occasion opting for vaudeville hamminess at every opportunity. I haven't seen so much mugging since the last time I saw a Martin Lawrence movie trailer. Rudd is playing a ham actor, surely, but it's still a problem. The gay minstrel asides from Rudd, complete with lisp and limp wrists were a particular thorn in the side. Nevertheless, I did love watching Michelle watch him. She's always been expert at selling romance. Martin Scorsese once called her 'our greatest romantic actress' and she never hurts for chemistry with male leads. Even when she’s not doing great work, she connects, especially romantically.
Her best scene is one in which she reconsiders their May/
12. I know too much about Michelle Pfeiffer. I’m watching her grill her daughter on the numerical value of Pi and I’m like 'Don’t act like you know it all Miss Thing. You were a checkout girl and you never went to college!' And when I watch her movies everything reminds me of something else. At one point she runs out of her car to break up a fight between two school children and my mind suddenly raced to Dangerous Minds again... which isn't paradisical no matter what Coolio says.
And then there's the 'getting ready for the date' montage. You've seen it in 12,000 movies but this one doesn't begin to measure up to that scene in One Fine Day when she gets dolled up for George Clooney in the mirror (who has fallen asleep on the coach) remember that? Roowwrrr.
13. I'd watch it a third time. Even bad Pfeiffer is good Pfeiffer. It's the pfirst law of pfandom. Though I liked I Could Never Be Your Woman's one truly dramatic scene the best the co-stars seem to be having a good time together and the chemistry and physical humor is especially strong on their first date as they hit the town. She's all nerves and 'what am I doing?' dazed and he is eager to please and wired to perform.
14. A sitcom without the laugh track. Before the climax of the movie, in which ---no, the plot is too boring to reveal --there's a scene where the happy cast and crew gather to watch You Go Girl. It's entirely painful because the show is not funny and they are all laughing hysterically. This movie probably needed a track to spur our own giggles on. Adam is essentially playing Urkel. If you think Urkel is funny, maybe you'll love this movie. Earlier in the film Brianna tells Rosie
I think Adam’s broad humor cheapens your wonderful writingShe has a point. Well... except for the wonderful writing part. After this group scene there's a seduction scene that's a little gross and juvenile. That's purposeful but it also plays as clumsily as Adam's unbuttoning of Pfeiffer's shirt. Instantly there's a montage to speed up the lovemaking (the movie, like Adam, can rarely sit still and just be) and as the lovers jump on the bed the song playing is what else "What's My Age Again?" Another moment that's so on-the-nose that you want to smack it across the face rather than pinch its cheeks.
The problem is not the age of the co-stars or the age of the fictional lovers. It's the age of the script. It's at once juvenile and ancient, like a rough draft that fell into a drawer and emerged years later, without so much as a polish, all covered in dust.
I Could Never Be Your Woman: D+ Michelle Pfeiffer: C