by Tony Medley
I was not a huge fan of the
‘60s TV series. I saw it a few times and it was cute, but hardly
compelling. Couple that fact with my opinion of Will Farrell off his last
few movies, the horrible “Anchorman” (2004) and “Kicking and Screaming”
(2005), and I was not going into this with great anticipation.
So I was pleasantly surprised
when writer-director-producer Nora Ephron came up with an idea that
worked. That is, to tell the story not by updating it, but by having a TV
show inside a movie. She has Jack Wyatt (Farrell) and Isabel (Nicole
Kidman) trying to resurrect the old TV show inside the movie.
Like the old show, Isabel is a
witch who wants to go straight, against the advice of her father, Nigel
Bigelow (Michael Caine). Wyatt is a much-disliked star who is trying to
take advantage of his star value and is insufferably egotistical. He meets
Isabel in a market while looking for someone to play the fictional Isabel
in the TV show and sees her wriggle her nose.
Farrell found someone who can
bring out the best in him, and that someone is Ephron. She’s written a
role he can handle (mostly) and has directed him astutely. Kidman can
apparently do anything on screen now and she is as good as she always is.
The weakest part of the film is
Jason Schwartzman as Jack’s manager, Richie. The production notes describe
him as an “unctuous manager.” Alas, the role is so poorly written and
directed that Richie adds nothing to the film. With better talent and a
better script, Richie’s role could have been a hilarious takeoff on the
Hollywood manager. Unfortunately, Richie falls flat.
Shirley MacLaine, as Iris, who
plays Endora, Isabel’s TV mom, is another disappointment. She is
appropriately overdressed, but let down by the script. It’s odd that
Ephron, the author of the classic “When Harry Met Sally” (1989), fails so
dismally with Richie and Iris. MacLaine is not in many scenes, so a lot of
what she did might be on the cutting room floor.
The movie moves along and is
cute and funny and appealing for about 75 minutes of its 98 minute running
time. Then it comes to a crashing halt when Ephron switches from a comedy
to a love story. The last 20 minutes or so are so excruciating I can’t
honestly say I didn’t fall asleep. There’s one scene of Jack and Isabel
dancing that is so bad it epitomizes why people should not produce and
direct their own films. Producer Ephron didn’t have the courage to tell
director Ephron that the scene doesn’t work.
The film just completely falls
apart, mainly because the last 20 minutes are poorly written, poorly
directed, and being a romantic lead is beyond Farrell’s capabilities. My
advice? Go see it but at about the 75 minute mark, or when you see it
going from comedy to a love story, split.
June 16, 2005