Stars: Juno Temple and Michael Angarano
|This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.|
It starts very well. We're in Laurel Springs, a sort of American everytown, and we're here to follow Alice and John Macy, a young couple who are very much in love but haven't yet found the success they hope and believably expect to find. John sells warranties for TVs over the phone at the Laurel Springs Office Building, as generic a job in as generic a building as you can find in this town. He's a little klutzy but in an enticing way and he's funny to boot. No wonder Alison married him, even though she's a gorgeous young thing who was voted 'most likely to succeed' in high school. She's looking for work after completing her undergraduate degree in Art History, but she's restricted by the tight niche and a lack of experience. And so they're broke, taking it in stride through strength of character but still wondering how they'll cope. Juno Temple and Michael Angarano replace Ben Weber and Traci Dinwiddie from the short film and we're on their side from the outset.
Much of the early charm comes from their performances, which are delightful. Temple is probably still best known for the modern St Trinian's films but she's growing in stature, coming to this film from a role in The Dark Knight Rises and with another upcoming in Sin City: A Dame to Die For, to mention just two of ten films from 2012 and 2013 that are either out or in post production. She's certainly a name to watch and spending half this film in her underwear is not going to hurt any of her prospects. Angorano has been prominent for long enough to have been one of the last three actors in contention for the role of Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace. Luckily for him, he didn't get it. Unluckily he did land the lead role in The Forbidden Kingdom, which meant that we ignored him in favour of Jet Li and Jackie Chan. He also dated Kristen Stewart for five years, which only makes him enviable in circles that don't count. He has done good work too, as he does here.
This is a great setup for a movie. No wonder Mosley chose to expand it from her short film for her debut feature. There are so many potential avenues to explore, some obvious, some a little more obscure but even more satisfying, and for a while that's exactly what Tim Macy's script promises. He has John do the honest thing and take it back, only to discover that the antiques store is gone, but then Macy gets truly inspired and has him take it onto The Antiques Roadshow so viewers all over the world see it on television. That means that once Alice and John have progressed through a set of innovative, not to mention painful, ways to prompt the teapot into lucrative action, from a Brazilian waxing treatment to a spanking session, we have other characters thrown into the mix. The humour is lively if not particularly edgy, until a pair of Hasidic Jews break in to get mediaeval on their asses. Then it finds that quirkiness I was so hoping for.
Unfortunately this is also where it starts to fall apart through clumsy writing. It becomes clichéd, convenient and inevitable. Of course they need to do research, but they do it within a mess of a scene that is nonsensical, sloppy and overly convenient. Of course they start spending their new found wealth but there's no attempt at either realism or believable fantasy, beyond John wanting his very own vodka label. It's overplayed and disappointing, losing sight of why the early scenes worked so well by giving us less of the characters we want to watch and more of those we don't. The only saving grace is that Mosley must have landed some sort of lucrative sponsorship deal with an underwear company because the leads spend so much time in a partial state of undress. Juno Temple is rather pleasing to the eye, so I'm not going to complain. I'd assume that Michael Angarano fits that bill too, so the women in the audience aren't going to complain either.
I'm probably sounding more negative than I intended to be, but if there's anything worse than a bad movie, it's a good movie that turns into a bad movie. This one was a great movie that turned into a bad movie and that's an intensely annoying change to sit through. By the time we find our way somehow to the final act, the sloppy writing has become so prevalent that it bashes us over the head with its sloppiness. While I knew where the story arcs of certain characters had to go, it still felt unfulfilling and not because of anything in the way they were played. It felt like Macy was just having so much fun writing the script that he lost track of how long it had become and found that he had to wrap it up quickly. It's the same problem that George Lucas had with the prequels to Star Wars: by the time he got to the end, he realised he'd forgotten to set up a transition to the originals, so shoehorned something in. The difference is that they sucked from moment one.
There are some moments even in later scenes that sparkle with humour. I even liked the Lord of the Rings nod that played all the better for not being explained. Both Temple and Angarano play these scenes as well as is possible, somehow remaining sympathetic and engaging characters even as their stories floundered. Even as the script falls apart, there are still viable new potential directions that leap out of it asking us to pick them, but Macy handles them with an acute case of ADHD and jumps from blue fish to blue fish, so none of them satisfy for more than brief moments. Worst of all, the endings aren't surprising. They do make sense and they tie up the plot strands pretty well, but it's clear that Macy's Hollywood resistance was too weak and that's really the big problem throughout. This leaves the gate like an indie film, a great one with everything going for it, but it makes it home as a Hollywood movie, and that's the worst thing that could happen.