This week’s release of “Ramona and Beezus” made me think of the movie where I first noticed two of its stars, Josh Duhamel and Ginnifer Goodwin:
This cute romantic comedy is better than it needs to be, thanks to the talents of three up-and-coming stars, impeccable comic timing from the supporting actors, and a director (Robert Luketic of Legally Blonde) who knows how to make it all as shiny as a new copper penny.
The set-up is taken from Cinderella, with the part of the fairy godmother played by the internet.
Kate Bosworth plays Rosalee Futch, a sunny check-out girl at a Piggly Wiggly grocery store in a small West Virginia town. Her best friends are Cathy (the terrific Gennifer Goodwin of Mona Lisa Smile) and Pete (Topher Grace of “That Seventies Show”).
Rosalee wins an online charity contest for a date with movie superstar Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel). She is whisked away to Hollywood for a stay in a luxury hotel and a glamorous evening with the man of her dreams, or at least the man who plays the man of her dreams.
Tad is better at playing an all-American boy next door than being one. As his agent (or is it his manager — they’re both named Richard Levy) says of one tabloid photo: “Congratulations! You’re actually drinking, driving, smoking, leering, and groping at the same time!” They set up the charity contest in order to create a more wholesome image for Tad.
Tad is charmed by Rosalee’s unpretentious goodness, and he follows her back to West Virginia, interfering with Pete’s plans to declare his feelings for Rosalee.
It is impossible to believe that Pete and Rosalee could have existed for five minutes in the same town without its being clear to both of them and everyone in the county how they felt about each other. But this is a fairy tale, with Rosalee the kind of girl who is so innocent that she not only wears her retainer on her big date; she takes it out at the table when it is time to eat. And Bosworth and Grace almost make us believe that they are simply just too adorable to figure out that they should probably be dating. Pete has a tiny bit of ironic self-awareness (he threatens to tear Tad apart with his bare hands “…or with vicious rhetoric!”) that keeps things from getting too sugary. And Duhamel is simply terrific as Tad. He has all of the confidence, charisma, and screen power to make us believe that Tad is a movie star. But he also manages to show us Tad’s uncertainty, insecurity, and dim sense that Rosalee does have something worth wanting. The tough part is making that work in a romantic comedy without making it too broad or too deep. We want to care about Tad, but not too much. Duhamel gets it exactly right.
Nathan Lane and Sean Hayes as the two Richard Levys and Gary Cole as Rosalee’s starstruck dad (watch his t-shirts) lend additional snap to the story. Kathryn Hahn contributes a lovely performance as a bartender who is smitten with Pete and Ginnifer Goodwin is adorable as the best friend. It may be romantic fluff, but it is brightly done and all-but-irresistibly cute.
Parents should know that the movie includes some strong language, drinking and smoking (scenes in a bar, character drinks to drown his sorrows), drug humor, brief barf and toilet humor, and sexual references and situations. But the movie has a positive message about sexual values, as Rosalie’s decision not to have sex with Tad is an important part of his developing respect for her and wanting to get to know her better.
Families who see this movie should talk about the ways we think about celebrities. Why was it so easy for Rosalie and Cathy to think that they knew what Tad was like? What is Tad really like? Did some of Rosalie’s goodness “rub off” on him? What will be different for him? Why was it so hard for Pete to tell Rosalie how he felt?
Families who enjoy this movie should see the classic musical Bye Bye Birdie about the havoc brought to a small town when a rock star arrives to get “one last kiss” from a randomly chosen fan (played by Ann-Margret). Mature audiences will also David Mamet’s trenchantly funny State and Main about a movie company’s effect on a small New England town.
I love movies, but they don’t come close to books as a cure for boredom. Reading Rockets has a list of guaranteed boredom-banishers for elementary school kids. Best of all — many of them explain how to do cool projects, from making green eggs and ham to creating pop-up books, leading to even more hours of boredom-free activity.
And the same goes for you, grown-ups!
For those who have seen “Inception” and want to hear some other people think it through, listen in to this discussion with Matt Atchity (Editor-In-Chief, Rottentomatoes.com) and Christy Lemire (AP).
And if you want more — check out the Daily Beast’s list of mind-bending movies and Salon’s list of the best onscreen dreams.
One of the most inspiring films of the year is A Small Act. It is a documentary about Chris Mburu, a human rights advocate for the United Nations, whose life was transformed when a Swedish woman he never met decided to send $15 a month so that he could go to school.
Mburu is from Kenya. Hilda Back, now 85, survived the Holocaust but lost her family. She worked as a schoolteacher and never married. She hoped that the $15 a month she sent, her “small act,” would make a difference in the life of a child by making it possible for him to get an education. Mburu was so successful in school that he graduated from Harvard Law School and now spends his life fighting genocide and injustice.
In this film, Mburu, who has already set up a scholarship fund in Ms. Back’s name, meets her for the first time. She comes to his village, sees where he is from, celebrates with his people. And three students compete for a chance like the one Back gave Mburu. What small acts will they benefit from? What small acts will they make possible? What will you?