A delicious retro romp about a failed nanny who finds her true calling when she transforms the life of a flighty singer, this film is designed around two fabulously entertaining stars, Frances McDormand and Amy Adams.
McDormand is Miss Pettigrew, who begins her day fired from her umpteenth nanny position and with absolutely no prospects. When the placement agency refuses to send her on another interview (“She found you rather difficult and that is, I am afraid, a recurring theme”), Miss Pettigrew steals the address of a prospective employer and shows up to find herself immediately in the midst of complete chaos. Delysia (as in Delicious) Lafosse (Amy Adams) is a singer who is currently involved with three different men. One of them is asleep in her bed, and another is on his way over. Miss Pettigrew’s calm demeanor, resourcefulness, and ability to think fast in a crisis make her immediately indispensable to Delysia, who rewards her with a makeover.
A romantic comedy needs to get us on the side of its couple as individuals and on the side of romance. This one fails by giving us characters so crude and unlikeable that even the star wattage of Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher cannot make us care. Most of the movie centers on their attempts to torture each other during a six-month court-ordered period of living together and marital counseling (from Queen Latifah, whose no-nonsense diagnosis of what is wrong should have been applied to the screenplay). The audience may feel that they are being tortured as Joy (Diaz) and Jack (Kutcher) battle over sweaty socks and whether the toilet seat is left up.
Joy is humiliatingly dumped by her fiancee (SNL’s Jason Sudeikis) in front of all of their friends. Jack is fired by his father (Treat Williams) for not taking the job seriously. They meet when they both take off for Vegas to get away from their disasters. So, of course, they create an even bigger one. They get completely drunk and wake up the next morning married. They quickly agree to an annulment until they win a $3 million jackpot. A judge (Dennis Miller) orders them to live together (“I sentence you to six months hard marriage”) to try to make the marriage work before he will decide how to allocate the money. And so Joy and Jack scheme to get each other to give up, then to give cause for divorce by cheating. And then, just as they begin to appreciate each other, there is time for one more setback.
Screenwriter Dana Fox was also responsible for “The Wedding Date,” which suffered from a similarly ugly premise. Romantic comedies can be sexy, even naughty, but they have to have a charm and buoyancy that is quickly deflated by crude, gross humor. It makes the main characters unlikeable. There is no reason to believe in either their enmity or their growing affection so we never connect to them or care about the outcome. It is supposed to be endearing that this couple gets blind drunk and gets married, that he pees on the dirty dishes in the sink and removes the bathroom door to annoy her, that she shows a cab driver one breast (she negotiates him down from two) to get a free ride. It is not. It is supposed to make sense that Jack’s vulgar jokes endear him to the executives at Joy’s company. It does not. We are supposed to see why Joy and Jack begin to care about each other. We don’t. It isn’t funny enough and it isn’t romantic enough. In other words, what should have stayed in Vegas is this movie.
Anyone for a 3-hour tour? If you get on the S.S. Minnow and the other passengers are a movie star, a professor, a millionaire and his wife, not to mention Mary Ann, you might want to check to make sure you’ve packed enough to wear for a long vacation.
Yes, the S.S. Minnow from Gilligan’s Island is being restored and will be available for tours. More than one boat was used on the show, but this is the one in the opening credits.
I have special affection for this boat because it was named after my father, Newton Minow, whose famous speech to the broadcasters calling television a “vast wasteland” annoyed “Gilligan’s Island” creator Sherwood Schwartz. So Schwartz named the sinking boat after him! My dad got a huge kick out of it and later had a very cordial exchange of letters with Schwartz. It is a great point of pride for our family.
Thanks to Zeke for bringing me up to date on this story!
Inspired by “Tropic Thunder,” Keith Demko of Reel Fanatic created a superb list from one of my favorite categories: movies about making movies. On his list: critic-turned-director Francois Truffaut’s bittersweet Day for Night, the trenchant satire Living in Oblivion, the documentary about Terry Gilliam’s failed attempt to make a Don Quixote movie, Lost in La Mancha, Tim Burton’s black and white tribute to the man often named as the worst director ever with Johnny Depp as Ed Wood. Demko also includes some movies about television like the story of the Letterman/Leno battle, The Late Shift.
I’d add to his list a few more great films like the classic Hollywood movie about classic Hollywood, The Bad and the Beautiful, the hilarious saga of a Revolutionary War movie taking over a small college town, Sweet Liberty, David Mamet’s witty satire State and Main, and of course the all-time favorite about the beginning of the sound era, Singin’ in the Rain. Here Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor turn an elocution lesson into a dance number: