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Torch Songs in Sultry Keys for Women

. "Anything But Love" (aka, "Standard Time")

It takes courage to make a film in 2002 (released in 2003) that's a 1940's Cinderella story driven by a search for a singing career. It's not tongue-in-cheek, it's not satire, it's barely an homage, though that's what the producer is trying to sell it as. Why that doesn't fly is that in taking itself so completely seriously it expresses the full extent of the filmmakers' ardent vision. They made it because they cherish the music and styles of the 50's, end of story, thank you.

Its concept and execution are nothing if not earnest. As writers, Robert Cary and Isabel Rose have put together a "Legally Blonde" dilemma in having to choose between the rich guy or the poor, dedicated, artistic type, combined with an effort toward Steve Martin's 1981 homage to the era, "Pennies From Heaven" to give it some sanction and credibility. But the talent and budget level doesn't admit it into that league.

Still, there might be some applause for the effort. After writing the undemanding, unchallenging script, Robert Cary took over the directing helm with Isabel Rose assaying the lead role in a career jump from a minor part in 1994's Forrest Gump, her sole previous credit. Owing to her genuine love of the musical form she's highlighting and to her flame-tressed beauty, we should be appreciative for this reemergence. Career development is a hazardous thing and keeping this lady away from it would be a criminal offense.

Billie Golden (Isabel Rose) is trying to emerge from a regular singing gig at mom's admirer Sal's (Victor Argo) struggling club that caters to a senior citizen clientele. Her eyes are for plush nightclubs where her specialty of old standards are not exactly prime cuts anymore. When she goes up for an audition, the pianist hired to accompany the singers sandbags Billie with some uninspired backing, making her look and sound way off the charts, downwardly.

Not to worry, though, because this is the setup for a cute meet that coincidentally develops into struggling pianist/artist/talented poor person Elliot Shepard (Andrew McCarthy) first becoming her piano teacher, then her... well, I should try not to spoil this.

Ah, but then, she has taken up with old flame Greg Ellenbogen (Cameron Bancroft), a corporate lawyer from the right side of the country club as knight in shining armor/rescuer from poverty. Trouble is, he has no taste for her music or understanding of her tawdry desire for a career. Once they're married, she can sing for their children and dinner guests. Guess how this is going to go.

In what may be the most predictable movie of the decade, we are treated to the song standards of the 40's that drives this little good-natured movie with, perhaps three times too many reiterations of the title song. Besides the unabashed Rose glamour and McCarthy marquee value, there is a cameo for Eartha Kitt, singing and coming up with the meaningful advice that will resonate with Billie at a crucial time.

Ilana Levine adds nice sidekick soundboard values as girlfriend Marcy; Cameron Bancroft's acting is the worst casualty of inexperienced direction and editing; Alix Korey's mom holds up against script shortcutting and is spookily reminiscent of Carol Burnett but without the comedic supplement. Andrew McCarthy searches for a character and comes up with one.

The production values are primitive, the story unchallenging and derivative, the cast generally on the awkward side and, yet, there's some reason that it did well in eight festivals from 2002 onward. That reason is Isabel Rose and her impassioned presentations.

Who cares if it doesn't grab you by the imagination or swirl you in computer graphics? Must we be so demanding? Don't give this romance the brush-off.

                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Comments from readers:
Well written
I saw the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 8

I mainly watched the movie because of Andrew McCarthy - ANYTHING he is in is normally worth watching! Isabel Rose did a fine job of playing the lead role. Some of the scenes were definitely cheesy, but for the most part it was an enjoyable movie.

                                                              ~~ Tracy

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