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,
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
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