Sometimes movies go straight to DVD and you can kind of guess why (sidenote: thank you, Molly, for watching Blonde Ambition so I don't have to!). But then there are those sweet-looking films with some big names — Alec Baldwin, Michelle Pfeiffer, Paul Rudd, Sarah Michelle Prinze — that pique my curiosity. What could be so bad about movies like Suburban Girl and I Could Never Be Your Woman that they went straight to DVD? Well, in honor of Valentine's Day, I popped in these straight-to-DVD romances to find out just that.
"Neophyte editor Brett Eisenberg (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is paying her dues in New York's publishing world when she attracts Archie Knox (Alec Baldwin), an aging industry luminary. Soon, their romance is complicated by real-life pressures, including Archie's alcoholism and Brett's dying father."
Some of you may recall The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing, a collection of short stories by Melissa Bank that became a huge hit in 1999, and Suburban Girl is based on two of the stories in that book. They did well to maintain most of the protagonist's character (now named Brett): her wise-beyond-her-years maturity, her immense (and proud) knowledge of literature. If nothing else, it's refreshing to see a main female character in a romantic comedy (I guess this is a comedy?) who is not a bumbling fool. She's like a heroine for any bookish girl who loves Dante and leather pants all at the same time. She's not altogether humorless, either — my writer's heart melted upon hearing Brett gush, "Don't you just love alliteration?"
To find out "The Bad" and my take on the other romantic DVD, read more
With the exception of endearing quips like those, the dialogue is shockingly bad. For this alone, I can see why Suburban Girl was not theatrically released. Some people have also criticized the relationship between Brett and Archie, claiming Sarah Michele Gellar and Alec Baldwin have zero chemistry, though I don't share this opinion. Their relationship is supposed to feel awkward at times, seeing as Archie is nearly the same age as Brett's dad. Sure, there are moments when their interactions feel forced, and they beat the whole "stop treating me like your daughter!" thing over our heads ad nauseum. But I was more or less okay with it.
I completely understand why this film went straight to DVD but it's not without its charms, and I fervently hope to see characters like Brett on the big screen someday. Also, the movie's soundtrack could make those of similarly billed "chick flicks" weep with shame. It's cute enough if you're a huge fan of these actors.
I Could Never Be Your Woman
"Just as Rosie (Pfeiffer) strikes up a romance with a handsome younger man (Paul Rudd), her daughter Izzie (Saorise Ronan) falls in love for the first time — and Mother Nature (Tracey Ullman) can't resist the temptation to meddle."
Pfeiffer and Rudd are surprisingly cute together — to the point where I deeply wished the movie were solely about their relationship. Instead, there are a dozen different things smushed into this one film, and it all gets muddled and (especially in the scenes featuring an ethereal-looking Tracey Ullman as "Mother Nature") super weird. There are vague strains of female empowerment and some commentary on the culture of plastic surgery and degradation of women's bodies in Hollywood, but it all gets diluted amidst the rest of the storylines. Still, on some level, I appreciate the attempt to shed light on a culture in which little girls make their Barbies ridicule each others' bodies.
There's a romantic story involving Pfeiffer's character as The Hot Older Woman (at 40) and Rudd's character as The Funny Younger Man (at 29). But then there's the daughter's coming-of-age stuff and her own shrieky problems with boys at school. And there's Rosie's career troubles and her struggles with self-image within Hollywood. Finally, topping off this messy pile is the smart-mouthed Mother Nature who comes around to criticize Rosie's every move. It's just perplexing, and while there are some funny lines — and Rudd is as adorable as you've ever seen him — it's not actually a fun movie.
The actors are great, but they can't save this overloaded, bizarre and not especially pleasurable story.