The Films of Garry Marshall
Young Doctors in Love
The Flamingo Kid
Nothing in Common
Beaches (April 24/05)
It seems fairly clear that one's ability to enjoy Beaches depends almost entirely on whether or not one can actually relate to the story, which revolves around the lifelong friendship between CC (Bette Midler) and Hillary (Barbara Hershey). The film is packed with predictable plot points and melodramatic performances, something that the average viewer will have a hard time overlooking. However, as a so-called "chick flick," there's no denying that the film works; it's well made and features an effectively tear-jerking conclusion, and it seems obvious that certain audiences will get a whole lot more out of it than others. The movie's been directed by Garry Marshall, who imbues the film with an expected lack of style and an unmistakable feeling of overlength. In terms of the latter, the movie goes on for at least a half hour too long and generally comes off like a rough cut (a problem that's exacerbated by Marshall's tendency to insert pauses after jokes and one-liners). Beaches is based on a novel by Iris Rainer Dart, and though I've not read it, it seems fairly clear that screenwriter Mary Agnes Donoghue has kept the majority of Dart's story intact. Because of this emphasis on the events in CC and Hillary's lives, periphery characters (including their husbands) are left sorely under-developed. This leaves most of the responsibility for the film's effectiveness on the shoulders of Midler and Hershey, though Midler does seem to receive the most screen time (this is in addition to the many songs by Midler on the film's soundtrack). Hershey, sporting a distracting pair of collagen-enhanced lips, gives a subtle, low-key performance that's surprisingly impressive - though the actress is often overshadowed by Midler's broad, larger-than-life persona. Having said that, Midler does a nice job of turning CC into more than just a blowhard, infusing the character with a certain amount of vulnerability and indecisiveness. Beaches just may be the ultimate "chick flick," and on that level, it undoubtedly works. Unfortunately, though, the film's just not that good - though it seems likely that viewers who are able to relate to CC and Hillary's friendship will find themselves able to overlook the movie's various flaws.
Frankie and Johnny
Exit to Eden
The Other Sister
The Princess Diaries (July 30/04)
It's not hard to figure out why The Princess Diaries was such a big hit. The film's premise - a gawky teenager discovers she's actually the Princess of a small country - represents the ultimate in wish fulfillment for young girls, and star Anne Hathaway undeniably makes for an engaging and charismatic heroine. But the film's overlong running time, combined with an abundance of unnecessary subplots, prevents The Princess Diaries from becoming anything more than a mildly entertaining showcase for Hathaway's obvious talent. The Princess Diaries has been directed by Garry Marshall, who's covered this sort of terrain before with Pretty Woman. The two films feature a crass heroine being transformed into a dignified and stylish woman, while Hector Elizondo is prominently featured in both as a sympathetic father figure. Marshall's predilection for the obvious is particularly noticeable this time around, exacerbated by a ridiculously inflated running time. All the clichés that one expects out of a story like this are here - gee, wonder if Hathaway's character will conquer that fear of public speaking? - but because the movie goes on much longer than it has any right to, it becomes exceedingly difficult to overlook the film's many trite moments. Yet there's an easy-going charm to The Princess Diaries that effectively makes it far less of an ordeal than one might suspect. Screenwriter Gina Wendkos peppers the story with a few surprisingly humorous sequences, while the supporting cast - which includes Heather Matarazzo and Caroline Goodall - tries their best with the material (Mandy Moore seems right at home in the cheese, though). The Princess Diaries could've been worse, I suppose, but the film really doesn't hold much appeal for those outside its target audience.
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (December 16/04)
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement is almost identical to its predecessor in tone and quality - ensuring that fans will have little to complain about. Overlong and excessively mediocre, the film does admittedly feel like a natural extension of the original (which isn't necessarily a good thing, given the quality of that movie). Set three years after the events of The Princess Diaries, the film catches up with Mia (Anne Hathaway) just as she's graduating from college (where she's been taking courses designed to help her be a better Princess). Upon her return to Genovia, Mia learns that her grandmother (played by Julie Andrews) plans to abdicate the throne - leaving Mia first in line to become Queen. There's a hitch, however, in the form of an evil Count (played by John Rhys-Davies) who wishes to see his nephew Nicholas (Chris Pine) become ruler of Genovia. As a result, Mia finds herself forced to marry within 30 days - even though she's not currently dating anyone. The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement has been directed by Garry Marshall, who also helmed the original, and he imbues the movie with the same sort of uneven pacing and bland visual sense that accompanies all of his films. Generally speaking, about the only positive constant in Marshall's productions is the presence of Hector Elizondo - who reprises his role of bodyguard Joe here. Fortunately, the rest of the cast is equally good - with Hathaway a genuinely charismatic actress who clearly deserves better material than this. The storyline doesn't offer a whole lot of surprises, beginning with Mia's initial engagement to a stuffy British chap named Andrew Jacoby (Callum Blue, essentially playing the opposite of his Dead Like Me character). Because Andrew is a slightly dull nice guy, we know that their relationship isn't going to go anywhere. However, that Mia would find herself attracted to the sleazy charms of Nicholas is more of a contrivance than one can easily accept (the character seems to have been modeled after Archie Comics' Reggie). The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement is unapologetically aimed towards young girls, making this review virtually moot. The film is, at least, not completely boring, primarily thanks to some better-than-expected acting by the various performers (ie it could've been worse, much worse).
As befits a film helmed by Garry Marshall, Georgia Rule possesses few surprising plot twists and is generally about as stylish as a movie-of-the-week - and yet, despite a third act that goes on longer than necessary, it's ultimately difficult not to be drawn into the soap opera-ish exploits of the central characters. The story - which follows three generations of sassy women (Jane Fonda's Georgia, Felicity Huffman's Lilly, and Lindsay Lohan's Rachel) as they spend one particular summer revealing secrets and bonding - unfolds at a refreshingly deliberate pace, and there's certainly no denying that most of the film's characters eventually become compelling (albeit thoroughly archetypal) figures. Mark Andrus' screenplay is at turns frustratingly predictable and unexpectedly dark; there is, consequently, a schizophrenic vibe to the proceedings that's impossible to overlook, with the film's glossy atmosphere certainly at odds with some of the more bleak elements within the script (including a whole subplot revolving around the possibility that Lohan's character was molested by her step-father). Still, the three leads are quite effective (Dermot Mulroney, in a small but pivotal role as a local veterinarian, easily dominates his few scenes) and Marshall's bland sensibilities aren't quite as distracting as one might've feared, and there's little doubt that - gauged on its merits as a "chick flick" - Georgia Rule generally works.
Hollywood's answer to Love Actually, Valentine's Day follows more than a dozen characters as they weave in and out of each others' lives over the course of one particularly eventful instance of the eponymous holiday. There's little doubt that Valentine's Day benefits substantially from the cavalcade of stars assembled by director Garry Marshall, as the film's deficiencies - of which there admittedly many - are ultimately easy enough to overlook primarily thanks to the efforts of an impressively charismatic cast that includes Anne Hathaway, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Garner, Taylor Lautner, and Julia Roberts. It's just as clear that the emphasis on so many characters and storylines ensures that the movie suffers from a distinctly uneven sensibility, with the appeal of certain subplots outweighing others by a fairly large margin (ie Jamie Foxx's ongoing exploits as a sports reporter on the hunt for love represents an obvious low point within the proceedings). The stop-and-go momentum that ensues isn't quite as problematic as one might've feared, as the affecting nature of several of the movie's narrative threads proves impossible to resist - with the storyline revolving around Ashton Kutcher's recently-dumped florist providing the film with an unexpected emotional resonance. And while screenwriter Katherine Fugate's reliance on the various conventions of the romcom genre is almost comically blatant - ie one can't help but play a game of spot the cliche (there's the fake break-up, here comes the race to the airport, etc, etc) - Valentine's Day is, in the end, a breezy bit of escapist fare that's as watchable as it is romantic.
New Year's Eve (January 30/12)
A fairly blatant attempt to duplicate the success of Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve explores the title holiday as seen through the eyes of many, many disparate characters - including a scrappy bike messenger (Zac Efron's Paul), a disillusioned hipster (Ashton Kutcher's Randy), a dying photojournalist (Robert De Niro's Stan), and a beleaguered chef (Katherine Heigl's Laura). It goes without saying, obviously, that New Year's Eve generally unfolds as one might've expected, with the lack of originality or innovation ensuring that the various storylines, for the most part, resolve themselves in a decidedly predictable manner - yet, to be fair, scripter Katherine Fugate does toss in a handful of surprises towards the end (eg Stan's unforeseen relationship with one of the central characters). Filmmaker Garry Marshall's head-scratching decision to employ an almost incongruously laid-back pace ultimately does wreak havoc on the movie's momentum, however, and there's little doubt that certain subplots fare a whole lot better than others - with Sarah Jessica Parker's pointless stint as a worried mother looking for her teenage daughter standing as an obvious low point within the proceedings. The rocky atmosphere undoubtedly diminishes New Year's Eve's overall impact, although, by that same token, it's awfully difficult to completely discount the pervasively affable feel that's been hard-wired into the film by Marshall and company - which ultimately cements the movie's place as a perfectly watchable (and consistently hackneyed) feel-good ensemble drama.
Mother's Day (May 20/16)
Garry Marshall's run of somewhat successful holiday-themed films comes to a definitive end with Mother's Day, as the movie, which predictably follows an assortment of characters in the buildup to the title occasion, suffers from a seriously bland and generic atmosphere that's compounded by an almost total lack of interesting subplots. This is despite an opening stretch that admittedly does hold some promise, with Marshall, working from Anya Kochoff, Matthew Walker, and Tom Hines' screenplay, offering up a series of somewhat intriguing figures and scenarios. (Jason Sudeikis as a grieving father of two young girls certainly seems like a can't-miss proposition, while Kate Hudson and Sarah Chalke are convincing as close siblings who are hiding big secrets from their parents.) It's the immediate inclusion of lackluster storylines that slowly-but-surely triggers Mother's Day's downfall, with the best and most potent example of this everything revolving around Jennifer Aniston's almost shockingly shrill soon-to-be-divorced character Sandy. (It really is remarkable just how terrible and annoying Aniston is here.) And although the movie has been sprinkled with a few decent sequences - Sudeikis' Bradley performing a karaoke version of "The Humpty Dance" is an obvious highlight - Mother's Day's growing lack of substance, coupled with an overall atmosphere of bottom-of-the-barrel mediocrity, effectively cements its full-on transformation into a fairly interminable piece of work.