Debra Messing does her best work supported by an understated Dermot Mulroney
There was a time that a 32 Metascore (via Metacritic) would have had me dismiss a film outright. Thankfully, I do know how to deal with viewer (or critic) consensus: to be happy if it is ‘for’ the film that I appreciate but not to question my personhood if it isn’t. As I know that I fall into the niche category (being a fan of subtle humour) but at the same time fall into the masses (since I like family friendly films). Without going through my humour blueprint, I’ve learned that I am within a ‘niche of a niche’. This just means that unless the recommendation comes from someone who has been successful in recommending films specifically for me in the past, there is probably a small chance that it would be a match for me.
Since its unavoidable that viewers compare films (or are reminded of one while considering viewing another), and somehow I think of ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ as a comparison to this. Not because of the storyline, but because it both has Dermot Mulroney in it. I’m even surprised that there is even a comparison, as I feel like they are two different films. The one with Julianne Potter as a protagonist leans more towards cringe humour while this one is more similar to the 2018 buddy comedy ‘Green Book’. As Peter Farrelly mentions during a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) event, the comedy comes out when performers run free with their characters. This means that it’s more organic and comes across as more genuine.
If I were to give a half-hearted pitch about the story, I’d probably go with: A gender swapped ‘Pretty Woman’. Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) is replaced with Nick Mercer (Dermot Mulroney) and Kat Ellis (Debra Messing) steps in for Edward Lewis (Richard Gere). But that’s not quite right, because there are also other things that have been swapped. One is Kat’s net worth isn’t close to Edward’s and at one point she reacts to the amount Nick charges for add-ons and compares it to a down payment for a Ford Focus.
When I come across a title (film or TV show) that doesn’t win over the masses, I wonder which ‘niche’ side of my tastes this touches on. For example, this film is superbly cast and that also means Debra Messing (and in here I believe she is able to stretch her acting muscles the most). Somehow I have a feeling that those who flocked the cinema (or put in their view on IMDB) are ones who enjoyed every episode that Grace Adler appeared in ‘Will & Grace’. It makes sense that they would turn up their noses to this one as it is definitely different.
Their loss is my gain though, because that means, that it’s likely filled with subtle humour and immensely layered character development. I know I make it sound like I’m comparing SNL with ‘Green Book’, and if it’s about character development this film definitely has more. Compared to a scene in an episode of ‘Will & Grace’ where in seems like they’re trying to cram as many jokes as possible rather than just let the comedy come out based on character interactions. There’s also the fact that characters who have big failures are those who also have a side of them that is admirable. The person that comes to mind is Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) from ‘The Good Wife’. Peter is a good dad as well as excellent in his role as a public servant. Where it all falls apart is his commitment to be monogamous and that failure seeps in to the good parts of his life.
Roger Ebert also shares a similar view that this isn’t a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy, which is why I think this film still is able to hold up fifteen years later. I haven’t been watching any titles from the Hallmark Channel lately, but I would guess that this is the sort of film that the brand aspires each title to embody: laughter, love, and the warm fuzzies. The struggle with films that aren’t able to quite reach that level is found when it attempts any exposition, one great example is when Kat tells a stranger where her anxiety is coming from. Those two sentences set the premise of the bulk of the film (and the assumption that she left out mentioning that she is shelling out for an escort is just confirmation that it’s not something she is proud of).
Because I look at films as a whole (once I make it to the end), when deciding on its rating, I am quite forgiving that I’m not getting belly laughs during rewatches. I think it’s more of being appreciative of the story that Dana Fox put together and Clare Kilner executed. On the surface it isn’t believable that Nick would fall for Kat. But he does, and during a rewatch I noticed that it was right when she interrupts Nick’s conversation with Jeffrey. Kat doesn’t notice it, but we do. Another is that moment when Kat challenges Nick to show her his ‘moves’, which is reminiscent (wait, what’s the opposite of that?) of how ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ dealt with bringing Hannah (Emma Stone) and Jacob (Ryan Gosling) together. Both Kat and Hannah were interested in learning about Nick and Jacob, and what happens when your starved from something (connection) that is essentially what makes us human? You imprint on whoever the source is.
If you can avoid watching this with ads, please do! I was fortunate that my first viewing was on DVD and when I caught it on the telly, there was a specific scene that needed that ad-free treatment: Kat wondering aloud that Jeffrey seems to be mature now and immediately after the editor (Mary Finlay) cuts to Jeffrey uttering a line that proves that he is the opposite of that. I think if I were to put together two scenes to help sell the film (either for syndication or to help a viewer decide if it would be a fit for her) it would be those two.
My favourite part of the film doesn’t have to do with a joke, and more of a serious subject: the dangers of alcohol consumption. When Malcolm Gladwell had a chat with Oprah Winfrey about his book ‘Talking to Strangers’ he touched on Myopia Theory stating that the person who is under the influence is bound to do something he regrets. This is exactly what happens to Kat at one point (though she probably learns about it long after the end credits roll). We know that its not something Kat would do as she states earlier that she isn’t okay with that kind of a business exchange.
The MVP for me in terms of casting is Peter Egan who plays Kat’s Dad (Victor Ellis). He seemed to have that kind of effortless screen presence. It wouldn’t be fair if I also don’t give a nod to Jeremy Sheffield (who I spotted during a rewatch of ‘Last Chance Harvey’ as Matt), Jack Davenport (as the smitten groom), and Sarah Parish (TJ, the protective cousin). I hadn’t not noticed a single weak link. Even the guy in the pub who assisted in helping Kat pick out her dress (probably indirectly) was memorable.
Kat eventually going for the red dress that the guy from the pub fancied (did she overhear what he said?)
Victor being cheeky as he waits for Kat to emerge from his boat to greet her
TJ not caring that she doesn’t have a partner during the dance rehearsal
All the literal running and chasing
When I read about the insinuation that Debra Messing was cashing in because (at that time) ‘Will & Grace’ was no longer in the air (and that Dana’s script is sub-par), I was surprised. Because clearly this is a different kind of character. I sort of agree that there are aspects of Debra’s comedic toolbox that Dana wasn’t able to use. The only way to know for sure is if we are able to read each other’s thoughts. Since we’re not at that point yet (thankfully), I’m going to trust that the amount that changed hands was just a bonus because it was an opportunity to play an interesting character who is surrounded by strong performers.
Maybe this is just an inside joke for me, but I realised that this is another film when Amy Adams plays a character with the same first name. I’m tempted to make a generalisation (that a sign that I’d like a film is when Amy plays her namesake), but will not as I know there are at least two examples that break that mould: ‘Enchanted’ and ‘Arrival’. I’ll probably have to listen to the commentary again to see if there was any mention of deciding to use ‘Amy’.
If you’ve scrolled through my Tumblr feed and are convinced that you’d enjoy the titles I mention, then I think you might consider giving this one a good 10 minutes. Maybe even match it when you’re enjoying a cup of tea, as I do when I’m not sure at which point a film sits on my viewing scale. Usually if I find myself ignoring my meal then it’s likely that it probably had passed the 6 or more level.
Isn’t there some sort of a saying where you should listen to the group that has least to gain when commenting about a subject? Well…for this film, it is the extremely conservative viewer. Surprisingly even after tons of stone throwing (yes, it gets very judge-y), the publication gives it three out of four stars. Does that mean that the quality of the film made the viewer (who is anonymous) look at it without the weight of societal expectations? So, in a sense, this is should be reserved only for those who have their arms open wide (or at the least 30%).
One thing I’ve discovered while looking for what others have written about the film is a site called ‘MRQE’. At first I was wondering if it was a reference to its founder (Mr. Q. E.), but apparently it actually stands for Movie Review Query Engine. Somehow it’s more appealing to me (it’s probably how the list of reviews are presented simplistically) than what Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic have provided. So armed with those reviews and your ‘gut feel’. What’s the next play, boss?