Jillian Bell displays her talent for playing an earnest wand-wielding apprentice on the road to being a ‘proper’ godmother.
Despite being dubious that this would actually be something for me (live action Disney titles don’t have the best track record in making it in my recommended viewing list), I went with the belief that Jillian Bell accepted the job because she was genuinely interested in the role. I know this title was specifically made for the Disney+ streaming platform, and despite unavailable figures relating to cast salary, I am leaning towards the possibility that payment wasn’t skimped on all who were involved in making the film. Kind of like I’m trusting that Anna Kendrick’s choice to do snack ads is that she gets to to make the kind of commercials that she’d enjoy watching.
The Setup: Eleanor (Jillian Bell) is a fairy godmother going through her training. Head teacher (and seems like all teaching falls to her) Moira (Jane Curtin), has lost the will to train anyone else as nothing is sustaining the profession (people in the real world do not believe in happily every after) and eventually they would have to shift to being tooth fairies. We get an initial idea of how neglected this world is with the lighting that Christopher Norr choses. It seems like pollution from burning fossil fuels, but since no one needs vehicles to get from one point to another (thanks to portals or being able to fly), we realise that it’s actually dirt. Dirt that probably came from storage and disused halls.
The Inciting Incident: Eleanor finds out that the lack of assignments would end her dream of becoming a fairy godmother. After finding that one (hey, it’s a Disney flick!) assignment from 10-year-old Mackenzie and getting the map to a portal (is it just possibly one…or more?) to earth from roommate Agnes (June Squibb), she find out that significant time has passed since the letter was written when she meets the more cynical adult version (Isla Fisher). This much older Mackenzie is not interested in taking risks in her job as she has kids to support. It could have to do with getting her heart unexpectedly broken (I will leave you to discover how it happens and you can let me know if you think its one of the worst ways a relationship could end).
If you enjoyed last year’s ‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’, it’s likely you’ll see the core personality traits that Jillian embodied playing Brittany. Yes, the earnestness was swimming with a lot of cynicism and here it is on display without shame by the godmother-in-training. I think the role tests her capability as an actor as Amy Adams playing wide eyed Giselle. The challenge with playing characters who believe in the good of every living being is that they usually come across as caricatures. Fortunately that isn’t the case as Jillian finds the right notes to convey depth as well as elevate the dialogue handed to her by Kari Granlund and Melissa Stack.
- Could Siri be considered a ‘genie’?
- The ‘ball gowns’ of sleeping bags
- EpiPen (aka Epinephrine autoinjector) vs Magic Wand
- Sharks survive on an ‘all seafood diet‘
- Eyepatch does sound a lot like iPad
- Technically pigs are woodland creatures
I think the point when the film got my full attention was when she was woken up by a truck driver, Beth, and given a ride to where Mackenzie works. This is a testament to casting as Olga Merediz also manages to lift up her role. The downside of a live action film is it isn’t able to go through the process similar to what Pixar goes through with all of their films (redo scenes after multiple test screenings) so it is more likely that writers would be able to find the best version of the story. What could be done is applying that same process to screenplay development. Of course that isn’t true because there are films that struggle to reach the benchmark that the writing has set.
Others have wished that exploration into what the Motherland is like and I’m guessing that wouldn’t really fare well with me. I don’t think I remember ever being mesmerised by magic, which is why the two biggest franchises (‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘Harry Potter’) struggled to make a lasting impression on me. As I started to go through the films I’ve viewed, I was convinced that none really have it as part of the storyline. Of course I was wrong, because as with anything, it is possible to find that right blend that would make me consider not just making it to the end, but also rewatching the film. What came to mind was ‘Arthur Christmas’ and ‘Rise of the Guardians’ as I’ve seen them recently on the TV guide. Could it be a coincidence that they both have Christmas themes?
Unfortunately, the third act suffers from too much cheesiness. While tolerable, it was odd that the levity during the first two acts were all but gone. It is quite a skill to be able to have both laugh-out-loud gags as well as teary moments in the same scene and maybe Sharon Maguire could help decode how Dan Fogelman and the rest of the writers of ‘This Is Us’ (Laura Kenar, Kay Oyegun, Eboni Freeman, Jon Dorsey, Jas Waters, Aurin Squire, Isaac Aptaker, Elizabeth Berger, Vera Herbert, K.J. Steinberg, Bekah Brunstetter, Danielle Bauman, Kevin Falls, Julia Brownell, Shukree Tilghman, Joe Lawson, Donald Todd, Don Roos, Tim O’Brien, Elan Mastai, Jake Schnesel, Tyler Bensinger, Casey Johnson, David Windsor and Jonny Gomez) are able to achieve that feat for five seasons. Thinking of films that possibly fit this category, I somehow feel like ‘Up’, Pixar’s 2009 masterpiece, had managed to reach that level with that no-dialogue montage during Act 1.
Even then, the most touching moment in the film was when Eleanor admits that it was a personal reason that she is determined to give Mackenzie a ‘happily ever after’. This brings up the eternal question when someone offers to help. We find ourselves asking: Well, what’s in it for them? I’m reminded of that episode of ‘Friends‘ (‘The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS’) when Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) clings to the belief that there is such a thing as a ‘selfless good deed’ while Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc) takes the view that all good deeds eventually benefit the person tendering them. While I have no issue with a win-win situation with good deeds, I get where Mackenzie is coming from. The challenge is making sure that the other person’s ‘win’ doesn’t impact you negatively. Kind of like the revelation that Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) gets at the finale of Season 4 (‘The Gang Discovers Who Killed Jeffrey Epstein’). When we are unsure of the repercussions of the offer presented to us, it eventually would take a toll on our mental health as we end up being obsessed trying to predict the chain of events that the good deed could trigger.
Best enjoyed with humans who appreciate a little magic. Double Feature partner? Definitely 2007’s ‘Enchanted’ which has Amy Adams (you’re not alone in mistakenly thinking that it was Isla) proving how much she can contribute in a role that makes me curious how much I’d be laughing if she were to do more physical comedy (or maybe a well written character comedy). Though if you’re looking at a more personal viewing experience, it is the sort of thing that might be better to be coupled with something that you don’t need a lot of focus, like…maybe doing laundry (though that’ll be awesome if your home theatre system is in the same room as your laundry as I wouldn’t want your tablet to fall into the sink while you are soaking your potholders).