| The Red Right Hand
In 1996 an episode of The X-Files, entitled Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space' was broadcast. I watched it. During the various interviews, one particular diner owner explains how Mulder ordered a piece of sweet potato pie; with each piece he would ask one question. On eating the entire pie, he pays and leaves. For whatever reason, I wanted to eat that pie. In the UK we have pork pies, apple pies (not as American and Americans would have you believe) and all sorts but as the sweet potato (or yam, whatever you want to call it) is not popular here, we have no sweet potato pie on offer. June 2004, Dallas, Texas; whilst trying to avoid a guy trying to lift my spirits by inviting me to a 'titty bar' before my flight, I came across the famed Southern pie. I politely ordered a slice, sat and prepared myself for such exquisite bliss. It was horrible. I'm sorry, sweet potatoes, in pie form or otherwise, are not to my liking at all. The pie itself was incredibly sweet and curiously textured but all together wrong. So when presented with a film about Southern pies, all I could think was, sure, it looks tasty but I bet I would hate it. The same could be said for the trailer of this film; looked promising but failed to deliver.
The film's opening sequence is pleasant enough, setting the story into quick motion; take one 'genius' pie maker, add one pregnancy test, two high-voiced sidekick buddies and top with a grumpy boss for good measure. As the film progresses, we discover our lead waitress, Jenna (played by Keri Russell, whom I have never particularly liked), has no intention of aborting the baby but she isn't best pleased about having it. She has an obsessive, obnoxious, semi-abusive husband, a job that pays very little, friends who seem to like her but not overly, little prospects and no money. All that she has going for her is the ability to create pies; considering the phrase goes, "as easy as pie" I can't imagine that's a difficult thing to do. Upon visiting her GP, she discovers that her regular doctor has been replaced by Doctor Pomatter [Fillion] from Connecticut. He's shy and nervous, stumbling in and out of conversations but for whatever reason, impulsiveness takes hold of Jenna and she launches herself onto him. So, now we have a pregnant waitress having an affair with her married doctor and I'm still sitting in the cinema, forty five minutes in, waiting for something funny to happen in this award-winning, highly-praised comedy.
There are two key flaws to this piece and they are two which cannot be overlooked and ultimately bring down this film. The first is genre and tone; this film has no idea what it's supposed to be. The script dances back and forth between comedy, romance and drama without consequence, unable to decide what to settle with. Whenever the story becomes slightly funny or quirky, a dose of domestic violence is added to boost the dramatic reality. Having caught our audience off guard, we start to empathise with our lead, only to have it undercut by a comical one-liner. Back in the comedy realm, we are offered the foppish, nervous doctor who wants nothing more than to make Jenna happy, compliment her and learn how to cook pies; cue the romance. Then he'll go and say something stupid (comedy) then they kiss and exchange pleasantries (romance) before going home to the husband who says playful/spiteful things (comedy) before getting mad (drama); it's absurd! I know my arguing that point may sound ridiculous, as if I haven't the ability to process a multi-layered feature; however, I am simply trying to explain that the transitional elements used to span the genres were poorly executed. The second issue is with the characters themselves, there are two categories that each can be filed into; men and women. It's that simple. The women are all oppressed by the men around them but keep their spirits up, Jenna has her scummy husband, Dawn [Shelly] has a crazy stalker boyfriend and low self-esteem and Becky [Hines] is married to an invalid and having an affair. The men are all hollow and two dimensional. The husband, Earl [Sisto], is a jerk and written/acted as such; the diner chef/cook/whatever is a pushy jerk; the diner owner is a crotchety, grumpy old man; the stalker boyfriend, Ogie [Eddie Jemison], is hideously irritating, his only good qualities are his persistence and terrible 'spontaneous poetry'; even the doctor is a jerk, for cheating on his married wife. Each character has a single trait that they play to death, they have one redeeming moment but no visible arc; the whole formula pissed me off. It reminded me of Bridget Jones' Diary, in which all men are arseholes and all women, despite immoral acts, are forgiven. I know this sounds a bit like some uppity bloke is annoyed at a pro-feminist film but I assure you, it's just this pro-feminist film.
I would like to take a quick moment and spoil the end of this film for everyone, so by all means skip ahead to the next paragraph. I hated the ending. For some reason almost everyone is present during or shortly after the birth. It's in this moment that Jenna has a typical bloody baby-fuelled deus ex machina epiphany. In this moment she sees her doctor lover and his happy, trusting young wife, she finds the courage to confront and divorce her husband and manages to make a bundle of cash out of the old man's kindness and subsequent comatose state. Shortly after this we are subjected to some of the worst, sickly sweet final moments; Jenna loves the baby girl, who grows up hassle and trauma free, making pies with her mother. In addition to this, she buys the diner, paints the walls, changes the uniforms and renames the place - I imagine Old Joe died and didn't want a legacy or anything like that. The affair with the doctor is also dealt with in the same cold clinical manner, apparently they never see each other again or something and he simply accepts the fact that it's over despite being willing to pack up and leave moments before; it's all far too rushed and too damned neat. I have theories about the whole offering of the moon pie at the end and how it might have been an attempt at a deep, underlying meaning but I doubt it, besides, where does a woman who has just given birth get a pre-packaged pie? The upbeat, positive dismissal of anything the plot set out to achieve was completely dismissed for a really sappy ending. I wasn't the only one sighing in the audience but I seemed to be the only one rolling my eyes... mine was more of an exhaustive huff than a pleased sigh. I couldn't help but leave the cinema mutter "Well, that just sums up the South, a bunch of pregnant waitresses becoming single mothers and it's portrayed as a positive thing." Yes, that was uncalled for and rude of me and this film is an exception because this waitress has her own diner and everything works out well. It still annoyed the hell out of me.
There are, despite my bashing, a few positive points that should be addressed. The cinematography was interesting, as were the pie day-dreams, in which Jenna created a new pie to fit her circumstance. As a Fillion fan, I enjoyed his scenes and found the bumbling doctor entertaining to start with but somewhat put off toward the end; after all, he's having an affair and we're only introduced to his loving wife in the closing ten minutes. The scenes with Ogie and Dawn were also quite entertaining but for all the wrong reasons. They started off well, he was creepy and obsessed, she had low self-esteem and didn't want anything to do with him... but then they got married. I just.. I really can't explain that one (in future, Jemison, stick with Danny Ocean). Essentially, this film isn't that bad but equally it's not that good either. Leaving the cinema, I was somewhat indifferent to the whole thing but looking back, I now realise that I didn't like it. It's still an averagely viewable film but I imagine it will probably join Steel Magnolias and Terms Of Endearment in the annals of DVDs for heartbroken girls who want a mushy, 'no guys allowed' night-in; I would recommend Thelma & Louise for that sort of thing. I know it's grim to suggest but I think one of the main reasons it got picked up and acclaimed was due to the fact that it was released shortly after Shelly's death in 2006. As I said, it's a horrid thing to say but I genuinely don't think this film is half as good as everyone is making it out to be but cannot bring themselves to critic someone who died in such a horrific way - maybe it's just me, who knows?
10th August 2007
The Scene To Look Out For:
I must confess, despite my sweet potato pie incident, the (largely chocolate based) pies featured in the film did look incredibly appetising. On top of that, the day-dream sequences, in which Jenna creates her 'I Don't Want Earl's Baby Pie,' 'Earl Murders Me Because I'm Having An Affair Pie' and 'I Can't Have No Affair Because It's Wrong And I Don't Want Earl To Kill Me Pie' are quite inventive and take a nice break from the gritty realism of the world of road-side catering HA HA HA... only kidding. Seriously though, I did enjoy the birth of each oddly named pie.
Andy Griffith's portrayal of Old Joe is one that will be vastly overlooked. Of all the horrible men, his nastiness is purely surface based and he's simply lived a long life and learned that there are few people worth caring about; sort of. The performance is well acted (hardly surprising, considering it's Griffith) and listening to him lecture Jenna by reading her their shared horoscope was pretty funny.
"'Dear Elizabeth, can you help me write the perfect suicide note so that my snake husband and his slut girlfriend will feel sufficiently guilty?' Then Elizabeth goes onto to offer some nonsense about how suicide is never the answer. Oh, how I love living vicariously through the pain of others"
In A Few Words:
"Take one mediocre script, layer with stereotypical characters add a thick helping of pro-feminist man hating and heat for 107 minutes before serving without cream. Mmm... bland overrated film pie; my favourite"