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Overall Rating

Awesome: 14.29%
Worth A Look: 0%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap85.71%

1 review, 1 rating

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Playing Mona Lisa
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by Brian McKay

"I'd have rather played Ernest Hemmingway with six in the cylinder"
1 stars

Have you ever picked up a Netflix sleeve at a friend's house when looking over their latest selection, glanced at the plot synopsis for two seconds, and said, "Hey, this one sounds like it might be okay?" What the hell, if you've never heard of it before, it's new to you. Then you end up sitting trough a really crappy movie and you can't say shit for the next 90 minutes because YOU were the dumbass who picked it?

So what I thought might be some moderately clever 20-somethings comedy somewhere in the general neighborhood of Ghost World turns out to be a lesson in remedial Chick-Flick 101. Let me tell you something - I can count the number of rom-coms and chick-flicks I've seen in the last ten years on less than ten fingers. But Gawd-damn, if I still didn't feel like I'd seen this story a hundred times already. Every tired convention, that even someone who ignores the previews for these flicks will know through sheer subliminal bombardment, is readily evident in the first and last five minutes of this film - and every minute in between. In fact, it not only feels like a basic recycle of the general chick flick template, but I noticed several distinct John Hughes era Molly Ringwald influences as well. Of course, those films used to be the shit . . . in the 80's.

Alicia Witt (who was so creepy as the bald kid in Dune - bless that child!) is a nice young Jewish girl named Claire Goldstein. Claire lives in the lovely city of San Francisco (the city where I live too - yaaaay!). How do we know it's San Francisco? Because the goddamn Golden Gate bridge is in the background in every fifth shot! Yes, let's show off that we filmed it in "The Ci-ty". Please construct a phrase from the following three words: De. Shit. Whoop.

So Claire is some kind of Prodigy - she's been playing since she was seven years old. Her piano teacher, Bennet (Harvey Fierstein - and what does it say about a film when his performance is the least grating?) thinks she could have a shot at the big-time world of the concert pianist. However, when she begins freaking out over the fiancee' who recently spurned her, she blows every opportunity he's set up for her. Okay, I know losing your man was rough and all, but I think that anyone who really cared about playing the piano that much would pull their head out of their ass and their shit together after screwing up not one, but two, big auditions that Bennet got for her.

Yes, Claire's fiancee' dumps her, only to be seen in lip-lock with someone else at a recital soon after. To ease the pain, she hangs out with her two best friends. Sabrina (played by Fairuza Balk clone Brooke Langton - only the toner in the gene copier must have been low that week) is the rich daddy's girl who lives in an impossibly hip and expensive apartment and throws elaborate theme parties and orgies every week. Then there's Arthur (Johnny Galecki), the perpetually depressed bookworm who so trendily bemoans his lot in life - even though a gorgeous black cheerleader plays Scrabble with him constantly and clearly wants to snap more than the tiles together. What any of these three have in common with each other I have no idea.

Claire suddenly meets someone new named Carl (Ivan Sergei), the perfectly upbeat pretty boy who instantly makes you think "clock tower". Whether he's actually acting in the role I leave open to debate, though I suspect he probably has the emotive range of Freddie Prinze Jr. frozen in carbonite. He's the kind of offbeat romantic who invites her out to a park and then has pizza delivered there. Man, Cary Grant didn't have shit on you, dude! That must have them dropping to their knees every time.

But of course, Carl (if that really is his name!) has some big dark secret which will surprise probably absolutely nobody. In fact, I didn't find one damn thing about this film surprising. Every other scene feels like something recycled from Hollywood's top 100 warm-fuzzy moments. Yes there are a few laugh out loud scenes, but one of those for every 12 minutes of eye-rolling and watch-checking hardly seems like a fair trade. Even the two shots of Alicia Witt in her bra can hardly make up for the color-well-inside-the-lines collection of happy "You're gonna make it after alllll" vignettes. These are rendered complete with the obligatory two musical montages (one a happy "Walkin' on Sunshine" moment, the other a sad little "I can't make you love me" scene to wrap up the second act. Okay, the scene with mom and pop Goldstein (a barely competent pairing of Marlo Thomas and Elliot Gould) tripping their asses off on shrooms is kinda funny, until it turns into another perky little magic moment.

I have no aversion to drama and sentiment, but Jesus Christ, give me some characters and situations that don't feel so thouroughly contrived so that I can actually give a shit. None of the performances in this film were particularly bad, but not one moment between any of these characters seemed genuinely heartfelt or particularly original. Watch this film, then go watch the little Dutch indie drama Open Hearts, and tell me which one you think does things right.

I was tempted to give it a courtesy star on top of the mandatory minimum of one. However, the more I think about how lazy and disgustingly familiar this movie was (even to someone who doesn't watch these movies on principle), the more I feel it deserves all of the scorn heaped upon it.

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originally posted: 06/14/03 19:41:54
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12/09/03 claire Toner class 5 stars
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  02-Feb-2000 (R)



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