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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Niall Johnson|
scr Richard Russo, Niall Johnson
with Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith, Patrick Swayze, Tamsin Egerton, Toby Parkes, Liz Smith, Emilia Fox, James Booth, Patrick Monckton, Rowley Irlam, Jack Ryan
release UK 2.Dec.05, US 15.Sep.06
More tea, vicar? Smith and Atkinson (above); Scott Thomas and Swayze (below)
This warm, funny comedy has a black edge to it that's surprisingly disturbing. Getting audiences to laugh at murder is tricky business, and these filmmakers aren't quite up to the challenge. Unless you've got a sadistic sense of humour.
Walter (Atkinson), the vicar of Little Wallop, population 57, has begun to take his job a bit seriously, ignoring his bored, cranky wife Gloria (Scott Thomas), his nymphomaniac daughter (Egerton) and his bullied son (Parkes). As Gloria finds a spark with the womanising golf pro (Swayze), her new housekeeper Grace (Smith) arrives with a rather drastic way of dealing with difficulties. And she also has a (not so) surprising connection to the family.
There are two films in here: One is about rekindling of the spark that holds a family together, as Dad deals with his workaholism, Mum reassesses her priorities and the kids each learn Important Life Lessons. But the catalyst for this change is from a different film altogether--as if she wandered in from the universe of Throw Momma From the Train. Basically, it's impossible to have a heartwarming story with gruesome serial killing at the centre of it.
Maybe a more warped filmmaker could manage it, but Johnson and Russo seem to want their cake and to stomp on it too. Scott Thomas plays the central role with a natural, engaging touch. Atkinson drifts into befuddled Mr Bean territory far too often before coming around strongly in the end. Swayze wittily plays on the sleazy loser persona he perfected in Donnie Darko. And Smith, of course, has impeccable timing as the sweet old lady with the heart of coal. It's no mean feat that she convinces us Grace is a good person.
There's a superb sharp edge to the family dynamic, but homicide is one step too far. We know from the prologue what Grace is capable of, so her continuing actions aren't shocking or revealing. They're just nasty and callous, especially since the filmmakers pretend that there are no ramifications at all. Besides leaving a bad taste in our mouths, this kind of undermines all the heavily meaningful religious messages.
|Okty, Romania: "I would of expected more comedy to the acting of Rowan Atkinson, and there is a great deal of sexuality in a movie that has a religious theme to it." (8.Jul.06)|
© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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