Charming the Hearts of Men

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Charming the Hearts of Men
dir-scr SE DeRose
prd Brian David Cange, Richard T Lewis, SE DeRose
with Anna Friel, Kelsey Grammer, Aml Ameen, Pauline Dyer, Sean Astin, Diane Ladd, Tina Ivlev, Jill Marie Jones, Curtis Hamilton, Starletta DuPois, Tom Schanley, Henry Sanders
release US 13.Aug.21
20/US 1h47

grammer ameen astin

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dyer and friel
Based on a true story, this gently witty Southern drama is set at a time of rampant discrimination less than 60 years ago. Yet while the Civil Rights movement fought for racial equality, it ignored how women were even more ruthlessly sidelined. With high production standards, writer-director SE DeRose takes an over-constructed approach that heightens sincere drama at the expense of earthy realism. But the theme has powerful urgency.
In 1963, high-flying Grace (Friel) returns to the Deep South for her father's funeral. She's happy to be reacquainted with the local Congressman (Grammer), but most neighbours think she's a useless divorcee. Indeed, she's surprised at how little agency she has as a woman to deal with her father's financial affairs. So she starts meeting with men who might be able to help her, while also witnessing women's lives firsthand. Meanwhile, the Congressman is being pressured to quash the growing protests against racial injustice. And Grace suggests adding women to the Civil Rights bill.
The story moves at a stately Southern pace, gently rolling along while dropping little thematic bombs into the dialog. There are a range of storylines, including subplots for Grace's housekeeper Jubilee (Dyer) and the Congressman's driver Walter (Ameen), who add intriguing but slightly pushy angles on the battle for fairness in society. And there are a couple of under-developed romances too. Many scenes have a theatricality to them, with wordy, eloquent dialog that knowingly circles big ideas.

Friel is terrific as Grace, a big personality unafraid to shake the system or blur class lines. Her mix of curiosity and compassion is engaging as she connects with a wide variety of people. And while she needs a man, she retains control of her life. Grammer has plenty of charm as her suitor, while Ameen and Dyer are likeable in their parallel love story. Astin has a nice side role as an open-minded pawn shop owner, and Ladd brings her striking presence to bear on a powerful grand dame.

The script is layered with a variety of experiences that demonstrate quiet ways women of all ethnicities are manipulated and demeaned. A job interview is particularly well-staged, as it reveals deeply ingrained sexism in the process. It's awful to see the power smug men have over women in general. But as the equality argument extends to women, and the fight for racial integration grows, the film develops an earnestness that's rather cloying. Even so, this is still a topic that deserves attention.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 9.Aug.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall