1 item from 1998
PARK CITY, Utah -- You can dress them up like Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, you can shoehorn them into the same high-stratum delirium and you can force-feed them with witty, anti-establishment repartee, but if your characters are inherently not likable, you don't have a screwball comedy in the grand old style -- you have only a knuckleball comedy in the obnoxious, new way.
With Parker Posey posing as a Hepburn-ish screwball heroine and Jeremy Northam co-starring as the characteristically stuffy, screwball male lead, "The Misadventures of Margaret" is an ambitious blend of the best of the screwball genre -- "Bringing Up Baby", "The Awful Truth", "Ball of Fire" -- but unlike those sparkling, top-hatted comedies of the late '30s that tweaked convention and slapsticked anything that was stuffy, "Margaret" is a frumpy, dowdy and generally loutish concoction.
Although it boasts some zesty one-liners and occasional flashes of slapstick dash, this Miramax re-lease lacks the savoir faire and comedic grace of its lineage. Most appallingly, whereas those classic oldies were ripe romances, with the female lead usually being the brainier and more adventurous, this cranky re-enactment is diminished by the general simple-mindedness of its heroine and the utter blandness of its male lead. The fun of those was films was having a Katharine Hepburn liberate a repressed Cary Grant, or an Irene Dunne and Grant flout conventional mores with their spirited individualism, or the ... for purposes of space, we will resist the awful comparisons.
In this mucky update, Posey stars as Margaret, a dissatisfied young wife who, despite having achieved celebrity as a best-selling author, is suffering the late-20s crisis: She despairs of her now-stale marriage to her mentor, Edward (Northam), a soulless academic. She yearns to find her individuality, feeling she has never fully blossomed under her husband's stultifying influence. In her quest for identity, her deportment reaches the outrageous -- insulting people, delivering doltish acceptance speeches, etc. Margaret is snappy, obnoxious and, most woefully, dumb. Screwball heroines, by their nature, are exceedingly bright, and that's the main transgression of this ersatz concoction. Underneath the best-seller veneer and the expositional claptrap about how exquisite Margaret is, nothing in her manner or outlook justifies that opinion.
Worse, as written by Brian Skeet, Margaret is generally mirthless. Oh, there are sequences of forced frivolity where she kicks up her heels, but it's in such a nasty-spirited and twitty manner that it merely comes across as general churlishness rather than light-spirited exuberance. Posey's shrill performance further diminishes our enthusiasm for the character. Similarly unlikable is the male lead is the pompous professor Edward. Again, one of the joys of the screwball comedies was the emergence of the dormant male from his stuffy cocoon as inspired by the antics of the screwball heroine. This neo-Edwardian, however, is such a poop that nothing much happens around him. In general, this is due to misguided scripting, but it is also the result of Northam's sterlingly dull performance.
Admitted, there are some snappy, satirical thrusts at academia, high society and modern-day relationships, but under Skeet's dolorous direction they are generally wasted. Technical contributions don't help much, lumping what should be a fast-paced, highly polished and brainy lark into a stodgy exercise of unadventurous generics.
Supporting characters are generally well-selected for their Brahmin looks, including Elizabeth McGovern, Corbin Bernsen and Brooke Shields. All fit the bill, although Shields' over-obvious ex-uberance for head-swirling and other farcical facials is a bit disconcerting. Still, with her towering good looks, if properly restrained, seems to possess great comic potential as a Margaret Dumont-ish, clueless character.
THE MISADVENTURES OF MARGARET
Producer: Ian Benson
Screenwriter-director: Brian Skeet
Based on the novel "Rameau's Niece" by Cathleen Schine
Executive producers: Andy Harries,
Pippa Cross, Dominique Green
Co-producers: Nicolas Altmayer, Eric Altmayer
Director of photography: Romain Winding
Editor: Clare Douglas
Music: St. Etienne
Production designer: Martin Childs
Costume designer: Edi Giguere
Margaret: Parker Posey
Edward: Jeremy Northam
Richard: Craig Chester
Till: Elizabeth McGovern
Lily: Brooke Shields
Art: Corbin Bernsen
Running time -- 100 minutes
No MPAA rating
1 item from 1998
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