Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel

Picture Perfect * 1/2

Directed by Glenn Gordon Caron. Producer Erwin Stoff. Screenplay by Arleen Sorkin & Paul Slansky and Glenn Gordon Caron, based on a story by Arleen Sorkin & Paul Slansky & May Quigley. Photography, Paul Sarossy. Editing, Robert Reitano. Production design, Larry Fulton. Music, Carter Burwell. Cast: Jennifer Aniston (Kate), Jay Mohr (Nick), Kevin Bacon ( Sam), Olympia Dukakis (Rita), Illeana Douglas (Darcy), Kevin Dunn ( Mr.Mercer), et al. A 20th Century Fox release.105 min. PG-13 (sex)
Jennifer Aniston (of NBC's "Friend's") has mostly TV credentials. Here she makes her debut as the lead in a legit movie. The writers of "Picture Perfect" also have a TV background. So does Glenn Gordon Caron, the director and co-writer.

The first film feature Caron directed was the very good "Clean and Sober" (1988), starring Michael Keaton. The second "Wilder Napalm"(1993) is said to be a total fiasco, was shelved for some time, later hardly seen by anyone. The next one was "Love Affair" (1994), the dismal re-remake of the terrific "Love Affair" (1939) by Leo McCarey who had himself remade it as the good "An Affair to Remember" (1957).

All this TV parentage may explain why "Picture Perfect" is really like an extended sitcom -- except that sitcom episodes run well under 30 minutes and don't make you suffer for 105. It may also explain why Ms. Aniston's unremarkable, overkinetic (but not bad) performance is, in TV style, full of close-ups of facial expressions. (There's also a plethora of bosom shots).

All this may fill the screen but does not the story."PP" has a far-fetched script that tries to pass for a romantic comedy that's neither comic nor romantic. It is about Kate who has a middle position in an advertsing agency. She comes up with the best way to hype a new mustard, yet while Kate cuts it, she doesn't get put in charge of the account. The reason big boss Mr. Mercer gives is that Kate is single, without obligations or debts, therefore has no "stability" and could easily quit for another job. Mr. Mercer adds that she dresses in nondescript casuals instead of "dressing for the job."

At a very recent wedding Kate had casually met Nick in Boston where he makes a modest but happy living by taking videos of weddings and such occasions. Conveniently, days later Nick gets (I'll skip the details) his fifteen minutes of fame on TV and tabloids. Kate also happens to appear next to him in one of the hundreds of photographs of the wedding. So Kate's colleague and good friend Darcy has the brilliant notion of giving Kate "stability" by inventing a fiance: Nick.

Kate starts reinventing herself by appearing at a reception in an eye-catching, chic (for some), very low-cut dress. Her colleague Sam (Kevin Bacon) is a rake who avoids unattached women, including Kate and in spite of their mutual attraction. But now he finds the new, affianced Kate both irresistible and attached. "I like you" he tells her at the party, as his eyes glance at her breasts. These are outside the frame, the look is a discreet fraction of a second. Cut immediately to the new twosome in bed. I have just mentioned three of the minor editing virtues of a film that I find lacking in major ones.

Kate parades her new outfits in scene after scene. The plot thickens to the texture of a consommé: Kate arranges for Nick to come to New York, stay with her, go to a dinner given by Mr. Boss in the couple's honor and then have a fight with Nick and break her "engagement." It makes minimal sense.

In a big switch from his role in "Jerry Maguire" Jay Mohr plays Nick as a sweet boy who, for much of his screen time with Kate, has the vacuous look of a college student who doesn't quite get what his professor is saying.

If you fail to guess with certainty where the plot is going it is probably because you expect certain developments involving Kevin Bacon (who also shows good pectorals), since he is the single Big Name in the cast. The fact however is that Bacon has a supporting role. This is an originality and a red herring that constitute another of the film's small virtues.

More of them include the fleeting digs at the hypocrisies (as in phony congratulations) and a couple of other depressing aspects of the business world -- not that you don't get the same in politics, academics and especially in showbiz. There is also irony in the crass dinner host who assumes that Nick's videos are porno, and who with second-in-command sings the praises of marriage. It must be a good institution since all husbands and wives present are number 2 or 3. As in almost all of today's films, the fuss about marriages feels like a joke.

The last virtue, one increasingly common in pictures, is casting in top roles actors whose looks are far from picture perfect, far from the old canons of beauty and glamour.

Those are just about the only tasty crumbs in the dumb loaf of "PP." The dialogue is flat, boring, uninteresting. Characters are woefully undeveloped. Subplots are limited to giving Kate a widowed mother (a wasted Olympia Dukakis) who owns or runs a hairdresser shop and is vociferously anxious to see her daughter marry someone, anyone. The film does not specify "Jewish Mother" but it does point to the stereotype. Curiously, both Miss Aniston and Miss Dukakis are of Greek ancestry.

Arguing with Kate, Mom shouts with Mediterranean theatricalism "You are 28, I am 56, I'm going to be dead soon." She was probably thinking "I'm really 66, and if there were good parts for older women I wouldn't have been caught dead in this flat tire of a movie."

Copyright © Edwin Jahiel

Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel