Film, 202, 2.5 stars
Directed by: Amy Glazer
Written by: Patricia Cotter
Inside this little film is something really cool just waiting to come out, but the entire thing just labours underneath something heavy. “Dramedy” is such a stupid category, and a fine line to walk. Patricia Cotter wrote a very interesting, timely story that will appeal to many people at this same 40-something stage in life. However, the film lacked spark and felt like it was taking itself way too seriously. On top of that, the lead character wasn’t funny enough to make up for all the things that made her annoying.
I can see how it worked as a play - ensembles are a tricky thing to manage in film because there’s a lot of words and not much for people to actually do. If all these people were simply in rooms talking cleverly to each other, as happens often in theatre, I can totally see how it would have worked better. The best scenes in this little-film-that-could are actually the ones where all five characters are together and desperately trying not to stick their foot in it, and failing miserably.
The story hinges around 4 friends in San Francisco, who have been brought together by Margaret (Erin Daniels) and Billy (Louis Ozawa) and their lifelong friendship. Margaret wrote a bestselling book that was based around her and Billy’s experiences in college, and she’s now facing her publisher’s deadline for a follow-up, but suffering from intense writer’s block. Margaret is a commitment phobe who can’t commit to a sentence in her novel much less a marriage to her long-suffering girlfriend Jen.
Half of the viewers, let’s face it, will sign on just to see what Erin Daniels (previously of The L Word fame) is up to now. Daniels does have comedic chops. She’s proven that she can ham it up with the best of them. Here, she rolls her eyes and makes a few funny faces, but her timing is all off and way too dry, which makes me think that there was something wrong with the pacing of the film. There was a performance in here that just wasn’t given any room to come out. She could have been sweet and neurotic in an oddly charming way, but it all came across as simply selfish and narcissistic.
Billy and his wife Sara (Jennifer Mudge) have struggled to have kids, and have engaged a surrogate, Crystal (Tate Moore) to carry their baby to term. The film traces the last 4 weeks of the surrogacy, and while the friends attempt to carry each other through the process, it also threatens to tear them apart. Crystal just wants this whole business transaction to be over so she can get back to her beloved surfing.
Along for the ride is veteran Wendie Malick as Sara’s overbearing mother, and to be honest the film only really gets going when she arrives. Her comic timing rises well and truly above the material, and her mere presence seems to magically cause the chaos that the film really needs to build some momentum and some laughs.
What we’re missing here is any kind of real reason to care about anything. You can’t just have people be snarky and mean. We can’t just arrive at that point and expect the audience to know that they really care about each other. They need to openly love each other as well. It’s difficult to tell why any one of these people would even be friends, much less couples.
One scene stands out as epitomising everything that’s wrong with the rest of the film. Sara and Crystal finally have a moment where Sara lays bare her insecurities and seems at last like a real person, rather than a caricature of a paranoid, neurotic mother to be. Crystal admits her own fears in a small way, and they realise they’re both hurtling towards this momentous event with no clue what they’re doing. It shows heart, something that the remainder of the narrative really struggles with.
The talent was there, and the idea was there, the execution was simply not there. Firstly, why change the name? The original play was called “The Surrogate”, as is the book Margaret eventually figures out how to write, but where does “Beautiful Dreamer” come into it at all?
Secondly, I get that Margaret is a commitment-phobe, and jealous, and all mixed up by her own feelings towards everything, but there’s an odd moment where she and Crystal share a kiss, with no build up, no purpose, and no attraction. Where on earth did that come from? Why does it happen? Also, why are there no consequences from it? This should either be an earth-shatteringly big deal, or something to plumb for comedic effect, and it was quite spectacularly neither.
Honestly, Beautiful Dreamer cannot really figure out what it’s centre is, where it’s heart and soul is, and as a consequence neither can we.