9.10.2007

You did ask

So you may remember that I kind of trashed on the preview & promotional material for that film Anxiously Engaged (previously released as Picadilly Cowboy), which is currently being marketed mostly to LDS audiences. And then the director pretty much asked me to watch it and say what I think. So I watched it. If you want the short version of the review, go ahead and read Desmama's.

Young buck Carson Wells (Jaelan Petrie) is this LDS Montana cowboy working in London for a beef company. The film opens with shots of him being all cowboyish and bad-hair-having and different from the dour Londoners around him. He proposes to Lucy (Kate Foster-Barnes), his English girlfriend of two months. She says yes and takes him home to meet her grandfather & ask for his blessing. Grandfather (James Green), who has been fretting over the lack of matrimonial prospects for his other, older granddaughter, sees this as an opportunity. He makes his consent conditional on Carson's ability to find someone for Gemma (Sophie Shaw), the 29-year-old hopeless case. Carson thinks this is insane but agrees--in part because Grandpapa turns out to be Carson's boss at the beef company. He also promises not to tell anyone about their deal, but spills it in the next scene when he elicits coworker Alice's (Gwyneth Powell) help with the big Man Search.

I like that Ford Films set about making a film that, while featuring LDS characters, was not meant to be so inclusive as to alienate viewers of other faiths. I also like that it was set in London rather than in Utah. A common temptation is to turn LDS movies into one big Mormon in-joke (yes, I'm looking at you, Singles Ward). Sad part is, while people watching Anxiously Engaged won't be alienated, they may likely be bored.

I blame this absolutely on the script. It's like the film doesn't know what it wants to be. The set-up gets you ready for a comedy, but it doesn't really follow through with the humor. Carson and Alice's attempts at finding Mormon men for Gemma have some good moments. Middle-aged Alice creates a fictional character on a Mormon dating website, and Carson interviews a motley crew of LDS men for Gemma. These conversations and scenes are funny and have a good rhythm, but there aren't enough of them.

There's a lack of focus--plot and subplot elements get picked up and abandoned right and left. Suddenly we're slammed with Carson's previously undetected relationship issues. (Would someone who has lost faith in the concept of families suddenly dive into engagement after knowing someone for two months?) Then it's about company intrigue and embezzlement. And now let's spend some time with sassy coworker Alice's attempts to give up smoking and start jogging.

Character development is thin and sporadic, with some characters reduced to stereotypes. Lucy is introduced as an amazingly shallow girl who calls Carson to task for not housing her engagement ring in a better box. They have zero chemistry and don't even seem to like each other. Carson is supposed to be this charming good guy, and yet there are a couple of times when he treats Lucy and Gemma with unbelievable condescension. Sophie Shaw as Gemma is absolutely darling, and is quite patient with Carson and Grandfather's attempts to meddle in her life. I spent most of the movie wanting her to push all the idiots around her into the Thames and be done with it. Sadly, she does not.

As for the Carson/Gemma relationship, I didn't totally buy it--partly because I think she deserves someone better, and also because we didn't get to seem them together very much. Carson swings back and forth between insulting her and paying her compliments that are really not appropriate between future in-laws. The "find Gemma a man" plan seems to get abandoned pretty soon, once Gemma catches wind of it and tells Grandfather to stop. But then, in an unexplained move, Carson sets her up with his jerky non-LDS boss Nigel and behaves as though she ought to be grateful (he actually says to her, "it's not like you've got a lot of options"). Gemma only smiles at this, rather than slamming his head in the fridge door like she should have. The only reason I can see for the Gemma/Nigel pairing is that the scriptwriters needed the villainous boss to worm his way into the family so that he could proceed with his nefarious plans. And so that Carson could eventually be jealous.

Which brings me to another thing. When convenient, the scriptwriters seem to twist and outright ignore reality in order to create the scenes they want.

Example: Gemma starts having feelings for Carson, and wants to get together to talk with him before she leaves for her new job in Paris. (In this movie, one can get a job offer in Paris, decide to take it, and then leave the next morning.) She leaves messages on his work phone, which he doesn't receive. Carson runs through Waterloo station at the end, looking for Gemma before she boards her train. Know what's funny? Neither of these characters have cell phones. This, to me, is just blatant insanity. You find me two working professionals in London who don't have mobiles and I will take off my own shirt and eat it. I can just imagine the writing sessions:

"So, then Carson is running around through Waterloo station looking for Gemma."

"Um, wouldn't he just call her? She would have her cell phone with her. And why didn't she just call his cell when she was looking for him? Then he would have gotten the message."

(All the sane people leave the room at once for a bathroom break.)

"Crap, didn't think of that. That doesn't really create tension, though. Okay, let's have them not have cell phones."

"Sounds good. I bet lots of 20-something Londoners don't have cell phones."

(Sane people come back into the room.)

"Hi, did we miss anything?"

"Nope."

Here's the thing, people. Twenty-something Londoners have mobiles. English grannies have mobiles. Pregnant teenagers who spend their evenings standing around in front of McDonalds have mobiles.

So. There you have it. I'm leaving out a bunch of silly little nitpicky things, but wanted to touch on the main problem I had with the movie, which was the screenplay and its lack of focus and believability. The actors did a good job with what they were given, so it's not their fault. I like the fact that Ford Films is trying to branch out with a more international mindset, and by focusing on families and relationships that include a more diverse mix of religions, which is more realistic anyway. I just wish those things had added up to a more interesting movie.

11 comments:

Desmama said... [reply]

Yep. I agree with all of it. But didn't they spell Gemma's name "Jema" on the back of the DVD?

Nemesis said... [reply]

Yep, they did. I'm choosing to ignore that, though. Sense, reason, and imdb tell me it's Gemma.

kristen said... [reply]

Sounds like a waste of time. Sorry you had to suffer through it; but I'm sure you guys had some good laughs. At least now your previous post has merit--not that it didn't before, but you know what I mean.

Cicada said... [reply]

I think that the take-home lesson from the movie is that sometimes it is through opposition that people find their true loves. Sometimes, you don't have everything in common with the one you're fated to be with, and it takes an oppositional experience to build sexual tension, and in the end, you discover your true passion for one another.

I think I'm coming up with a modern-day LDS romance movie concept myself...

ed said... [reply]

Dearest Cicada-

Please don't waste your wonderful talent on modern-day LDS movie concepts.

Leave it to the Utah producers who just want to make a quick buck without offering any quality in return.

claire said... [reply]

Not that I was ever going to watch the movie anyway, but now I most definitely will not. And I love that the director got wind of your initial hatred. Once we start getting quality Mormon themed movies in the vein of Chronicles of Narnia or something like Miss Potter, then I'll start attending.

Miss Hass said... [reply]

It's so depressing to be told by a movie that I don't have many options. Ugh. Thanks for making sure fewer people waste their time on this.

esperanza said... [reply]

WOW. Is it worth watching at all for scenes of beloved London? LOL. Why do people think that 29 year olds are such helpless cases? And I think thin-plots are the hugest turn offs in movies, that goes without saying of course!Sounds as bad as that Perfect Date movie or whatever that just came out at Christmas-ish time or the Dance, that was what it was (?) that felt like a marriage therapy class....

Scully said... [reply]

You are a brave, brave woman. Also, why do people still not understand the importance of plot?

Nemesis said... [reply]

So now I'm kind of feeling like a jerk, and like I spent too much time detailing the movie's flaws. Only here's the thing: I hardly ever like Mormon movies. But I do think that this guy is on the right track to make good ones if he can find himself some crack screenwriters (As in good screenwriters, not "screenwriters on crack"). There are enough of those in the world.

chosha said... [reply]

Agreed on the phone thing. You can have them be without phones, but you have to spend ten seconds of film telling us how that happened (eg, she gets out of taxi, we see her phone on the seat, clearly left behind by accident. Come to think of it, that could develop into a fun conversation between beau and taxi driver later...!) I will allow any number of silly things to occur, as long as they don't inadvertantly become plot holes.

Why don't directors ever just ask us for our opinion BEFORE they start filming. Would save a lot of time and money.

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