I like Toni Collette. She is one of those understated actress that just delivers and so naturalistic on camera. She is not the most beautiful of women with her dodgy teeth and Outback nose but her Aussie tang and confident demeanor is always engaging and different to the main sheep heard on screen. She came to prominence in the wonderful Aussie girly flick Muriel’s Wedding for which she was nominated form Golden Globe and an Emmy and then peaked with an Oscar nomination for The Sixth Sense. She then went on to win the TV Emmy for the drama ‘United States of Tara’ and she can sing, too, nominated for a Tony Award for the musical ‘The Wild Party’. She is a no messing blue collar kind of girl and like all Aussies would be great fun at a party with none of those British airs and graces. At the age of 11 she proved her acting credentials by feigning appendicitis, convincing the doctors so much they removed her appendix but subsequent tests showing nothing wrong with it. As with all Aussie actors she debuted in an iconic Aussie soap, not Neighbors but A Country Practice.
Veteran East Coast rock journo Ellie Klug (Toni Collette) drinks too much, sleeps around and not one for deadlines. But she needs a big story as editor Giles (Oliver Platt) in on her back. If Klug doesn’t bring in her promised scoop on enigmatic indie troubadour Mathew Smith (Johnny Depp), who disappeared off the face of the Earth ten years back and presumed dead, the story complicated as Smith was her one true love, its time to look for a new job.
The investigation is slow and Ellie soon falling for the next bright young thing on the Seattle music scene, Lucas Stone (Ryan Eggold), who strums his way into Ellie’s emancipated heart. He reminds her of those days with Smith. But emotional help arrives to boost the search in the form of a wealthy middle aged entrepreneur Charlie (Thomas Haden Church), the plan to fund and film Klug for a documentary called Finding Paul Smith after she loses the original money to fund her story. Charlie is going to marry hippy ‘twentysomething’ Charlotte (Ahna O'Reilly) and looking forward to one last road trip as he hires a Winnebago to help find Smith and get Klug her story as jolly japes ensue, their first lead in the smoky woods of Washington State.
The DVD cover is pink with hearts on it but don’t let that put you off. It’s so not that type of film, the female director no doubt pressured to concede that to sell more copies. No, this is more grown up and no romcom, Klug’s character rare in American movies, a female lead that is emancipated, aloof and not softened up in any way to appease Hollywood norms and expectations of a leading lady. Gena Davis has been outspoken on the lack of roles like Collette’s, quoting that “The more hours of TV and film a girl watches, the fewer options she thinks she has in life. The more hours’ guys watch, the more confident they are about themselves”. Davis feels female leads end up empowering the male lead role in the film and nothing else. We clearly need more Toni Collette’s. Glorious Tomboy hotty Jennifer Lawrence has taken it on with the excellent Huger Games but we need to see more feisty girls in film. Lets face it lads, they are like that in real life now.
This film is also noted for the voice over work from Joanne Woodward, the wife of Paul Newman, who hasn’t acted on screen since Philadelphia (1993). First time female director Megan Griffith’s is the source of the feminist lilt here although Klug still admirable in her own way and by no means ending up an anti male movie. In fact the chemistry with Thomas Haden Church as the older Charlie is democratic, excellent and a genuinely funny combo. You could see he was improvising a lot on screen and extracting genuine giggles and enjoyment from Collette on screen, that willingness to muck about why the Aussie actress is so naturalistic in her movies.
I enjoyed it to a point but it is very much a rambling piece with not much happening. The film gets lost on its main narrative point of actually looking for this elusive Smith character and the Johnny Depp cameo there just to get someone to actually see this. But at least it’s not a fluffy romcom and we at last have a three dimensional and intelligent female lead putting a more realistic take on modern romance and being a career woman in the new millennium. I suppose the point is that the more a woman wants to do well in the world the more masculine she has to be and so the less attractive to men and so the men become more gentile and non-threatening in the movies, the case here.