High Society and me. A musical true love

A frothy and glossy escapist musical romantic comedy of 1956, High Society is a terrific example of the ability of filmmakers from Hollywood’s golden age to draw on existing material and fashion a sparkling fresh and brilliant entertainment.

It can also be understood as a great example of producer power, was a commercial and critical hit, and was nominated for two Oscars in the musical categories.

Employing irresistible star wattage of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly and Louis Armstrong, the timeless tunes of Cole Porter and fabulous costume design of Helen Rose, it’s unmistakably the product of MGM, the studio which made the best musicals of the era, including 1951’s An American In Paris, and 1952’s Singin’ In The Rain.

Using a well established dramatic structure, and drawing on elements of American literature, it was produced as the post-war US consensus was being supplanted by the dawn of the teenager as a social phenomenon, and the film’s struggle to wrestle with the real world are all too evident. High Society is politically reactionary and has no sense of itself as herald to the end of the jazz age in which its stars and genre were mired, and sadly for lovers of the studio’s defining genre, High Society is the last great hurrah of the MGM musical.

I absolutely love it.

Kelly, Crosby, Sinatra, & Holm

Based on 1944’s Oscar winning comedy The Philadelphia Story, itself an adaptation of a Broadway play, High Society glides through its 111 minute running time in bubbles of glamour, charm and wit, as we watch a pair of tabloid journalists covering the upcoming high society wedding of a spoilt socialite who’s being courted by three different men.

Bringing four leads together all of whom were previous Oscar winners, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holm engage in song, dance, and repartee as they resolve various romantic entanglements over the course of one night and two days in a mansion in the wealthy enclave of Newport, Rhode Island, the high society of the title.

Crosby heads the romantic leads as C. K. Dexter Haven, a wealthy composer who lives next door to his ex, Tracy Samantha Lord, played by Grace Kelly. Meanwhile Frank Sinatra and Celeste Holme are the down at heel muckraking journalists, Mike Connor and Liz Imbrie, who arrive to cover the wedding for their magazine.

When Crosby isn’t singing, he strolls about in cardigans or black tie, and though it’s not a performance of great range or energy, he delivers his popular brand of avuncular charm, is given a veneer of cool by his association with musicians of the calibre of Armstrong, and is offered some reflected glamour by the glittering star power of Kelly, best known at this point for her work with Alfred Hitchcock.

Kelly

Kelly is perfectly cast in her last Hollywood appearance before abandoning Los Angeles for life in Monaco. Whether in slacks or a ball gown, the luminous Kelly sweeps all before her in a series of gorgeous costumes, including a far from revealing but indecently sexy swim suit.

Plus she delivers a terrifically accomplished performance in the mould of screwball-era Katharine Hepburn, and whether being deliberately over the top, drunk, angry or playful, Kelly can wordlessly make us aware of what she’s thinking, in the manner of another Hitchcock blonde, Ingrid Bergman.

Presumably the casting call asked for an actress less attractive than Kelly to play the second female lead. On this showing that would be every other woman in the world at the time. Which is hugely unfortunate for the wonderfully droll Celeste Holm, who’s teamed up with Sinatra in my favourite big screen performance of his.

Sinatra plays well with Holm, and he’s either smart enough to allow her space to shine, or possibly barely able to keep up with her, and Holme brings a level of dignity and self-awareness lacking in other characters. But Holm was repeatedly ill-served by Hollywood, and after High Society she didn’t make another film for five years.

Elsewhere Lydia Reed is winningly confident and sparky alongside Kelly as her young sister Caroline Lord, and John Lund plays George Kittredge, the culturally barren, nouveau rich cattle baron who’s Tracy’s intended beau.

Playing himself, Louis Armstrong is an invitee performer at a jazz festival Crosby’s character is holding on his estate, a plot device which allows Armstrong to pal about with Crosby and duet together on the number ‘Now You Have Jazz‘, which is supposedly – but clearly isn’t – filmed in front of a wealthy white festival crowd.

Jazz musician Louis Armstrong is granted not inconsiderable screen time, performs three songs and is granted the first and last words. This is fitting for his screen ‘character’ is a Greek chorus to the comedy, a dramatic device used by later musicals such as 1972’s Cabaret, 1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and 1978’s Grease.
I could write an entire post about radio broadcasters in movies acting as a Greek chorus by starting with 1979’s The Warriors and taking it from there.

Acting as a Greek chorus to the story, introducing the setting and then commenting on events as they unfold, as well as being a character in the story, Armstrong is mostly at one remove from the narrative and he could be excised from the film entirely without his absence changing the story.

In contrast to the previous year’s drama, Blackboard Jungle, the film which made a star of future Oscar winner Sidney Poitier, High Society’s principal black star is clearly at times not on same set at the same time to white actors and has to be edited into scenes in which he is ostensibly a part.

Check out the final scene (from 2.27mins) where although nominally in the same scene, he never shares screen time with Grace Kelly. Armstrong is included but never incorporated.

A generous reading of Armstrong’s separation from the main narrative would be to suggest his performing and recording scheduling conflicts prevented a deeper integration in the narrative. A less charitable reading would be the studio were wary if not frightened of too much interaction of a black character with white ones, and Armstrong’s certainly not allowed to interact with the white female cast members in any way. And good luck spotting a black female actor.

Crosby & Armstrong performing ‘Now You Has Jazz

It’s important to recognise High Society was released in 1956, and although the segregation of public schools had been declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954, it was many years before this decision was universally implemented. Other laws of segregation weren’t overruled until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

With race being the defining political fault line of the US, High Society wants to exploit Armstrong’s cache as a long established and popular crossover artiste by contributing his jazz bona fides to the soundtrack and bringing his own fanbase to the films audience, but his role suggests a nervousness on behalf of the filmmakers who had to sell the film in a US market place.

MGM had at the time previous form with being vary of the controversial subject of race. The studio’s 1951 version of Show Boat notably tones down any ‘controversial’ racial elements compared to previous cinematic adaptions of the stage show on which it’s based.

However in theme and plot the film enforces existing racial boundaries. As one might expect of a mainstream entertainment which recognises social division in its title, maintenance of the status quo is a key theme of the film.

The script was written by a playwright John Patrick who’d previously written the NBC radio series Streamlined Shakespeare, and there’s a strong influence of Shakespeare scattered through the script – more of which later – so Armstrong’s narrator role may well have been included in the earliest draft. If so then casting Armstrong as the Chorus could be read as a deliberate act of segregation rather than a creative solution to a scheduling issue.

Patrick doesn’t steer away from the plot of the original film adaptation or the stage play which preceded it, but adding the Chorus – which Shakespeare used in Henry V for example – the audience to be guided into the heightened and otherworldly setting of High Society, as if leading us into a magical forest of one of Shakespeare’s arboreal comedies, one populated by the fairy Kings and Queens such as found in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, perhaps.

The Chorus is a visitor to this world of wealth and definitely not of or from it, a point underlined by Armstrong’s casting, and the musician’s persona can also be read as ‘blue collar’ and so acts as surrogate for all those in the audience not born to wealth. The film wants us to be amused by the superficiality of the Lord’s family behaviour and regard them with a mocking if warm detachment, and having the Chorus played by Armstrong helps to underline the idea the wealthy do things differently to the rest of us, they are apart, they are ‘other’.

This is story is about maintaining society’s status quo, keeping the high safe and separate in their gilded mansions and the rest of us, well, anywhere else. There is to be no storming of the barricades here, no tearing down of social division, but a determined raising of the drawbridge. This is a piece of high end comfort cinema, lavishly dressed with great tunes. If you want social conflict and a conscience, check out the Poitier flick instead.

Fitting the Shakespearean comic pattern there are two central couples, and all four must gain insight into themselves to find happiness with the correct person, and ‘correct’ is defined as with one whom not only shares a social standing, but also the person who reinforces the rigidly defined social divisions. The rich and the poor have their place, and are happier when the rigid social hierarchy is maintained.

We’re safe in assuming the family name at the top of this society is ‘Lord‘ is deliberately in keeping with Shakespeare’s habit of nominative determinism.

Taking place in a gilded world of enormous drawing rooms, private pools and a butler who offer visitors the south parlour as a waiting room, the film can feel as distinct from reality and as gloriously make-believe as a fairytale, a feeling underlined the magical appearance of a secret mechanical private bar from a book-lined wall.

Gatecrashing this magical realm are two journalists – rude mechanicals in Shakespeare terms – who cast a wry and cynical eye over the fabulous wealth the residents seem to treat with barely a second thought. And though they are drawn to it, they realise they are and cannot ever be part of it. Mike Connor’s brief fling with Tracy is comparable with the encounter between Bottom and Titania the Queen of the Fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That Sinatra is playing Mike, comparable with the idiot turned donkey, Bottom, is surely am unacknowledged joke at the actor’s expense by the film’s producer. More of him, later.

This is a fantasy which asks us to engage and sympathise with a wealthy white upper class family as they negotiate concurrent romantic entanglements. And the softening of the cynical stance of a pair of muckraking journalistic interlopers encourage us to find sympathy in ourselves for this madly wealthy household rather than maintaining or hardening of our critical stance.

The head of the Lord household has placed his ‘kingdom in a state of chaos due to his latest extra-marital affair, a scandalous fling with a ballerina, and in doing so has become estranged from his daughter, Tracy.
Peace and order will only be brought to the kingdom when father and daughter are reconciled, which will only happen when she choses the correct romantic partner and comes to understand her parent’s worldview, making her fit to succeed her father in due course.

Father knows best, especially where his daughters love life is concerned, is a thoroughly 1950’s attitude.
This is also a coming of age tale, and if Sidney Blackmer as patriarch Seth Lord isn’t given a huge amount of screen time as the stern but loving father who uses his own discretions to teach his daughter about the adult world, it’s their reconciliation which signals the end of the movie. And the curtain comes down with a pleasing and impressive speed which some modern day filmmakers could learn from.

Like Ayesha, the white queen of H. Rider Haggard’s 1887 adventure novel, ‘She’, Tracy’s power seems only to exist as long as she remains in her own world, and the suggestion is if John Lund’s character, the cattle baron George Kittredge, is successful in his courtship of Tracy and takes her away, then she will become ordinary, a mortal being almost. Much is made of George’s wanting to put Tracy on a pedestal and adore her.

One thing the wealthy do differently to the rest of us is put on a music festival in their home. Crosby plays a composer whose house is full of musicians. And the life of Tracy Lord is full of the arts. She and her sister dance, sing, and play piano. They have no regard, interest or knowledge in the ordinary or everyday.

In part George Kittredge is a poor fit not because he’s self-made – Crosby’s character is only second generation wealthy – but because he values commerce above art.

Cole Porter’s fabulous songs have endured even more successfully than the film itself and have achieved a life of their own beyond the confines of cinema. ‘True Love‘ was Oscar nominated for best song but lost out to ‘Que Sera, Sera’ from Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much. Some of them have been successfully re-recorded by later generations, such as ‘Well, Did You Evah!‘, the film’s best song, which was originally written for 1939’s DuBarry Was a Lady, and latterly recorded by Debbie Harry and Iggy Pop as part of a HIV/AIDS benefit project.

Sinatra & Crosby performing ‘Well, Did You Evah!

Being the greatest lyricist of his generation, Porter was capable of writing lyrics reflecting the film’s sense of magic and otherworldliness. He drops in classical references such as ‘Circe‘ the Greek goddess in ‘Little One‘, while also referencing more contemporary concerns, such as uranium, in ‘Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?‘ And yes, the song did inspire the name of the popular TV quiz show. And ‘she got pinched in the Astor Bar‘ from ‘Well, Did You Evah!‘ is as sly and funny now as it was then, especially with Sinatra’s astutely comic phrasing.

Not all the songs have aged as well, ‘Now You Has Jazz‘ is a decent example of the form, but the lyric ‘Jazz is the king, jazz is the thing that folks love the most.‘ seems unduly optimistic as jazz was about to be swept off the pinnacle of popular culture by rock ‘n’ roll.

However that’s aged nowhere near as badly as the icky staging of the torch sing Crosby sings to Kelly’s screen sister, which summons up the spectre of child sexploitation rife at the time in the Studios, and should be shocking to a modern audience in the era of #MeToo. And were High Society be remade today it’s the song that wouldn’t make the cut. As highly problematic as it is, it sadly it fits in with other songs of the era, notably ‘Little Girls‘, from MGM’s 1958 musical, Gigi.

Director Charles Walters was a choreographer turned director who as as well as directing films for Ginger Rogers and Esther Williams, made 1948’s Easter Parade with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, received a Best Director Oscar nomination for 1953’s Lili, and directed the Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds 1955 comedy, The Tender Trap.
There’s no signature artistry, just the absence of ego of a professional going about his business. When your star is also your producer, there’s rarely opportunity to do anything other than what you’re told. Certainly there’s none of the daring brush with 3D technology of 1953’s Kiss Me, Kate, or Gene Kelly’s experimental dance and design found in 1951’s An American In Paris.

Cinematography Paul Vogel as an Oscar-wining studio veteran journeyman who went on to shoot George Pal’s 1960 sci-fi adaptation, The Time Machine. His shots are always well balanced and composed so the audience know who’s the most important person in the room. Characters are usually fairly static within the frame, making it all the more startling when Kelly or or her screen sister flurry across a room.

The best we can say of his camerawork is it’s efficient and economical, with occasional daring pans from left to right, and though the camera becomes more agile in the musical numbers, it’s movement generally reflects Crosby’s laid back performance style.

There are no big theatrical set pieces and even the big ballroom scene at Tracy’s hen party, a great excuse for a swirl of costumes if ever there was one, hints rather than shows a crowd. And the big song and dance during the hen party is set in a drawing room where Crosby and Sinatra hide away.

In fairness the number is the storming duet ‘Well, Did You Evah! and remains not only only my favourite song in the film, but also one of my favourites in the Hollywood musical canon. Even the one crowd scene at the festival during the number ‘Now You Has Jazz‘ seems an out-take from a different picture.

Ralph E. Winters editing style allows the performances to breathe and to hold the audience in the moment. This is in contrast to the more excitable contemporary and haphazard style seen, for example, in 2019’s musical monstrosity Cats.

High Society’s production budget was an unadjusted-for-inflation $2.7 million, and US box office was a healthy and profitable $8.2 million. This compares favourably with 1952’s Singin’ In The Rain which scored for $7.2 million on a budget of $2.5 million.

Holme & Sinatra performing ‘Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?

Distributed by MGM, High Society sits high in their pantheon of great musicals, but was a joint production between two production houses, Sol C. Siegel Productions, and Bing Crosby Productions. Presumably the first provided the finance and the latter the talent, with the whole concept intended as a vehicle for Crosby.

Appearing in cinemas two years after Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, and Brigadoon, High Society is notable for what its not doing that those prior films did. Due to Crosby’s limited dancing ability there’s no outrageously macho and colourful ballet such as the barn building dance in Seven Brides, or the muscular staging of a Gene Kelly number. In fact none of the leads or support are famed for dance skills, though Sinatra could hoof his way through a scene if required.

Although never upstaged Crosby is canny enough to let others have their time in the spotlight. However
there’s an unmissable line concerning how handsome he used to be, and by implication still is to a degree.
This doesn’t soften the achingly clear and embarrassing age and glamour gap between romantic leads Crosby and Kelly.

Crosby, 5′ 7″ & Kelly, 5′ 7″

Having an older male starring a younger female seems to remain every Hollywood producer’s dream pairing. And Crosby certainly isn’t immune to the fantasy. Crosby was 53 years old at the time, Kelly was 27.
Helen Rose’s costumes achieve their aim of making Kelly look divine.

Though the use of studio sets, projected backdrops and second unit location work with extras driving cars pretending to be the leads now look decidedly false, they were common practice and would have been accepted by audiences at the time.

Lacks the scale of non-MGM musicals which shortly followed, such as 1961’s West Side Story, or 1965’s The Sound of Music, which addressed the themes of social conflict and Nazism head on. Compared to those behemoths High Society is a frothy endeavour, with even Julie Andrews’ movie featuring a singing nun-turned-nanny who marries her rich boss, seem hard hitting.

The golden age of MGM musicals kicked off with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland in 1948’s Easter Parade, includes 1949’s On The Town, and you can argue amongst yourselves whether 1954’s An American in Paris is ‘better’ than 1952’s Singin’ In The Rain. I love both but always favour the latter for a rewatch as its joyous frivolity makes for the easiest of watches.

High Society saw the MGM studio declining as a creative force. It’s principal stars were ageing – by Hollywood standards – and cinema was threatened by the usual suspects such as the growth of TV, changing demographics and tastes, and the social creation of the teenage generation. But for a run of flamboyant escapist entertainment, the MGM golden age is hard to match.

MGM released ten musicals in 1948, then nine in 1951, and ten more in 1953. It released eight musicals in 1955, before High Society became one of four films released in 1956. There were five the following year, only one in 1960, none in 1961, and only five in total in the 1960s. There was one original musical in the 1970, and the anthology That’s Entertainment!, a showcase of MGM’s greatest hits and a great introduction to their musicals. Two more anthologies followed, though they were seen primarily a way of generating cash in the pre-home video era for MGM’s new owners.

Of two hundred MGM musicals listed on IMDB.com, High Society is number 177 by release date. The only ones of note which follow it are 1957’s Silk Stockings featuring Cyd Charisse, and 1958’s wildly problematical Gigi.

From the sense of other worldliness, images of ruined houses and the backdrop of fin de siècle, the ghosts of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 Jazz-age novel The Great Gatsby, are inescapable. The book was enjoying a renewed interest and re-evaluation and its influence is clear. It can be seen in Crosby’s character throwing not only an extravagant party in his house but an entire festival, one clearly designed to attract the attention of his beautiful soon-to-be-married-to-someone else next door neighbour. And he pointedly describes himself as inheriting the wealth of his bootlegger father, the same means by which Gatsby acquired his fortune.

Tracy holds her hen party in one of the many emptied decaying mansions which line the coast, a situation described in the novel, and it’s possible to imagine long after the credits roll, that the characters and otherworldly kingdom the movie conjures up continue to exist in their own magical bubble of reality quite separate from our mundane reality.

High Society celebrates its 75 years anniversary this year, and as I’ve yet to watch it on the big screen, maybe I’ll get lucky and it will find itself released back into cinemas to celebrate. What a swell party that would be.

EMMA

Cert U stars 4

This fabulously dressed adaptation of Jane Austen’s much loved novel by the makers of Four Weddings and a Funeral, is faithful to its character, plot, period costume and humour.

More used to appearing in modern thrillers, this is an impressive change of gear for Anya Taylor-Joy, who brings a porcelain elegance to the twenty one year old Emma.

She’s a snobbish rich busybody on a difficult path to self-enlightenment and true love, whose vain attempts at playing village matchmaker powers the comedy.

And it brings her into conflict with her exasperated yet handsome and single neighbour, played by the generously whiskered Johnny Flynn.

Filmed on location in grand country houses, it also has welcome appearances from those other British institutions, Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart in key roles.

Concerns such as old age poverty and male toxicity play out alongside tart observations of pretension, pomposity, arrogance and cruelty.

But Emma’s growing self-awareness and kindness wins the day, ensuring this is enough to melt the heart of the most determined St. Valentine’s Day cynic.

The 3 minute video top 10 box office countdown

QUEEN & SLIM

Cert 15 Stars 4

Fear and harassment on an online date leads to violence and a desperate bid for freedom in this confident, muscular, accomplished and heartbreaking US crime drama which always feels authentic and never exploitative.

When a white policeman is shot after he’s pulled them over, black citizens Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya try to escape to communist Cuba, a destination full of implicit criticism of US capitalism and its historical relationship with slave labour.

By turns thrilling, funny and moving, their journey progresses from being a road trip expose of US racial divisions to a lyrical love story, with a script which digs into ideas of social mobility, role models and solidarity.

However TV reports and social media bestows an unwelcome air of celebrity on the outlaw pair, feeding negative stereotypes and helping perpetuate a cycle of oppression.

As a modern day Bonnie and Clyde, Turner-Smith and Kaluuya make a combative and sexy pair, and shockingly overlooked by the major awards the British acting duo could at least have expected some recognition from the BAFTAs.

NO FATHERS IN KASHMIR

Cert 15 Stars 3

There are few more promising dramatic scenarios than teenage romance in a war torn country, but this modern day coming-of-age tale is more concerned with raising awareness for its tragic real life background than delivering gripping spectacle.

Noor is a British teen visiting her grandparents who live in Kashmir, the poverty stricken border country which has been the centre of a war between India and Pakistani since 1947.

Zara Webb’s smartphone wielding attitude is wholly convincing, but she occasionally struggles to carry the emotional weight asked of her.

Through her relationship with a scooter-riding local charmer played by Shivam Raina, the script explores the tragedy of the thousands of ‘disappeared’ men who have been taken by the army, leaving the village women not knowing if they are wives or widows.

Threadbare thriller elements and grim reality sit uneasily with the underpowered romance and too many characters exist simply to explain a point of view.

There’s no doubting the filmmakers sincere intent but this may have been better structured as a straightforward documentary.

WEATHERING WITH YOU

Cert 12A Stars 4

This soaring animated adventure is a wondrous coming-of-age fable which drowns in a flood of gorgeous illustration and threatens to wash you away with its tender humour and emotional currents.

When 16 year old Hodaka runs away to Tokyo he falls for the beautiful Hina, a teenager possessed of the magical ability to make the rain stop sun shine.

As Japan suffers a deluge of biblical proportions, it’s a timely gift is which they put to practical use, but it comes with a terrible price which threatens the happiness of these star-crossed lovers.

Drawing on mythic tales of weather maidens and Sky dragons, and featuring a cast of colourful characters Charles Dickens would be proud of, it’s a whirlpool of eco-fantasy, and poignant love story of teenagers struggling to adapt to life in the big bad city.

Brit actor Riz Ahmed is joined by Lee Pace and Alison Brie in putting their voices to this this joyous affair which is a guaranteed ray of sun in the cold dark days of January.

 

THE BOY DOWNSTAIRS

Cert 12A 89mins Stars 2

There’s little to laugh at in this slight, limp, frustrating and maudlin millennial romcom.

The likeable Zosia Mamet stars as aspiring writer and singleton, Diana, who has moved to New York after three years in London.

She takes a job in a bridal shop and this is probably intended as irony but the script fails to build on the idea.

Moving into an apartment Diana is surprised to discover her ex-boyfriend is the boy living downstairs and OMG, in a new relationship.

Matthew Shear’s struggling musician Ben is such a remarkably unprepossessing presence I’m staggered he can romance not one but two attractive women during the course of the film.

And that’s without his default behaviour which is clingy, spineless and dull.

Thank goodness for Diana’s best friend Gabby, who brings energy and humour and is far more worthy of our attention than her sadly scant screen time allows.

Plus her love life seems much more dynamic, interesting and well, fun.

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY

Cert 12A 124mins Stars 4

Tuck in to this crowd pleasing tasty feast of a post-war detective story. Served with a heart-warming helping of romance, it’s far more satisfying than it sounds.

Star of Disney’s live action Cinderella and formerly of Downton Abbey, Lily James takes centre stage as a successful author called Juliet.

She’s sent to Guernsey in 1946 to write about the eponymous book and cookery club, established by the locals as a self support group during the wartime Nazi occupation.

To underscore the film belongs to James, she’s given a full Hollywood entrance in a stunning yellow ballgown. Always an engaging presence, she sweeps us away with her considerable talent and charm.

Though initially welcomed by the club, its members are reluctant to discuss the whereabouts of the founder member who is mysteriously ‘off island’. So Juliet sets off to uncover the truth of her disappearance.

Very much a love letter to literature of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, so true to form our romantically named heroine is caught between the attentions of Glen Powell’s dashing American diplomat, and Michiel Huisman’s hunky book-loving farmer, called Darcy, sorry, Dawsey. 

With complex family loyalties and grief and anger for those lost in the war, the script takes a sideways glance at the UK’s torturous relationship with the European mainland.

This is an exception to the cinematic rule of thumb which says the length of a films’ title is in inverse proportion to its quality. It’s stuffed with rich characters and production design, and set on the picture postcard-pretty island.

Plus there’s great warmth and humour from supporting cast, particularly veteran stars Penelope Wilton and Tom Courtney.

Director Mike Newell is one of the great unsung heroes of British cinema, due to his unassuming signature style which always serves the audience by putting the story first.

The result is a rewarding and entertaining slice of British fare you can really get your teeth into. 

 

OVERBOARD

Cert 12A 112mins Stars 3

Allow yourself to drift along with this sunny and smooth sailing romcom and you’ll not be disappointed with your destination.

Anna Faris plays a struggling single mother, Kate, who convinces Mexico’s Eugenio Derbez’s amnesia-ridden wealthy playboy they’re married.

It’s a gender-flipped remake of the 1987 comedy starring Goldie Hawn as a socialite and Kurt Russell as working-class single father.

As ever Faris brings a wealth of charm and comic ability, and works well with Derbez, who is the one of the best known names in Latin American entertainment.

He plays the dashing and obnoxious Leonardo who lives on a super-yacht filled with bimbos and butlers, with Scots actor John Hannah cruising along as one of the latter.

Having insulted the hard working Kate, Leo later falls overboard drunk, and washes ashore with no memory.

This allows Kate to convince him they are married, enabling he to focus on her nursing exams while he goes out to work and looks after the housework and her three blonde daughters

The youngest two are ridiculously cute and the eldest is a suitably stroppy teen. Kate also enjoys an easy rapport with Eva Longoria, as her best friend, Theresa.

Though the story flounders early on, it finds it’s stroke and rhythm once Leonardo’s rehabilitation gets underway.

It’s all knowingly preposterous, and openly acknowledges its debt to the many appalling but hugely popular daytime Mexican soap operas.

And it’s not afraid to makes points about the extra unpaid domestic work women do after a hard day’s work.

As a wall is built between Mexico and the US in the real world, the film’s cross cultural love across the barricades borders on being a provocative political statement.

Although I was never swept away by the predictable romance and I wasn’t rolling in waves of laughter, it’s harmlessly enjoyable, appropriately forgettable, and a mild improvement on the original.

 

 

EVERY DAY

Cert 12A 97mins Stars 2

Once is more enough for this repetitive romantic fantasy which squanders its intriguing premise.

It’s a high-school riff on comedy classic Groundhog Day and TV’s Quantum Leap. But it fails to generate any humour or sustain our interest.

Australian actress Angourie Rice is confident and likeable as Rhiannon, a 16-year-old who falls in love with a spirit who wakes every day in a different person’s body.

They’re a nicely inclusive mix of gender and races, but the central idea of beauty being skin deep is challenged by the frequency with which her soul mate inhabits hot boys.

And Rice is hamstrung by having to play against a revolving door of opposite numbers. Nor is her character established beyond being generically sweet and caring, while subplots are conveniently resolved or forgotten.

Though Every Day captures the ability of teenagers to treat every event with absolute intensity, it sells its audience short by failing to turn the experience into a drama.

 

 

ATTRACTION

Cert 12A 117mins Stars 3

There’s a breathless lack of subtlety in this teen sci-fi romance which sees a high school girl have a close encounter in down town Moscow.

Riffing on Romeo and Juliet, star crossed lovers see their worlds collide when a giant alien spaceship is shot down.

Russian TV star Irina Starshenbaum makes her big screen debut as our heroine Yulia, and Rinal Mukhametov plays the alien object of her affections.

Yulia is sweet, sarcastic and sparky, almost singlehandedly giving life to a startlingly unoriginal script. She’s also considerably sharper than her father, the much put upon colonel in charge of protecting civilians from aliens, and vice versa.

The poor bloke is on much surer ground dealing with the potential destruction of planet Earth than teenage hormones. 

An innovative production method maximises the minimal budget, providing decent CGI for a fraction of the usual Hollywood cost. Along Yulia’s fresh faced energy, they’re the biggest selling point of this big screen attraction.