Did you ever dream about waking up in an idyllic world where the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and you hit the lottery every single day!? Yeah. Right. You keep living THAT dream, buddy-boy! But what would happen if that really DID happen to you and it just pissed you off because you couldn’t stand it?
I hate rom-com’s and so does Natalie (Rebel Wilson), a plus-sized architect living in NYC. She’s down on love and life since everyone at work treats her like a doormat, except for her two friends. Her sad-sack assistant, Whitney (Betty Gilpin) and Josh (Adam DeVine), who actually likes and supports her. She wishes she could just speak up for herself, like at an important meeting where unnaturally handsome Blake (Liam Hemsworth) is waiting to hear ideas about a hotel building. Life just sucks… until Natalie gets mugged in the subway, hits her head, and BAM!
She suddenly wakes up in an alternate universe/movie where she’s the star and living out a rom-com of her own! Picture-perfect NYC landscapes and helpful people (who break into song & dance!), no traffic, her apartment is shockingly beautiful and filled with tons of clothing, her old scruffy dog is now stunning looking, and Whitney is now an acerbic bitch at work, bent on revenge! In short, every cliché Natalie has ever seen in the movies is now coming true, right down to Donny (Brandon Scott Jones), her quirky neighbor next door, who’s now an 11 on the gay meter.
Realizing she’s in a rom-com of her own, she starts to ‘play along’ with the situation, which is nice since man-beef Blake literally swoons for her every time he sees her. But, as she’s falling for Blake, her BFF Josh has just fallen for a hot swimsuit model/yoga ambassador named Isabella (Priyanka Chopra), thus setting up a love triangle that is in every rom-com ever! Natalie, starting to take charge of this alternate universe, decides to assert herself and go for what she wants, even though the music swelling from out of nowhere and her own V/O narrating is getting annoying. But, she has to admit, that totally 80’s ‘sing & dance-off’ at the karaoke bar was awesome!
The ending is, if you’ve ever watched any rom-com, exactly what you’d expect, but at least the journey is fun to watch. Looks like screenwriters Erin Cardillo (only TV series like Life Sentence), Dana Fox (What Happens In Vegas), and newbie Katie Silberman (her first screenplay ever) must’ve watched films like Enchanted, I Feel Pretty, Pleasantville, and others to get the flavor of this one, as all the T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted in the script as far as the plot. But, that’s the WAY it’s supposed to be, right? Even Natalie jokingly points out all the fallacies in the movie! Half the fun is watching all the dumb stuff you’ve seen before done again, but parodied in a fresh new way.
And, believe it or not, Rebel Wilson shines in this role as the lead, instead of playing second banana. Now Wilson, let’s face it, can come off as annoying AF, is given a nice, sweet, meaty role here where she can flex her acting chops and give a performance that we haven’t seen before. Sure, we still get some of her trademark mugging, tripping, and self-depreciating brand of comedy, but she has nice chemistry with DeVine who, BTW, brings it down as well to show off his romantic side. Honestly, this isn’t the movie I was expecting. Wilson in a rom-com? Who knew?
You can probably blame director Todd Strauss-Schulson (A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas) for that. He really takes this script and runs with it, having fun with the camera angles and filming styles in the ‘rom-com world’. Try to overlook the first ten minutes of the movie’s set-up as it’s pretty boring and dull, but once Natalie gets her noggin knocked, it takes off, so hang in there. Also, ya gotta love Gilpin’s switcheroo from an introverted assistant to a claws-bared antagonist. It’s hilarious! And if you thought Sean Hayes on TV’s Will & Grace plays an over-the-top gay friend, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet! Jones (if Chris Kattan and Jon Hamm had a love child) is a riot!
You’d almost expect Rod Serling to give the introduction to this odd little comedy-drama about a couple of bickering siblings who, curiously enough, get zapped into an alternate world where life is just like a 50’s sitcom straight out of an old TV program, of which THEY are a key participant of!
Teenagers David (Tobey McGuire) and his twin sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) are very different: Jennifer is shallow and extroverted while David is introverted and spends most of his time watching TV. One evening while fighting over what to watch on the boob tube, the remote control breaks, leaving David to watch his favorite show, Pleasantville, a black and white 50’s sitcom about the idyllic Parker family.
Soon, a mysterious TV repairman (Don Knotts) shows up, quizzes David about Pleasantville, and then gives him a strange new remote control, which zaps David and his sister INTO the Parker’s black and white Pleasantville living room! David and Jennifer must now pretend they are Bud and Mary Sue Parker, the son and daughter on the fictional show. Since David is an expert on the TV’s legacy, he schools his sister about “not breaking character” and disrupting the lives of the town’s citizens, who don’t seem to notice the change.
But while David/Bud is loving the new atmosphere, Jennifer/Mary Sue decides to go ‘off-book’ and start to change things… like having sex with a high school kid. This has a bizarre change in Pleasantville, as it begins changing from black and white to color, including flowers and the faces of people who have experienced bursts of emotion and personal transformation. David, against his better judgment, coerces the repressed soda shop owner, Mr. Johnson (Jeff Daniels), to modernize his cafe.
As things begin to colorize all over, many of the town (and townspeople) “wake up”, and start doing things they never did before, but with disastrous results. Riots break out, bans on “colored” people is initiated, there’s a book burning at the library, and playing loud music is outlawed. Having seen what they did to Pleasantville, David uses the remote to return home, both of them wiser than before.
Written & directed by Gary Ross (Big, Dave, The Hunger Games) it’s a wonder why this movie tanked at the box office. Yes, the premise was weird and the story was way off-kilter, but no more than your average 30-minute Twilight Zone episode, which this could have easily been. Aside from the great cast (Don Knotts as the TV repairman? How cool was that?!), this was a really creative film as the TV world of Pleasantville was colored, then digitally scanned as B&W, using a new CGI process. Ross (like Rod Serling) even wove into the story, not only a comedic spin on TV sitcom’s, but a deep morality tale of today’s America by holding a mirror up to our social landscape.
McGuire (four years before he swung into our Spider-Man hearts) and Witherspoon are just perfect as teenagers (??) and have a lot of fun here, but the real treat are the other cast members. Soda shop owner Jeff Daniels is so damn good here, the movie wants to see more of him and Joan Allen & William H. Macy are both excellent. I guess all the millennials out there didn’t like it because of its ‘nostalgia’, but for us ‘old timers’, it was awesome to see a 50’s TV show come alive… and then destroyed by their own hands. Okay, now that I write that it sounds wrong, but you get the idea, right?