Thursday, April 13, 2006

Movie Review - "Hello Sister, Goodbye Life"

I just want to point out ahead of time that this review is gonna contain spoilers in order for me to fully identify why this film was disappointing to me. But fear not, dear reader, as everything which happens in this film is telegraphed well in advance.

THE FILM: "Hello Sister, Goodbye Life"
STARRING: Lacey Chabert, Sammi Hanratty, and Wendy Malick
PLOT OUTLINE: A college student, Olivia (Lacey Chabert) has a very fractured relationship with her father, who divorced her mother long ago and married another woman. With this other woman, he had a daughter, Celia (Sammi Hanratty), who is aged approximately seven at the start of the film. Olivia is very close to her kind of wacky and young-acting mother Barbara (Wendy Malick), however. Unfortunately, Olivia's father and step-mother die in an automobile accident, and would you believe it, the father's will stipulates that Olivia is to be given custody of the children. Wait, what? OK, this requires a bit of a leap of faith, as it's never really made clear why Olivia takes on this role (keep in mind that she barely knows her sister at all by this point, they've only seen each other a couple times, and Olivia considers her to be bratty and spoiled). Anyways, she DOES take it on. And earlier in the film, her long-time boyfriend has revealed that he is moving to Italy and would like her to move to Italy with him, which she had been planning on doing but will be obviously impossible given her current living arrangements. Anyways, Barbara moves in with Olivia to help with Celia, and things proceed in the expected direction, i.e. Olivia shows herself to be woefully underprepared and they hate each other. Eventually she is convinced to give up custody of her child, to the girl's grandparents, who live in Argentina. This seemingly important fact is something that she keeps from Celia, not wanting to hurt her. That will turn out well. They make arrangements for Celia to fly to Argentina to stay with her grandparents, and they will get the paperwork finalized there. But, lo, what is this, Olivia and Celia start to BOND in the last couple of weeks! The shock! But then Celia finds out about Olivia's plans to abandon her and gets mad at Olivia again. Will Olivia give up on Celia and move to Italy with her boyfriend, or stay with Celia at home? Watch the film to find out!!!

Okay, of course she stays.

Now carefully review that plot summary and then read the following plot summary from IMDB. See if you can identify any factual or grammatical errors, or inconsistencies with the description presented above: "A college (Chabert) is forced to care for her 7-year-old half sister when her dad and step mom die."

KEY TURNING POINTS: The (usually) best parts of films like this are the scenes where touching moments happen between child and adult which cause them to bond, and cause the audience to get progressively more and more choked up.

Moment One: After trying, and failing, to discipline Celia, Olivia and her boyfriend are talking, and her boyfriend convinces her to give up custody of Celia and move with him to Italy after all.
Desired Emotional Response: "Oh no! Give it a chance to develop! You and Celia are perfect for each other, and this guy is kind of an a-hole."
Actual Emotional Response: "Good. You are clearly unprepared for this awesomely huge task and are doing both yourself and Celia a disservice."

Moment Two: While picking Celia up from school, Olivia talks to Celia's teacher. The teacher shows her a story that Celia has been writing in class, about a cat and a dog who initially hate each other but grow to love each other. This story is an obvious allegory to Olivia and Celia.
Desired Emotional Response: "Good god is that the most adorable thing ever. Now you HAVE to stay."
Actual Emotional Response: "WTF! Where did that come from? There have been no scenes of apparent or actual warmth between these characters up until this point." (side note, even I had to groan at this story).

Moment Three: Olivia watches Celia score a goal during a soccer game, and is very excited. When they get home, Celia lets Olivia glue a starfish onto a mural her and her mom had been making. When Olivia had previously attempted to even touch this mural, Celia totally freaked out, as only CELIA and HER MOM were allowed to touch it.
Desired Emotional Response: "Awwwww, she sees Olivia as a mom now!"
Actual Emotional Response: Basically the same. This scene is well done despite, again, being telegraphed well in advance.

Moments Four and Five: Celia accidentally finds about Olivia's plan to give up custody to her, thus forcing Celia to move to Argentina, oh, about 2 days before the move was to occur. Then, Olivia and Celia have a touching talk by her bedside in which Olivia apologizes, Celia forgives, and much weeping occurs.
Desired Emotional Response: "Oh no, Olivia you blew it. Now you have ruined this precious bond you've forged." "Oh thank GOD, everything is back to right with them!"
Actual Emotional Response: "Oh come on Olivia, what did you honestly expect? You HAD to tell her earlier than that, it's HER OWN life!" "Ah, letting her off the hook a little easy, eh Celia. She must really not want to go to Argentina, and is trying to guilt Olivia into staying."

Moment Six: After all this, Olivia decides to stay home when she realized 3 things. 1) Her daddy loved her after all, 2) her and Celia are PERFECT for each other, 3) her boyfriend is kind of a jerk and doesn't really love her.
Desired Emotional Response: "Finally, you've come to realize what we've known all along and grown as a person all the while."
Actual Emotional Response: I'm not gonna put this in reactionary form, but the ending (even though you KNOW it's gonna happen) comes completely out of left field from an emotional standpoint. I don't think they "earned" it.

AND THEY ALL LEARNED A VALUABLE LESSON: Celia learns not to be so spoiled, and to cut people a break once in a while, and also begins to cope w/ her parents' death. Olivia learns to open up and love people! And also that her dad did love her after all. Awwwww.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Okay, in case you couldn't tell from the tone of all the previous, I really did not care for this movie at all. I hate to say it, because I have nothing against Lacey Chabert, and it seems kind of cruel to insult kid actors, but the acting in this movie was probably the biggest problem. Wendy Malick completely phones it in, in a somewhat similar role to what she plays on "Just Shoot Me" (which I HATE). Lacey Chabert is just way too one-note in her performance in the movie. I haven't mentioned it above, but Olivia is made to be an extremely sarcastic person in this film (Character Trait!), and Lacey just totally plays it up way too much. She's just very locked in to the somber, sarcastic person, and then when she suddenly switches at the end, it just doesn't work for me. Most of the joy of these movies is in seeing the characters gradually change. And though this change is written into the script, in my opinion, it is not adequately reflected in the performance.
I always cut child actors a lot of slack, so I don't really wanna say anything bad about Sammi Hanratty. She was OK for a child actor, but she did have a few scenes where her delivery was painfully bad. Though she was plenty cute AND precocious! Here's a key example Rich would want me to point out (paraphrased):

CELIA: [unbelievably snotty tone] No, we don't eat microwaved food in our house. Mom says it's bad for us.
OLIVIA: Well, you might not know this, but sometimes when people say bad, they use it to mean good. So maybe she was saying it's good for you!
CELIA: NO, she meant the REAL WAY [ridiculous emphasis on last two words].

This is the kind of scene where you can picture the director: "No, Sammi, cut, cut. You need to be bigger on the last two words. MORE EMPHASIS."
Although the story of this movie was extremely played out and predictable, I usually don't really count that as a point against these kind of movies, because the plot is basically a crutch from which to hang the characters and their emotional interactions. A film like this is properly judged by the weight of the emotional impact (good or bad) of the characters' decisions and interactions with the viewing audience. In that aspect, the movie falls below expectations.
Besides the acting, I thought a lot of the character changes and realizations built into the script were too abrupt, and probably could have been fleshed out more, leaving aside some of the more pointless elements of the movie (Olivia's boyfriend, for example) to focus more on the relationship between the sisters.

OVERALL COMMENTS: A lot of you will insult/berate me for having any expectations at all going into this movie. But I'm gonna tell you, there is hardly anybody you will meet at all who is a bigger sucker for this kind of movie than I am. All it really needed to be was competently done and I would have really liked it. I get emotionally swept up in this type of movie very easily, but even at the end, when she decides to stay and it shows her pushing Celia on a swing, while the re-read the ultra-adorable cat/dog story Celia had written earlier, I really didn't feel any emotions at all. Not even choked up a bit. And I'd admit to that, as I get choked up at similar movies easily. That's why I was disappointed, because I AM the target audience to this film, and I just felt kind of let down. It could have/should have been much better given this story, and these character set ups.

FINAL RATING: 4/10. I can't recommend it, unless, I guess, if you are a huge Lacey Chabert fan.



Blogger mrianda said...

I am a big fan of your reviews of TV movies. Or anytime anyone gives serious critical attention to something that usually doesn't get it. Also I really like that you have a blog thing that actually has content on it. Most blogs people just to talk about their lives(usually while drunk) every two months or so. The next time I'm in the video store, I'll rent Life Size, as I always see it there.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How could you hate JUST SHOOT ME and wendie Malick, why I ought slap you!!! Other than that which I'v gotten out of my system, you are a pretty talent movie reviewer, unless is Michael C....

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i luv that movie. how could u just give it a 4/10 thats just wrong.I cant wait intill i see it again.

10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great review. Just saw this movie and totally felt the same ways. Olivia was supposed to be 21, but was very immature. She was supposed to be cynical and sarcastic, but she just seemed to be rude and bratty. I would expect this from an angry high schooler, but an independent college student should have grown out of this sort of behavior. She was even rude to the people whom she needed to collaborate their lawyer and her mother.

She was especially immature in the way she handled the child. Watching the scene where she totally overreacted over a cookie, and sent Celia to her room in a completely unnecessary power struggle was painful. I have seen 16 year olds act like this. But most college kids I know have a little bit more understanding and tolerance.

Not to mention, most people are extremely sensitive to grieving people, especially grieving children. With the exception of Celia's teacher, none of the adults in the film showed any interest in Celia's grief....only her custody arrangement. And the turning point of the film centered around Olivia's pre-planned trip to Italy. My question was...why couldn't Celia go?

Sure, Olivia and Joe wanted to have a romantic getaway, but now that she had become a "mother," if he wanted to be with her, he needed to learn to be a "step-father" in training.

However, the movie is visually appealing. Nice sets and costumes, expensive homes and cars. Chabert is beautiful and trendy.

4/10 is about right.

11:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did anyone else notes the guy in the backset laying down in the red car when the mom and daughter were hiding to the dad house for dinner?

3:26 AM  

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