Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Movie Reviews: Custody/The Party Never Stops

In this post I will review two recent Lifetime Original Movies which I watched because they starred favorites of the TCR. Namely, Custody, starring Kay Panabaker and The Party Never Stops: Diary of a Binge Drinker starring Sara Paxton. Let's roll.


I think I've reviewed each of Kay Panabaker's projects to date except Life Is Ruff (actually have I really written anything about Debbie Berwick on here?), so it only makes sense to throw one together on this. (Please note that Life Is Ruff will never be reviewed on this blog. Know that it is terrible.)

(Brief) Plot Summary ('cause, actually I don't really totally remember what happened): Rob Morrow (from Numbers) plays a widowed English professor named David Gordon who has a daughter named Amanda (Kay Panabaker - Official Actress of the TCR). Amanda's mom died when she was extremely young, and so she never even really knew her. David and Amanda have a solid and steady group of (wacky!) friends, and their life is generally pleasant. This is all changed when a new man, John Sullivan (James Denton from Desperate Housewives) shows up claiming to be Amanda's real birth father. This fact is quickly confirmed by David. John decides he wants to get to know Amanda and, actually, sues for full time custody of Amanda and wins. The movie proceeds from there, and I don't wanna give away too much even though nothing that happens is too surprising.

Commentary: Well, this was a pretty cute movie, but there wasn't really very much to it. The group of wacky and witty and diverse friends was an unnecessary distraction and was really cliched. It was like watching a very low-rent version of a Richard Curtis movie. Kay Panabaker was cute and charming as always, and she does well with the dramatic parts of the movie. I've embarrassingly gushed over Kay and her talents many times before on this blog (just click the Kay Panabaker tag at the end of this post), so I'll avoid going too overboard this time. But she continues to have such a charming screen presence, and she continues to have pitch-perfect facial expressions, vocal inflections, etc. All the little things she does that always impress me so much. Suffice to say, I really liked her performance, even though there really wasn't too much to her character. The movie was cliched, the characters actions were cliched, the characters themselves were cliched, etc. etc.

I've spoken out against judging movies solely based on the originality of their plot many times before but, unfortunately, that seems to be a pretty valid criticism of this movie. It's not original, and it doesn't go about its unoriginality in a particularly interesting way. I'm as big a Kay Panabaker fan as you'll meet and I almost fell asleep partway through this.

But none of this is to say there isn't anything to enjoy in this movie beyond Kay. Kay's friend is a really fun character, and I liked the actress a lot. The ending, though expected, was also very satisfying and well done. The best part of the movie, all in all, was the relationship between Kay's character and Rob Morrow's character. This was a pretty real relationship, and it was well done. Most of the best moments in the movie are the quiet, personal moments shared by those two, and they lend a depth to the movie that would otherwise not be there.

Final Comments/Grade: Emotionally affecting, satisfying ending, one of my favorite actresses giving a great performance as lead, but yet incredibly uninteresting. Cute, but with no substance at all. I've given good grades to cute movies with little substance many times before (Raise Your Voice, Ella Enchanted), but I just can't in good conscience give a good grade to a movie that entertained me so little. Especially when the plot and characters and themes are as unoriginal as they are here. 5/10.

The Party Never Stops: Diary of a Binge Drinker

(Brief) Plot Summary ('cause, actually I don't really totally remember what happened): Jesse Tanner (Sara Paxton) is a goody-two-shoes who lives in a small town with her mother and younger sister, her father having died several years previous. Jesse is about to be the first person in her family to go to college and she's very excited, though she will miss her mom. She instantly becomes friends with her college roommate Shanna (Chelsea Hobbs), who is a big partier who is planning on joining a sorority. Jesse and Shanna get big into the partying scene, which causes various troubles in Jesse's life. In one particularly awesome plot point, she is filmed topless for a Girls Gone Wild type movie which is posted on the internet. The movie proceeds in like fashion, again, not wanting to give too much away.

Commentary: This movie was extremely repetitive and not a whole hell of a lot happened, which means it probably should have been really boring. The constant stream of "Jesse does something wrong/her life screws up/her mom gets mad and forbids her from partying any more/OK I'll party this one last time" gets really tiresome (that sequence takes place like 3 or 4 times). Even though the plot is repetitive and the message is totally after-school-special, I nonetheless found myself very entertained.

My first inclination is to attribute this to a "so bad it's good" type ethos, due to the hysterics, scaremongering, ridiculous plot devices, and general shoddiness of the film. In fact, the film seems to be poorly made. I guess, the most important part of why I enjoyed this movie was the performance of the leads, Sara Paxton and Chelsea Hobbs. They both did a great job, and their chemistry was a hoot. And I'll be damned, but the relationship gave the movie a real emotional core. The movie really got to me. It's becoming increasingly easy to emotionally manipulate me in a film, and almost any movie that is supposed to make you sad or happy will get me choked up. So I can't fairly use that as a criteria for judging a movie, but there it is.

Chelsea Hobbs, as a newcomer, provided the most emotionally affecting scenes and the biggest laughs. She wasn't a revelation or anything, and it definitely wasn't a great performance, but she didn't screw it up and sometimes that's enough, especially for a movie like this. Sara was her usual charming self, though she had a bad tendency to overact. This was probably the weakest performance I've ever seen from Sara.

Though I was entertained, the story was very poorly structured and cliched. The whole movie was crazily over the top, and the over-the-topness resulted in the message not really being put across. It's hard to take anything about this movie seriously, so if it's really trying to express the dangers of binge drinking it's a failure from that standpoint.

Final Comments: Opposite of Custody, this movie was not cute, and it was very poorly done. But Custody put me to sleep, this movie I couldn't turn away from. Both movies featured strong performances from the leads, though I was a bit disappointed by Sara. I generally tend to go with poorly made but entertaining over well made but boring. 6/10.

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