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Distraction Of A Discarded Woman

promo_007Review of The Sweeter Side Of Life

It has been a while, too long in fact, since we saw Kathryn in a significant new project.  Since the Cougars, Inc. VOD release on the 1st of April 2011 (May for the DVD)  there has been… well, nothing really.  Of several scenes filmed for Moneyball, one of the biggest movies of 2011, only a singleton made it to the public and that was just as a deleted scene on the DVD.  One short film (Sunday’s Mother) that has only been shown at a few festivals.  That’s it.  As regulars know there are a couple of other projects in the offing: another short (The Coin) and a small role in a feature film (2 Br/1 Ba).  That makes this, the lead role in a TV movie, a big deal for us fans of Kathryn.  Can it possibly live up to the weight of expectation?

It was so good to have Kathryn back on our screens.  We’ve missed her very much.  A comedy role like this is new for her too.  I have wanted to see her do comedy for a long time and have no doubt she can do it with aplomb.

tssol_017Spoiler Alert.  A quick plot summary:  The Sweeter Side Of Life sees Desiree (Kathryn), a Manhattan “lady who lunches”, is divorced by her successful plastic surgeon husband.  She’s left with nothing and, abandoned by her status-conscious “friends”, is forced to move back into the family home and bakery run by her father (James Best).  Initially Desiree resists her new surroundings but quickly succumbs to their charms, and those of a top local chief.  Having transformed the bakery into a thriving business with her new “Paddy Cakes” idea she’s offered a way to return to her previous high living New York ways.  But having learnt that there is more to life than her former penthouse apartment and designer shoes, she turns it down to stay in her new life.  The End.

I’ve never knowingly watched a Hallmark movie before.  However, the name Hallmark carries a lot of connotations from the greetings card business etc.  Very middle of the road, saccharine and all wrapped up with a “message” that might as well be shouted at you from the roof tops.  Those associations did not fill me with confidence that I would enjoy this movie, despite the presence of a certain Ms. Morris.

There was a ray of hope when the first, rather lengthy trailer did make it look like things would not be too bad.  The comedy element was played up with a fair amount of slapstick though the schmaltz was bound to be close by.  It’s never far away with Hallmark involved.

tssol_109Sadly that optimism was somewhat overturned on the initial viewing.  I was left wondering who this lead actress was and asking what had she done with our Kathryn?  I don’t know what it was about it but the acting came across to me as far from her best, particularly in the first quarter of the film.  There was a lot of arm waving and screeching.  We know Kathryn is a very good actress and a consummate professional so it is difficult to understand why this would be.  As I said at the beginning: at the time of filming it had been quite a while since Kathryn had a significant role in anything, so maybe that’s why.

The plot was indeed covered entirely by that long trailer.  It’s pretty standard romcom stuff with no real surprises.  It had it’s moments but maybe not enough.  To its credit it didn’t linger on the not so nice Desiree for long, though she is never painted as a bad person.  Editing down to a mere 80 minutes may have hurt the rest of it though because it felt a bit rushed at times.  An example is the kick to the family-jewels the ex-husband Wade is seen getting in that first trailer.  The fight ends rather abruptly as a result.  OK, it didn’t make the final cut, but why leave the set up for that moment in at the beginning of the film?  And how long did this whole life change for Desiree take?  Based on what we saw it might have been just one week from penthouse to new boyfriend and newly thriving business.  We have a new relationship apparently formed on the basis of a couple of awkward encounters.  The continuity let it down on a few occasions too.  Which brings me to…

tssol_195My biggest issue was one of being distracted by something looming large on screen:  Kathryn’s hair.  Superficial I know but it matters.  For some reason Kathryn’s recently gone for this ‘do’ that includes a big fringe and bulky sections either side of her face.  It changes the shape of her face, and not necessarily for the best.  It was useful for disguising the stuntman in a blonde wig though.  Why Kathryn feels the need to cover her beautiful visage so much I don’t know.  In some scenes, such as the later one at the restaurant when Desiree is wearing a very… errr… effective… red dress, the basic do was the same but it was much straighter and softer, and subsequently looked much better.  The addition of a smile, missing earlier, probably helped too.  The 80s-look with the hair up made her look, not surprisingly, younger.  Don’t get me wrong, an off day for Kathryn is still a great day.  I just found the constant changes, even within a scene (that poor continuity again), of hair style very off putting.  The same goes for the numerous outfits.

The split New York and Romania filming, a small budget and not a lot of time to get the film in the can may have contributed to all these issues.  Lack of rehearsal and little time for multiple takes too perhaps.

Something must be said of the other key cast members.  At times James Best reverted to an almost Roscoe P Coltrane manner but he did have some good scenes, especially his first of the film.  I don’t know where Christine Oram, as florist Francine, is actually from but that Irish accent was just a little too strident for my ears.  The rest were perfectly good (including Alastair Mackenzie and Stephen Hogan) in their more minor roles but some were painted with fairly broad brushes.  A little more subtly required.

tssol_724Our star of the show award goes to Steve Varnom as Eddie the lawyer.  He stole most of the scenes he was in.  It was a broad brush used effectively.  He did well enough for me to overlook his regular hugging and kissing on the cheek of Kathryn!  Unhand her Sir!

Looking at comments posted on Twitter, Facebook, and our very own poll here on KM UK after the initial broadcasts I do seem to be in the minority of not being completely enamoured with The Sweeter Side Of Life.  You will probably love it.  It is very pleasing to see that the general reaction from the wider viewing audience has been so positive, and Kathryn’s role so warmly received.  Perhaps we can just put it down to Hallmark knowing their target market and yours truly not being part of it.  It is very much of its type, fulfilling its brief well.  Maybe even a better than average effort.  A second viewing went much better for me with the issues I’ve highlighted not quite so distracting.

What I feel we have with The Sweeter Side Of Life is a Paddy Cake of a movie.  Small, largely consisting of icing and decoration, and somewhat lacking in actual cake.  What it needed was to be a little bigger, with more preparation, a longer cooking time on a lower heat, and less icing.  It needed to be less of a confection and more the kind of cake Momma used to make.

I realise that what you’ve just read is a largely negative review and you are probably cursing my name with every word.  With most of the film being distinctly average I had to concentrate on the less good bits.  We love Kathryn, of course, but we have to be objective.  It was great to be see Kathryn in such a significant role again having been absent for so long and I really wanted to love the film despite some pre-viewing reservations.  It just feels like a missed opportunity.

RichE.

The Sweeter Side Of Life was a Hallmark presentation by Cupcake Productions LLC and MPCA.  Directed by Michael Damian.  Written by Michael and Janeen Damian.

2 comments to Distraction Of A Discarded Woman

  • Nscha

    Thanks for your review. I like how you stay critical of Kathryn’s work and not simply swoon over EVERYTHING she does just because it’s KM doing it. I haven’t seen the movie but your review confirms my expectations of the rather predictable storyline. I’m sad KM’s acting is disappointing, we know she can do so much better… Gonna try to find the movie online somewhere, any suggestions? :)

    • Thank you Nscha.

      It is important to be as objective as possible. I know that not all of Kathryn’s work will appeal to me, despite her presence. I wouldn’t normally watch this type of film so I have to take that into account.

      And you are right that sycophancy does no one any favours.

      Based on most the comments I’ve seen and the votes in our poll I am clearly in a minority of not really liking TSSOL.

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