Two Dramas from Sony Pictures
Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School
Saddled with a structure that's as clunky as its title, Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School is a sporadically effective yet thoroughly uneven drama that admittedly boasts several superb performances. Robert Carlyle stars as Frank Keane, a bereaved baker who receives a new lease on life after an encounter with car-crash victim Steve Mills (John Goodman). Steve, whilst en route to the hospital, regales Frank with a story about his childhood experiences at the titular establishment and a promise he made to return on just this particular day. Frank takes Steve's place and soon discovers that he has a natural gift for dancing - and even finds himself falling for one of his fellow hoofers (played by Marisa Tomei). Director and co-writer Randall Miller has infused Marilyn Hotchkiss with multiple storylines - including flashback footage from his eponymous 1990 short - and there is consequently no getting around the feeling that the movie simply possesses too many storylines. The end result is a hit-and-miss narrative that's as dull as it is interesting, and one can't help but wish that Miller had placed the emphasis entirely on Carlyle's character. That being said, there are certainly a number of genuinely affecting moments spread throughout Marilyn Hotchkiss' running time and it's impossible to deny the effectiveness of the film's supporting cast (which includes, among others, David Paymer, Ernie Hudson, and Donnie Wahlberg).
Mozart and the Whale
Though it clearly has its heart in the right place, Mozart and the Whale never quite becomes anything more than a mildly engaging curiosity - a vibe that's due primarily to the distinctly overwrought sensibility that seems to have been hard-wired into every aspect of the film's production. Based on a true story, the movie follows Donald (Josh Hartnett) and Isabelle (Radha Mitchell) - both of whom are suffering from Asperger's syndrome - as they attempt to maintain a relationship and forge something resembling a normal life. That Mozart and the Whale often resembles Rain Man - particularly in terms of its emphasis on melodrama - doesn't come as much of a surprise, as both films have been written by Ron Bass. Bass' decision to employ a plotless structure lends the proceedings a distinctly uneven feel, while Hartnett and Mitchell's earnest yet unconvincing work makes it virtually impossible for the viewer to connect to their respective characters. And although the movie kind of improves as it progresses - the whole thing settles into a groove of mediocrity that's strangely compelling - there's just no overlooking the myriad of conventional elements peppered throughout Bass' screenplay.