The Films of Patricia Riggen
Under the Same Moon
Lemonade Mouth (May 29/11)
A typically innocuous Disney Channel flick, Lemonade Mouth follows five high school outcasts - Bridgit Mendler's Olivia, Adam Hicks' Wen, Hayley Kiyoko's Stella, Naomi Scott's Mo, and Blake Michael's Charlie - as they form the title band and, eventually, begin to prepare for a pivotal music competition. There's little doubt that Lemonade Mouth's target demographic of teenagers will find plenty here worth getting excited about, as filmmaker Patricia Riggen, working from April Blair's screenplay, does a nice job of both establishing the (admittedly one-dimensional) characters and peppering the proceedings with several energetic (yet bland) musical numbers. The film is, however, almost entirely lacking in elements designed to capture and sustain the interest of older viewers, with the pervasive familiarity of the storyline - ie Blair takes the narrative in every single direction one might have anticipated - exacerbated by an almost ridiculously overlong running time (112 minutes? Really?) And while the movie's five central performers are all quite likeable and charismatic, Blair saddles their respective characters with hackneyed, unreasonably hoary instances of backstory (eg Wen struggles to accept his father's 28-year-old girlfriend, Charlie must live up to the example of his successful older brother, etc, etc). The inclusion of a few nice moments here and there - eg Olivia opens up to Wen after her beloved cat dies - can't quite compensate for what is otherwise a hopelessly dumbed-down endeavor, although, to be fair, one could certainly do far worse in terms of the Disney Channel's original fare.
Girl in Progress
Miracles from Heaven (March 28/16)
An almost shockingly misguided drama, Miracles from Heaven follows Christy (Jennifer Garner) and Kevin Beam (Martin Donovan) as they attempt to figure out what's ailing their increasingly sick daughter (Kylie Rogers' Anna) - with the eventual reveal that the girl suffers from a rare digestive disorder prompting a whole new set of problems. It's probably a fool's errand to expect subtlety out of a film called Miracles from Heaven but the poorly-made production upends one's already-low expectations on an impressively consistent basis, as filmmaker Patricia Riggen, along with scripter Randy Brown, has infused the proceedings with a decidedly less-than-subtle feel that's reflected in its various attributes - with the movie's eye-rollingly heavy-handed bent exacerbated by an ongoing emphasis on pointless narrative threads and a punishingly deliberate pace. (There is, in terms of the former, a bizarre subplot involving a waitress played by Queen Latifah that goes absolutely nowhere.) And while Riggen has sprinkled the film with a few admittedly nice moments (eg Anna's family surprises her in the hospital), Miracles from Heaven's pervasively underwhelming atmosphere reaches its apex in the laughable third act wherein Anna is "miraculously" cured - with the silliness of this stretch heightened by Riggen's exploitative approach to the material. (A montage detailing everyday "miracles" is merely a series of scenes involving people being nice to one another.) It's a simplistic and somewhat offensive approach that's been shamelessly designed to win the approval of the most faithful of moviegoers, with the pandering vibe cementing Miracles from Heaven's place as a disaster of nigh biblical proportions.