Fox // 2000 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rankins (Retired) // February 17th, 2006
For five desperate Irishmen, the perfect girl is abroad.
If the atrocious pun in the above tagline tweaks your funny bone, this just may be the film for you.
When Shakespeare wrote the line in Macbeth, "Tomorrow, tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps on in its petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time," he may well have been envisioning life in the Irish hamlet (no pun intended) of Kilvara. A tiny seacoast town in County Donegal, Kilvara is the kind of place where nothing much ever happens, and no one who lives there would know what to do if it did.
The glacial pace of Kilvara's existence quickens suddenly when the town's priest, who fancies himself progressive, accidentally screens the film 10 on the town's weekly movie night. (The film rental outfit was supposed to send The Ten Commandments.) One glance at the lithe form of Bo Derek jogging along a sun-kissed beach in her skintight swimsuit, her blonde cornrows flailing in the breeze, sets the pulsebeats of Kilvara's single male population racing -- none of the local colleens look anything like this. (Never mind that the Kilvaran men aren't exactly a feast for the eyes themselves.)
Led by Kieran, the town's meat-cutter and chief rogue, the boys gather at the pub to compose a classified ad -- to run in the Miami Herald, of all places -- beckoning comely young American women ("between the ages of 20 and 21...must be fit and sporty") to join these Irish stallions for Kilvara's annual St. Martha's Day dance.
Who could resist an invitation like that?
Before I launch into a dissection of the subject at hand, permit me a moment's rant about the crime committed against this innocuous film by the Fox Home Video marketing department. The movie's theatrical title was The Closer You Get, a title that dovetails nicely into the film's central message, coming as it does from a pivotal proverb spoken by one of the main characters ("Sometimes, the closer you get to something, the harder it is to see it"). For the DVD release, however, Fox deemed this title...well...not racy enough. So they've slapped a sexier handle, American Women, on the keep case, along with cover art that makes this gentle Irish comedy look like the Emerald Isle road company of Porky's. Anyone buying this disc based on the Fox hype machine version of the contents will be seriously disappointed.
Far from a nudity-laden romp filled with, and aimed toward, horny teenagers, The Closer You Get -- I mean, American Women -- is really a sweet-spirited slice of rural Irish life. It's sort of a cross between Waiting For Guffman and Waking Ned Devine, with a hefty dollop of The Full Monty ladled in for good measure. The latter should come as no surprise, given that The Closer You Get -- sorry, American Women -- was produced by Uberto Pasolini, who also produced The Full Monty.
Now if only American Women was as entertaining as Waiting For Guffman, Waking Ned Devine, or The Full Monty. Sad to say, it isn't. It tries hard, and manages to present some interestingly quirky characters in moderately engaging situations and surroundings, but the execution falls flat. To say that this film's plot unwinds slowly would be similar to saying that a thermonuclear explosion is dangerous. The statement is true, but fails to adequately convey the essential scope of that truth.
Even worse, the only element of suspense in American Women gets wrapped up about two-thirds of the way through, yet the film oozes along at the speed of geomorphic evolution for another half-hour. Borrowing on a lame ethnic stereotype perpetuated by the movie itself, if life in Ireland is this glacial, no wonder those poor miscreants drink so heavily.
American Women tells the kind of story that the reigning dean of American film criticism, Roger Ebert, likes to call the idiot plot; that is to say, the plot would be concluded in the first ten minutes if everyone involved wasn't an idiot. But they are idiots -- and not of a particularly likeable sort -- from the drunken, skirt-chasing butcher who hatches the improbable scheme to lure American foxes to County Donegal's dank, gray shores (played by Ian Hart from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone with as much gusto as the sodden atmosphere permits) to the tavern owner's wife (another pleasant performance, this one by Niamh Cusack) who doggedly stands by her man in the face of mounting evidence that her man is an adulterous lowlife. They aren't even charmingly naïve. Just idiots.
If American Women is worth enduring at all, it's for a handful of nifty performances by a cast of actors largely unfamiliar to American audiences. I truly believed that each of these people really existed in this dull-as-dishwater burg, but I felt sorry for them in that they didn't much seem the kind of people with whom I'd want to spend more than, say, 92 minutes. For a story to grab the audience, we have to want good things to happen for the participants. I didn't care if anything good ever happened to this self-pitying lot, unless that good was my shutting off the DVD player at the end of the film.
Somehow (actually, because she's married to the producer), this red-headed stepchild of a production managed to land the services of the incredible Rachel Portman, an Academy Award-winning composer (for Emma) and one of the most compelling musicians currently toiling in film. Portman, whose haunting compositions grace pictures ranging from The Cider House Rules (which garnered her second of three Oscar nominations) to the remake of The Manchurian Candidate, turns in another lovely, lilting score here. In fact, a soundtrack album from American Women would be a worthier purchase than the movie itself. They probably wouldn't even feel it necessary to change the title or plaster a woman's bare midriff on the album cover.
Unless you consider the opportunity to watch an ennui-inducing flick in both widescreen and pan 'n' scan the height of value, you'll be hard-pressed to find much cause to spend your cash on the DVD release of American Women. To be fair, Fox does its usual fine job of presenting the movie itself. The picture quality is more than serviceable (the substantial grain evident throughout the film derives from the original shooting stock and not from any defect in the transfer to digital), and the audio is exceptional, giving glorious life to Rachel's Portman's score.
If you're here for the bonus features, on the other hand, keep walking -- four Fox trailers are all you'll find. Interestingly, the narration in the trailer for the main feature refers to the film by its original title -- The Closer You Get -- even though the title graphics in said trailer reflect the video release rebranding to American Women.
Will we ever need to see another sleepy little movie about the quirky folk who inhabit small towns in the British Isles? I'm thinking not.
Will filmmakers ever learn that eccentric rubes with peculiar accents do not, of themselves, a worthwhile motion picture make? I'm thinking not.
On second thought, perhaps I was too quick to blame the Fox marketing department for its cynical handling of The Closer You Get -- I mean, American Women. Maybe first-time (and thus far, only-time) director Aileen Ritchie had a hand in the nomenclatural switcheroo. Had I made a film this banal, I'd want to confuse the public about its identity, too.
The Closer You Get is hereby sentenced to hard labor, cutting meat in the butcher shop in Kilvara, County Donegal, until next St. Martha's Day. No more showings of 10 for you scalawags. Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Theatrical Trailer
* Bonus Trailers