Anchor Bay // 2005 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // January 30th, 2007
A slight cut above your standard manipulative TV-movie fodder.
After meeting a moody writer named Matt Harrison (Johnathon Schaech, That Thing You Do), book editor Kate Wilkinson (Kathleen Rose Perkins, The Island) thinks she's finally found the man of her dreams. After preparing him a surprise dinner in her new apartment (all to give him some very good interpersonal news), she is stunned when he arrives and ends their relationship. More than a little disconcerted, she slowly falls apart until, one day, a package arrives at her door. It contains a journal and a note from Matt. If she reads the tome, he says, she will understand everything. Turning the pages, Kate learns of Matt's first wife, a doctor named Suzanne (Christina Applegate, Married with Children), and their life together in Martha's Vineyard. Plagued by the early onset of heart disease (she is only 33), Suzanne leaves her practice in Boston for the solitude of the island community. Once she meets Matt (the local repairman with dreams of being a short-story author), the two fall madly in love. Naturally, there is a concern that having a child will weaken, or even kill, Suzanne, but the couple is determined to have a baby. What happens next alters Matt's life forever and makes Kate realize that, without Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, she might never understand her tortured man's many moods.
Filled with so much manipulative melodrama that your tear ducts will scream "Sanctuary!" the minute the movie begins to roll, James Patterson's Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas (talk about your contractually mandated tongue-twisting monikers) is a bona fide five-handkerchief film. Sadly, the tissues are for the cast, not the audience. This is a very well made, incredibly obvious bit of cinematic exploitation, the kind of weeper that signals where it's going freely and openly, daring you to experience its ham-fisted heart-tugging trajectory. There are certain elements of the sticky storyline that seem purposefully cloying, carried out to ridiculous emotional extremes by TV movie ace Richard Friedenberg. But thanks to the wonderful acting turns by Christina Applegate, Johnathon Schaech, and Katherine Rose Perkins, what could have been saccharine and sloppy comes away with much of its determined dignity intact. Granted, there are histrionics o'plenty here, and both Schaech and Perkins squirt out more eye water in the last ten minutes than soap stars spew in entire story arcs, but there is just enough balance and honesty offered to make up for and manage the more out-of-control moments.
You have to give Applegate credit for taking on what is, in essence, a thankless catalytic role. She is the mirror upon which all the varying filmic feelings revolve. In the opening, she is dumped by a doctoring dude who can't fathom not having a family in what may be the first-ever case of pre-natal separation ever recorded. Then, she returns to the fantasy world of her childhood -- read: Martha's Vineyard -- and becomes the kind of homespun lady medico the locals lovingly refer to with slightly suspicious gratitude. When her Suzanne character meets up with Schaech, they make such massive puppy-dog eyes at each other than you feel like calling the ASPCA; even as she feigns disinterest, you can hear Applegate's lady parts screaming out for slow, sensual satisfaction. Oddly enough, after all this build up, the couple's relationship is presented in a way that feels tossed off and superficial. They have a couple of dinners, a decisive dance, and a serious discussion about commitment, kids, and cardiac arrest, and before you know it -- BOOM! -- they're married with a zygote-sized plot point on the way. It's to Patterson and Friedenberg's credit that the inevitable denouement arrives in an almost wholly unexpected manner. What could have been obvious comes at a time that plays exactly like the coupling -- superficial and insignificant.
As a result, Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas relies solely on our concern for Kate and her caring for Matt as a means of drawing us in. Regrettably, it's a rather ragged row to hoe. Slightly ditzy, with a best friend whose persona seems carved out of sarcasm, spite, and the slight scent of body odor, Kate is a difficult gal with a life that's just as hard to identify with. Her editorial professionalism seems to extend to dismissing her writers -- that is, when she's not fantasizing about diddling them -- and her overly plush office contradicts her struggling career gal aura. She goes to pieces the minute Matt gets moody, and begs to know his past like it's some kind of boy/girl birthright. Between all the pouting and seduction, whining, and contrived quirkiness, there is a real person we could really care about. But Patterson -- or Freidenberg, who knows -- feels the need to make Kate as complicated as Suzanne is pure. Such a dichotomy makes Matt's choices seem shallow instead of sincere. Since we basically know where this story is going from the very beginning (Anchor Bay drops enough spoilers in the cover art to more or less make two-thirds of the film meaningless) and there's a real lack of resolve at the end, you wind up with a movie made much more fussily than it really should be. The story of a person losing everything, only to find a reason for continuing on with life is one of cinema's great narrative stalwarts. James Patterson's Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas adds too much brocade to the simple plot pattern. It doesn't lessen its overall impact, but does undermine most of the emotional weight.
Since this was a TV movie made in 2005, Anchor Bay does very little with the DVD release except provide professional technical specifications. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is full of color and easily identifiable details. Friendenberg is not the most artistic of directors, and this material doesn't really require grand optical sweep, so the solid visual presentation is perfectly respectable. Similarly, the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 renders the dialogue discernible and the numerous musical cues clear and crisp. Again, there is no added content here, which is no great surprise. Aside from the insights a commentary from the author or the filmmaker could provide, most of what we are to take away from James Patterson's Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas is right up on the screen for us to experience.
As cheesy chick flicks go, it's better than average, thus not guilty. Just don't expect motion picture miracles, and you won't be disappointed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* James Patterson's Official Site