Once upon a time…
Ever notice that once a comedian gets a hit TV show, a feature length movie usually isn't far behind? Continuing this trend back in 1997 was Fran Drescher, star of the hit series The Nanny. With her heavily hairsprayed hairdo and pounds of make-up, the New York accented actress found her way into a starring role in the romantic comedy The Beautician and the Beast. The story of a woman who moves into a wealthy family's home to take care of the children and fall for the single father wasn't much of a stretch from her TV series—but it worked! Also starring Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights) as her burly love interest, The Beautician and the Beast makes its DVD debut care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Hairdresser Joy Miller (Drescher) is about to go from being a native New Yorker from Queens to a real life queen in the land of Slovetzia! When Joy is asked to become the teacher for the children of a tyrant, she sees this as the opportunity of a lifetime. Upon arrival in Slovetzia, Joy meets widow Boris Pochenko (a funny Timothy Dalton), a gruff ruler who governs over his land—and children—with an iron fist. Boris thinks that Joy is here to teach his children the ways of democracy (it's a new world and he's trying to assimilate), though doesn't realize that she's not a teacher—just a hairdresser from Queens. No matter, as the three children love her wacky American ways and outgoing personality. Slowly Joy integrates herself into the Pochenkos' lives, falling for the children while Boris falls for her. Through Joy's openness and brash sense of humor, Boris finds himself softening to his family and country—he starts to become an actual human being. But is this just an act, or can Boris really find love with "the help" in a land of sheep and peasants?
Oh, how I wasn't supposed to like The Beautician and the Beast. The film had two strikes against it to begin with: 1.) an actress from a TV show I loathed (The Nanny) and 2.) it was a romantic comedy that looked like a ten minute idea stretched to almost two hours. And so I sat down with little hope of enjoying this trite cinematic lump of coal, only to discover a small gem—The Beautician and the Beast is cute as a button! At the risk of losing all credibility as a reviewer (or did that happen after giving a 100 to Killer Klowns From Outer Space?), I have to say that I haven't enjoyed a film quite so much in quite some time. It took me a while to get used to Fran Drescher's nasally New York accent, but after about a half hour I really started digging this movie. Could it be that my good taste took a flying leap off the Brooklyn Bridge, never to be seen again?
Yes, it's a complete fairy tale filled with situations and story lines that defy realism—but who cares? The whole thing works with winning results. The script by Todd Graff is filled with humorous one-liners (after Boris barges in on an unprepared Joy, she remarks the castle's dark corridors and rooms are "great for atmosphere, but hell for putting on liquid liner"), entertaining situations (Joy's relationship with her chicken dinner was especially funny), and warm characters. I got the feeling that the actors actually enjoyed making this film, which is a rare feeling. The story has all the basic trappings of a romantic comedy: woman falls for man, man falls for woman, a few complications arrive, then everything smoothes itself out in the end. Normally this is a recipe for redundant disaster. And yet I found myself softening up to this movie.
Say what you will about Timothy Dalton as James Bond, the guy does a great job here as the country's bearish dictator. In fact, he almost steals the show out from under Drescher. Dalton does a fine job of being both fearsome and likable in a role that could have been a general stereotype. As for Drescher, she's not nearly as annoying as I anticipated—in fact, by the end of the film she's actually transformed into a likable character. How's that for a makeover of epic proportions? The rest of the cast (including the three children, played to varying degrees of success) is filled with stogy looking foreigners that appear to have been cut from the same cloth as the German regime.
Recently I reviewed the abysmal Empire Records, which I found insipid and unfunny. In the review I pointed out that I might have been having a bad review week, and maybe my loathing of the film was due to extreme crankiness (although doubt it). I'm at the complete opposite end of the spectrum with The Beautician and the Beast: I must have been having a good review week since I was so enamored with this comedy. Who'da thunk it? The Beautician and the Beast is worth checking out!
The Beautician and the Beast is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Paramount has done a fine job on this transfer, making sure the colors, flesh tones, and black levels are all solidly rendered. Although this picture doesn't razzle dazzle (after all, it's only a medium sized romantic comedy), the transfer sports little in the way of imperfections, save for a small amount of edge enhancement in a few key scenes. Otherwise, I was very pleased with how this image looked.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. Even more impressive was the soundtrack—there were a few well placed directional effects/surround sounds in the mix, and Cliff Eidelman's music score was given an extra boost through both the front and rear speakers. While this sound mix won't rock your system's world, it does provide a much better viewing experience than anticipated. Also included on this disc are English subtitles, as well as a Dolby Stereo soundtrack in French, and a Dolby 2.0 mix in English.
Surprisingly, Paramount has added an extra feature on this catalog release. Praise be and stop the presses! While there aren't any theatrical trailers to be found, there is a commentary track by actress Fran Drescher. I was a little shocked that this track was so low key—there are no funny ramblings by "The Nanny" or hysterical sound bytes—only Drescher discussing various scenes and cast members. While there is some production information to be found in this track, there are also a few long winded gaps that pop up from time to time. Fans of the actress will want to sit down and take a listen to this track—otherwise, it can be skipped without consequence.
If The Beautician and the Beast can soften the heart of a guy like me, it can soften anyone's heart! Filled with more warmth, humor, and one-liners than it deserves to be, The Beautician and the Beast is a fine little rental with your sweetie on a Saturday night. Paramount's efforts on this disc are apt for the movie, and even above average considering the commentary track.
The Beautician and the Beast is released into the custody of romantics everywhere. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Star Fran Drescher
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