Judge Neal Masri will get you, my pretty...and your little dog, too!
The hardest part is letting go.
Fresh off of her Academy Award nominated triumph in Something's Gotta Give, the next logical move for Diane Keaton was…a low budget, made-for-television weeper with an unknown cast.
Facts of the Case
A grieving mother is attempting to come to terms with her daughter's sudden death. In an attempt to better understand her daughter's life, she moves in with her daughter's friends in the rundown beach house where the group spent their summers. In her journey toward healing, she bonds with the group of young friends.
The Wizard of Oz must be the single most referenced work in movie history. In this particular case, Natalie (Diane Keaton, Annie Hall) always begins phone calls to her daughter Sara (Alexa Davalos, The Chronicles of Riddick) with the phrase "Surrender, Dorothy." The phrase early in the movie is a touchstone for the mother/daughter bond between Natalie and Sara. Later, it becomes symbolic of Natalie's loss.
Sara dies in a car accident while riding with her best friend Adam (Tom Everett Scott, That Thing You Do!). Adam is gay because a gay best friend is a prerequisite in this type of movie. He—along with a young couple and their baby—has shared a beach house with Sara every summer for years. When tragedy strikes, it isn't long before Natalie pays a visit and decides to stay awhile (much to the chagrin of Sara's friends). What follows is a character piece not unlike The Big Chill, in which a group of people come to a deeper understanding of each other on the occasion of the death of one they all loved. As Natalie gets to know Sara's friends, she realizes that her daughter had many secrets and was not the girl she thought she knew.
Key to the success of a character driven movie like this is getting to know and love the characters. Unfortunately, during the 87-minute running time, we don't learn much about anyone other than Sara. The fact that the most interesting character in the movie dies 10 minutes in is problematic. Performances are adequate, though they seem to suffer from the rapid shooting schedule required by the budget.
The movie's dialogue is fairly well written (including an inside dig by Keaton at Woody Allen which gave me a chuckle). Keaton's character Natalie is somewhat annoying, but you can see that this is what the filmmakers were going for early on. The rest of the characters come off as a bit self-absorbed and unlikable. I didn't really enjoy spending time with them. As the movie progresses to a fairly predictable ending, things are wrapped up in a trite and unrealistic fashion.
Video and Audio are solid for a made-for-TV movie. The color palette of the film is quite varied and is represented well. The image is solid and sharp except for a couple of darkly lit scenes. The Dolby Digital soundtrack is also a notch above your typical television effort. Some atmospheric sounds emanate from the rear speakers, and dialogue is clear. All in all, it is a well done presentation.
The extras consist of two commentary tracks. One with director Charles McDougall and Diane Keaton, and the other with McDougall and Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (Deliverance, Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Keaton and McDougall are recorded together for their track and are quite amiable. Their commentary is much more like a conversation than most I've heard. They provide a good amount of background on the material and the genesis of the project. Zsigmond and McDougall were also recorded together and spend a good deal of time on technical details before they seem to forget about the movie altogether towards the end and simply discuss Zsigmond's career.
Surrender, Dorothy contains moments of self-discovery, forgiveness, and revelation that the viewer will see coming a mile away. I found myself quite emotionally detached during what should have been a touching climax to the film. Not a good sign for a movie like this, which depends so heavily on the emotional investment of the viewer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I can only beat up such an earnest and well-intentioned project like this so much. I think this movie might have played better for me in the middle of a weekday on a basic cable channel. As it stands, it's a misfire with a few moments that will ring true for those who have lost someone close to them.
As hard as the filmmakers try, they cannot seem to avoid a movie-of-the-week feel. The straightforward screenplay doesn't go much for subtlety or nuance, and performances are merely adequate. I have avoided the use the term chick flick for most of this review, but that seems to be what we've got in Surrender, Dorothy. There I've said it. I feel better now.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by the Director and Diane Keaton
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