Judge Diane Wild deliciously dissects this dwarfish debacle.
It's the little things in life that matter.
When a movie boasts a cast of familiar names like Matthew McConaughey, Kate Beckinsale, and Gary Oldman, but you've never heard of it, and it didn't get a theatrical release, does that necessarily mean it's bad? Maybe not…but in the case of Tiptoes, it's a pretty sure bet.
Facts of the Case
Steven (Matthew McConaughey, The Wedding Planner) and Carol (Kate Beckinsale, Laurel Canyon) are a happy, photogenic couple who find themselves unexpectedly expecting a baby. That's when Carol discovers Steven's big secret…he's the only average-sized person in a family of little people, and their baby is at risk of dwarfism. Steven's fraternal twin Rolfe (Gary Oldman—yes, that's 5'10" Gary Oldman playing a dwarf) leads Carol down the path of acceptance, though his brother remains conflicted about his family's differences.
After her initial shock, Carol embraces Steven's relatives and decides to have the baby despite his reluctance to raise a child who might have the same condition. When the baby is born with dwarfism, their marriage falters and Carol finds support and eventually love with Rolfe.
Tiptoes was an official selection of the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, apparently in their bid to add a TV movie of the week category. Actually if it weren't for the sex, swearing, fart jokes, and urination scenes, the movie could have been an after school special about accepting little people.
"There's nothing about being little that precludes being happy or productive," says Steven's Uncle Bobby, underlining the theme of the movie.
And yet for all its pontifications, the movie itself betrays its own moral message with the casting. Watching Gary Oldman play a dwarf by walking around on his knees reminded me of Mickey Rooney playing the Japanese neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Talented dwarf actors play supporting roles in Tiptoes, but they couldn't find one for the lead? Because for all his legendary acting skills, Oldman's performance seemed like an unintentional joke.
Director Matthew Bright (Freeway) was apparently fired after shooting wrapped, and disavowed the final cut released by the studio. It's hard to see how the film could ever have gone right, but black comedy might have been where Bright was headed. As it is, the movie veers wildly from sticky sentiment to vulgarity to bizarre attempts at comedy.
The A-level (or at least A-minus-level) cast is lowered to the height of this B-level movie. McConaughey doesn't fare well with an unsympathetic character who makes little sense, and while Kate Beckinsale is a charming presence, she does the worst ever job of disguising that there's no actual baby in the bundle she carries like an armful of firewood.
Dinklage is hilarious as the Marxist, but he and Lucy could be lifted out of the movie with little loss. They do add a desperate distraction from the mawkish main story, but they seem to be relics of the dark comedy that may have lived in the original concept.
The characters' motivations don't make a lot of sense, and it's hard to see what draws them to each other. Carol's attraction to Rolfe is only slightly more unconvincing than her attraction to Steven. Steven's affection for and ambivalence towards his family is alternately facile and overwrought. Rolfe and his on-again, off-again girlfriend Sally (Bridget Powerz) have no chemistry and never seem suited to each other. And the biggest question is why Rolfe and Maurice are friends at all, when the only thing they have in common is mutual disdain.
A minor quibble in a movie that provokes major ones is that Steven and Carol's baby probably would be no more at risk of being a dwarf than anyone else's. I'm no medical expert, but most, if not all, kinds of dwarfism result from either a new mutation or from a parent who has the condition. But why let a good fact get in the way of a bad story? Though she asks the question of genetics, none of Carol's discussions ever provide an answer other than what can be paraphrased as: "little people are people too."
The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, with a serviceable transfer that does suffer from some artifacts. The sound is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, but there is little to the sound design in this dialogue-oriented movie. The only extras are trailers for upcoming movies, and the only subtitles available are English. All in all, a fittingly poor package for a poor movie.
Tiptoes might hold a certain fascination to those people who like to crane their necks at car accidents. For the rest of us, the world would not be a lesser place if we were to abstain.
Everyone involved with Tiptoes is sentenced to sensitivity training, in an effort to prevent inflicting future bad movies on an unsuspecting public. Case dismissed.
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