Judge Diane Wild thinks that movies about towns full of quirky oddballs never get old.
One can dream, can't one?
Waking Ned Devine meets Little Voice meets The Full Monty meets…well, you get the picture. Set in a wacky little Welsh town full of oddball characters, Very Annie Mary offers a familiar mix of sentimentality and whimsy.
Facts of the Case
Annie-Mary (Rachel Griffiths, Six Feet Under) is a gawky, geeky 30-something year old woman living with her emotionally abusive father Jack (Jonathan Pryce, Evita). Jack drives his bakery van through the streets of Ogw, Wales singing opera music and wearing a Pavarotti mask.
Annie-Mary earns a meager living by teaching singing lessons, and apparently has a fine voice herself. She won a musical scholarship to Milan when she was 15—"Pavarotti kissed my hand"—but turned it down when her mother fell ill and died. Now, when her father collapses with a stroke, she must take care of him, ineptly run the bakery, and belatedly try to carve out her own life. On top of everything else, she is still a virgin ("I'd be good at sex, I would"), though she offers to pay a local man to change that. He refuses.
Let's not forget the other eccentric townspeople, who are rallying to raise money for Annie-Mary's terminally ill friend Bethan Bevan (Joanna Page, Love Actually). They want to send her to Disneyland, even though she would much prefer a nice sound system. Annie-Mary begins to find her own path by joining a local singing group and spearheading their prize-winning performance on behalf of Bethan.
There's nothing inherently wrong with a movie that echoes others that came before. But to be more than just another stale entry in the "quirky comedy/drama about a quirky small town with quirky characters" subgenre, the movie has to bring something more to the table. Very Annie Mary doesn't have a strong enough plot or believable enough characters to pull it off.
But the movie made me laugh, and it made me cry. (Keep in mind that I bawled through Beaches, too, so that's not necessarily a sign of a quality movie.) There are genuinely funny moments—I dare you not to laugh at Annie-Mary bouncing around an audience in a helium-filled suit. And though it's manipulative and obvious, Very Annie Mary manages to be touching, especially when the title character finally unleashes her own voice.
The acting is as odd a mix as the plot. Jonathan Pryce is powerful and funny as the overbearing Jack, but after the character's stroke, he is unable to have much of a presence (despite significant screen time). Rachel Griffiths fully inhabits the character of Annie-Mary, but the character is infuriatingly thick. She lost my sympathy too many times to ever get it back.
The movie lives and eventually dies by the audience's reaction to Annie-Mary. Griffiths brings sweetness to the role, but the script undermines it. We understand that her father has stifled her every dream, but she is an adult who hasn't attempted to rise above her upbringing, and she is cruel to him when he is helpless. She has a loose grasp on reality and some of her actions are irredeemably selfish. The scenes in Cardiff, when she has escaped from her father and the town, show her as she supposedly could have been—a confident leader—but it's too much of a transformation and too quickly disappears.
The townspeople are briefly sketched with single quirks rather than developed personalities. The four other members of the singing group, who range from ages 20 to 80, seem interchangeable. There's a token gay couple in the shopkeepers Hob and Nob, and a token nemesis in conniving Mrs. Ifans, who wants Jack and the bakery, not necessarily in that order. Even Bethan is simply the saintly sick girl. Her scenes with the heroine, however, are among the few that allow Annie-Mary to reveal her likeable side, as they discuss her broken dreams and future hopes.
Visually, the DVD shows some minor aliasing, and flesh tones are occasionally either pallid or an unnatural reddish tone, but it is generally an acceptable transfer. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix works well with the musical numbers and dialogue is generally crisp, though I really could have used English subtitles to understand some of the Welsh-accented dialogue.
There were no extras on my screening copy of the DVD, though there is supposed to be a photo gallery on the Region 1 release. Whoopee.
The film didn't get a wide theatrical release in North America so is a reasonably welcome addition to the local video store for those times when you're craving a minor diversion with low levels of both humor and pathos.
Koch is reprimanded for its lackluster effort on a DVD that could have used a little help to rise above its mediocrity. Very Annie Mary is free to go but should consider itself lucky that the court has a weakness for movies about quirky small towns.
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Studio: Koch Lorber
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