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Case Number 03023

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What Girls Learn

Paramount // 2001 // 114 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // June 19th, 2003

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All Rise...

The Charge

For two sisters, growing up is a painful lesson.

Opening Statement

You think those sisters have it bad? Try watching What Girls Learn. Pedantic, uninspired, annoying, and just all-around lame—plus Scott Bakula with a gigantic, disturbing moustache. Yikes!

But, if heartwarming tales of family tragedy, girls struggling through adolescence, and learning bittersweet lessons about life and growing up tickle your fancy, then all joking aside, you will enjoy What Girls Learn.

Facts of the Case

Elizabeth Perkins and the heavily mustached Scott Bakula star in What Girls Learn, an account of the struggles of a family learning to deal with life, love, and all that falls in between.

Based on the book by the same name, this is the story of "Mama" (Elizabeth Perkins), a quirky, eccentric single mother raising two daughters who are entering their awkward, teenage years; which means at school, immature boys throw tampons at them and snicker.

Kind of like Carrie, except without the psychic powers and the bloodshed and the explosions. And John Travolta.

In a nutshell: the two teenage girls and their mother live in a big Georgian farmhouse, and have baths together and watch bad movies together and cry—until Nick (Scott Bakula), her mother's secret boyfriend, shows up and ruins the all-girls club—especially when the mother uproots them and moves them to Long Island to be with Nick. One daughter adjusts happily, but the other, of course, becomes intensely resentful and threatened and whines and cries a lot.

Then, suddenly, abruptly, a startling revelation from Mama threatens to shake apart the already fragile bond between the new family unit.

It sounds like the plot outline for a bad Showtime movie. But, there is an astonishingly good reason for this.

The Evidence

As it turns out, this is a Showtime movie. With all the baggage that being a Showtime movie bears, one can expect a reasonable quality of exploitation film targeted to a specific niche market, where this film and other films like it will find a small audience, striking deep into the soul and resonating the heartstrings like a violin concerto.

It succeeds, in general. The film is of a reasonable quality, considering its made-for-television roots—but unless you fall into the specific personality quality of somebody who regularly watches Showtime movies, chances are this movie will not impress, titillate, or thrill you or anybody you watch this film with.

If you watched it with friends, for example, they would all go home and not come over for a few days.

The story, based on a novel of the same name written by Karen Cook, is fairly well written. The plot moves at a fairly reasonable pace, the dialogue is competent and believable, for the most part, if not occasionally hammy.

Then again, this is a Showtime movie. 'Nuff said.

With his faux-leather jacket, gigantic moustache, and aviator sunglasses, Bakula cuts a rakish figure that falls somewhere between an airline pilot from the '70s and a porn star. His east coast accent begins to sound absurd as the film progresses, but for the most part, his moustache is the worst part of his performance—his acting holds up fairly well, considering the material he has to work with.

A confession: at one point, my concentration wavered, and when I picked up the thread of the film again, I kept wondering when Al was going to show up, telling Sam he could finally "leap."

When I realized Al wasn't going to show up, I was actually disappointed. Seriously.

Elizabeth Perkins acts her part with poise and dignity—actually, for the most part, the acting isn't half-bad throughout. Even the two teenage daughters manage to carry out their parts with fairly decent conviction and skill, again, considering the material.

I am probably being harder on this film than it honestly deserves. It is a fairly reasonable and respectable example of its genre, covering a wide spectrum of family issues, love and loss, all portrayed honestly and effectively.

That being said, however, I could not be any less the target audience of this film if I tried.

The video quality is respectable. The native full screen presentation is free from most blemishes and defects, though defects are noticeable during outdoor shots, contrasted against the seemingly-permanent blue sky. Color balance leans towards washed out tones, but is still decent. Overall, the visual presentation is pleasant.

The music sounds good, if not pedantic. The composed, made-for-television Showtime soundtrack tries to sound much more hip and relevant than its subject matter, but the violins swell at the appropriate times, and the music fits the feel and tone of the film ideally. While it may not be to one's particular connoisseur tastes for music appreciation, for the film, it is very effective. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix sounds good, mixed very cleanly, with the dialogue sharp and clear.

Astonishingly thin on special features, the disc has…well, no special features. Not even any subtitles, which is pretty darn thin. Actually, that is as thin as you can get.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

It's a Showtime movie. Do I really have to go into any more detail as to why 99% of the population of the Earth should avoid this movie like a gigantic robotic donkey, braying and stomping on everything in its path, leaving a swathe of death and destruction in its wake?

Closing Statement

Despite its flaws, this is a heartwarming film.

My heart stopped out of boredom while watching it, and when the paramedics came, they defibrillated me and the electricity warmed my heart.

Okay, not really. In fairness, taken with a grain of salt with the words "Showtime movie" written on it, it is actually a reasonably cute, fairly well rounded and moderately touching film. But, unless you are the kind of person who really likes Showtime movies, stay very far away.

The Verdict

The court hereby sentences Scott Bakula to never again grow such a freaky-ass moustache.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 70
Audio: 75
Extras: 0
Acting: 70
Story: 65
Judgment: 63

Perp Profile

Studio: Paramount
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• None
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Drama
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None

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