Friday, February 21, 2014

Andrew Fleming's BAREFOOT: The real movie for Valentine's Day is opening one week late....

I'm a sucker for an Andrew Fleming film. From the ahead-of-its-time bisexual movie Threesome, through his witchy The Craft to that sweet and loony deep-throat political satire Dick to the under-rated Nancy Drew and the marvelously crazy Hamlet 2, the work of this director and sometimes writer is distinguished by its sweetness, smarts, invention and honesty, no matter how crazy things get. (The only Fleming film TrustMovies didn't much care for was his remake of The In-Laws). Now comes perhaps his first honest-to-goodness attempt at a by-the-book "romance" featuring a hero and heroine up against odds that would make lesser characters quake (and many directors and screenwriters run for the hills).

From the outset, BAREFOOT, which Mr. Fleming (shown at left) has directed from a screenplay by first-timer Steven Zotnowski, is probably as unbelie-vable a premise as you're going to find on screen these days (ex-cept perhaps Winter's Tale), in which the elder son of a wealthy New Orleans family, owing major money to gang-sters and in trouble with just about everyone else, while working off his probation doing maintenance in a mental hospital, has one of those mutual love-at-first-sight moments with a new patient who's just checking in. Well, whatcha gonna do?

What Fleming & Zotnowski do is plot this cleverly and then play it for all it's worth. Fortunately they have a very good cast lined up to bring their love story to life, starting with a luminous Evan Rachel Wood (above) as a girl raised in isolation by a crazy mother and Scott Speedman (below) as the bad boy with a heart of gold (and the visage to match).

As my spouse said, just post-viewing, "This one was thoroughly paint-by-numbers -- but still very enjoyable."  That's almost true, except that, as usual with Fleming, the numbers he's using to paint by are quirky enough to -- at least for the time that the film is flowing by -- make you believe that such things as we see might actually be possible.

Speedman and Wood are always moment-to-moment real, and they know how to command the screen via both beauty and genuineness. Their chemistry together -- his strength against her vulnerability -- makes this charming little movie consistently percolate, finally bringing the sweet wish-fulfillment fantasy home. And Fleming knows how to move his film along, with smart, tight editing and pacing that keeps things flowing.

Add to this a supporting cast of fine actors, particularly  J.K. Simmons (as the doctor in charge) and Kate Burton and Treat Williams as Speedman's parents. Actually, every actor with a line to read or a visual moment comes through just fine. But the movie belongs, and rightly so, to its two would-be lovers.

The film whisks us off from Los Angeles to New Orleans and then gives us a road trip/occasional car chase back to square one. Along the way every small character who pops up adds to the sweetness and fun, and by the time the film is finished, you'll be, just as the filmmakers want you, in romance heaven.

Barefoot (the title refers to a quirk of the leading character) -- from Roadside Attractions and running 89 minutes -- opens this Friday, February 21 (though it should have opened one week earlier, as it would have made the perfect fit for Valentine's Day) in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Music Hall 3 and in New York City at the Quad Cinema.

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