Expanded by writer-director Randall Miller from a nostalgic half-hour short he made while a student at AFI, this well-intentioned film about loss, grief and new beginnings gets bogged down in syrupy cliches and blunt self-help dialogue. Irish-born, California-based baker Frank Keane (Robert Carlyle) is on a delivery run when a stranger (John Goodman) passes him on the empty highway and disappears around a bend. Moments later, Frank comes upon the car crumpled against the median. He calls an ambulance and is advised to keep the badly wounded driver — whose name is Steve Mills — talking. Steve, we learn, was rushing to keep an appointment he made 40 years earlier at the Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing and Charm School in Pasadena. Back in 1962, 12-year-old Steve (Elden Henson, who returns in a small part in the film's present-day section) thought he hated girls and was horrified when his mother, seduced by steely Miss Marilyn Hotchkiss' (Patricia Fraser) promises that formal dance classes can make gentlemen of potty-mouthed ruffians, signed him up. But classmate Lisa Gobar showed him girls weren't as icky as he thought, and when her family moved away, they made a childish pact to meet at Miss Hotchkiss' on the fifth day of the fifth month of the fifth year of the new millennium. As it becomes clear that the gravely wounded adult Steve is going nowhere except to the hospital, he urges Frank to go in his stead. Frank, still numb with grief after his wife's suicide, reluctantly agrees and finds the Hotchkiss school still standing, though now Miss Hotchkiss' daughter, Marienne (Mary Steenburgen), opens each class by directing, "Girls to the pink line, boys to the blue." Lisa isn't there, but Frank is unexpectedly drawn to sign up for classes, later bringing members of his widowers' support group and striking up a tentative relationship with shy Meredith (Marisa Tomei), who attends with her overbearing half brother (Donnie Wahlberg). Miller cuts between Steve's childhood (footage from the original short), the day of the accident and Frank's subsequent experiences, slowly revealing the full story of each pivotal set of events. But as is often the case with long-gestating personal projects by commercial directors — Miller's extensive credits range from Disney features to episodic television — the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Those parts include Carlyle's fine central performance and vivid supporting turns from David Paymer, Sean Astin, Ernie Hudson and Camryn Manheim, who wrings every ounce of heartbreak from her one-scene role.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Expanded by writer-director Randall Miller from a nostalgic half-hour short he made while a student at AFI, this well-intentioned film about loss, grief and new beginnings gets bogged down in syrupy cliches and blunt self-help dialogue. Irish-born, Califor… (more)