Monday, January 11, 2021

Film Review: Godmothered


Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

The most frustrating thing about this movie is that it is almost a modern holiday classic.  If only they stuck the landing, this would be approaching the same stratosphere as movies like Elf or Enchanted.  But it falls short.

Godmothered centers around Eleanor (Jillian Bell) who lives in a magical school that trains women to be fairy godmothers.  She is the worst in her class but makes up for it with pluck and enthusiasm.  However because of the rigidness of the headmistress Moira (Jane Curtin), the school is falling apart because no one is turning to their fairy godmothers.  Eleanor decides to do something about it: she finds a letter in the archives from a little girl named Mackenzie who asks for help finding her true love.  Our hero travels from her magical land to our world only to find that Mackenzie is now a grown-up single mother played by Isla Fisher.  Undeterred, Eleanor unloads her unpredictable toolbox of fairy godmother tricks to help Mackenzie, often resulting in hilarity.

I was so impressed with Bell in Brittany Runs a Marathon.  She handled the mature material of that movie with great humor and charisma and she does equally well in Godmothered.  Her enthusiasm is contagious.  Playing a character like this could easily devolve in to cloying Pollyannaishness that serves as a portrait of naïveté in a fallen world.  Instead, Bell makes us believe in Eleanor's drive and desire to spread joy.  She is not a perfect figure.  She is incredibly flawed and has to overcome those flaws throughout the movie, which provides a nice character arc.  And requires Eleanor to be someone who has to do a lot of physical comedy and sell a silly joke.  I must admit, the movie began to own me when she told a truck driver that she was looking for a place called "Mass-a-cahoo-sets."  

Fisher is a perfect foil to Bell.  I've always thought that Fisher should be a marquee-name, A-list comedienne.  Watching her world spin out of control by the chaotic Eleanor is a great deal of fun.  She allows us to see the different layers of personality to her character and she hones in how to get the funniest take on those layers.  

The script is not meant to be too terribly complex or deep.  In many ways, it is a very by-the-numbers Disney fairytale/fish-out-of-water film.  Mackenzie's world is defined by fear and the desire to protect her family.  Eleanor's job is to help Mackenzie learn not how to be safer but braver.  You can see these same themes play out in movies like Finding Nemo.

Director Sharon Maguire hits just the right silly and sweet tone throughout.  There is a delightful moment that sticks out where Eleanor is helping Mackenzie's daughter Jane (Jillian Shea Spaeder) overcome her fear of singing in public.  They sing "My Favorite Things" on a public street full of cynical city-dwellers.  But as the persist in their song, it draws in the crowd and the audience at the same time.  I'm not ashamed to say that my wife and I began to sing along as well.  Maguire not only is able to set up scenes like that as well while making the film a fun and colorful spectacle.

The only real problem with the movie is the ending.  Everything builds to a confrontation between Eleanor and Moira.  It involves Eleanor calling for us to redefine happily-ever-after.  And while there is something interesting there, the film-makers took it as an opportunity to try to be more cutting edge of social issues.  They try to do it the same way they did in the live-action Beauty and the Beast or Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.  All three of these films try to introduce commentaries on modern issues in a way that has nothing to do with anything that has come before.  As a result, these moments have only one result: they break the spell the movie is casting on the audience.  Once that happened, Godmothered makes you feel like Cinderella after the clock strikes midnight.

And that is the real shame here.  This movie should be more present in my consciousness and memory because so much of it is admirable, enjoyable, and magical.  But when you are casting a spell like this, you have to carry it all the way to the end.

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