Suburban Girl

Suburban Girl “Suburban Girl”
Alec Baldwin, Sarah Michelle Gellar

2.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

“Suburban Girl” is a mild modern day May-December romance. Think of it as “Viagra in the City.” It tells the story of an underpaid, unappreciated twenty-something editor, Brett Eisenberg, (sprightly Sarah Michelle Geller), who idolizes and is quickly romanced by alcoholic, diabetic, fifty-something publishing magnate Archie Knox (doughy Alec Baldwin). Dare I say it… It’s a “chick flick.” The romance is strictly PG (so why does Sarah need a body double?), but there are a several surprises in the functional and occasionally amusing script. With no explosions, cleavage or hunks, and a minimum of body function jokes, “Suburban Girl” could fit right in with the easygoing Saturday afternoon fare on the Lifetime Channel.

The plot sticks with the expected roadblocks. Everyone in Brett’s camp -- her Norman Rockwell family, her bratty best friend and her co-workers (including the oversexed black guy, where do they get these ideas?), thinks Archie’s too old for her. Throw in Archie’s physical problems, a daughter often talked about but never seen, and you’ve got a lot of romantic land mines that have to be avoided in order to keep this romance from blowing up.

The villain in the mix is Brett’s shrewish boss, Faye Faulker (scene stealing Vanessa Lynn Branch), who gives her forklifts of manuscripts to read, kicks her out of her office to install her horndog lackey, and has a vendetta against her that would make La Cosa Nostra proud.

Brett’s father’s fatal illness, as potentially shattering as her rollercoaster relationship with Archie, takes a back seat to romance and is wrapped up quickly. Dad even dies off screen, cutting short a potential emotional bonanza.

Much of the dialogue is good natured give and take about Brett and Archie’s mathematical divide:

Archie: I’m an alcoholic. I’ll have three years sober this May.
Brett: I’ll be three years legal this May.

Brett and Archie’s relationship slowly becomes “Pygmalion in the City” with Brett taking offense to being treated like Archie’s estranged daughter. Their romance crumbles when Brett openly accuses him of being a control freak and a bad father. He reacts by having an affair with an even younger nymphet, and drowns his insecurities in vodka. (Hey, it never worked for me either, but I always enjoyed going under.) Brett is shattered when she catches the woman leaving Archie’s apartment and she mistakes Brett for Archie’s daughter. Brett quickly realizes not only is Archie drinking again, he’s also a commitmentphobe. (Find a player who’ll sign on for long term neutering. That’s why they’re single).

Brett: Who is she? Who is she Archie?
Archie: My way out.

Archie’s drinking lands him in the hospital, and he has a change of heart (as well as a change of liver). But has the student outgrown the teacher, or will it be rice and wheelchairs for the reconciled Brett and Archie? The conclusion goes outside Lifetime TV’s code of happy endings, and will be one of those things that make you go…Hmmmm…

Sarah Michelle Geller is an adorable but a spotty performer. She can drive home Brett’s inner turmoil, especially her concern over Archie’s age, as well as her freak out over her father’s terminal cancer. But she has no chemistry with Baldwin, perhaps because his character is too ambiguous and has too many defensive walls to break through. It’s also difficult to make limousine loving bohemians like Brett and Archie completely lovable to us po’ folk. And if you only had the scene in which Brett decides to get drunk at a society soirée in which to judge Geller’s ability as an actress, you’d tell her that Mickey D’s is still hiring.

Baldwin’s character is an elusive love junkie, but not dedicated to working at it (now that sounds familiar!), so his erratic performance is understandable. He’s got Archie’s charm down like a second skin, but his self-abusive alcoholic, diabetic side is mostly talked about and hinted at rather than seen. Baldwin makes you like his character through intermittent displays of wit. Smiling uncomfortably at Brett in a candy store, he admits, “I’m a diabetic. I can feel the sugar through my shoes just standing here.”

As for the supporting cast, Maggie Grace is wasted as Brett’s designer friend Chloe, a character so shallow she doesn’t have a last name or a purpose, other than making catty remarks about everyone else. When Chloe visits a shut in Brett after her break up with Archie and insensitively blurts out that Archie has moved on and she should do the same, Brett snaps back, “How are we friends?” You’ll wonder too. Maggie should look into getting a new manager. Since her bitchy character was perforated on “Lost,” she starred in a credible but unnecessary remake of “The Fog,” and is playing a distant second banana here. If she gets a few more nondescript roles like this, her career really will be lost.

If Vanessa Lynn Branch looks familiar, it’s because you’ve probably seen her advertising Orbit Gum on TV (“Dirty mouth? Try Orbit…Fabulous!”). And she’s fabulous as the boss from hell, who enjoys sticking it to Brett by telling her that Archie, well…once stuck it her, so to speak. There’s a quick visual nod to her job as Orbit Gum’s spokeswoman when the two first meet and Branch flashes her blinding smile. Branch steals her opening scene with Geller by going commando and gets to show off her fluency in Mandarin and French in another. She’s “Suburban Girl”’s hot ticket in a sadly underwritten role. Hopefully, she won’t go the way of Rula Lenska (famous by pretending to be famous).

James Naughton plays Brett Eisenberg’s dying father, Robert, with dignity and restraint. He’s unhappy that Brett’s dating a man who’s only seven years his junior, but trusts her and doesn’t interfere. He also loves his daughter so much he delays telling her he’s dying, because he’s concerned how she’ll react and he doesn’t want to complicate her life. Naughton’s Robert Eisenberg is the most complete, sympathetic, and best defined character in the movie. If Geller has no chemistry with Baldwin, the man she’s supposed to be in love with, she has plenty to spare with Naughton, the man who’s loved her all her life. Yet Naughton is hustled out of the action faster than two drunks in a Vegas wedding chapel.

Peter Scolari plays writer Mickey Lazz, another in a long line of neurotics he’s portrayed since starring with Tom Hanks in the 80s TV sitcom “Bosom Buddies.” When Scolari jumped from “Bosom Buddies” to “The Newhart Show” he looked like the breakout actor from the show. Two decades later, after “Honey Who Shrunk the Kids?” it’s honey who shrunk my career?

“Suburban Girl” is a pleasant popcorn movie for a rainy Sunday afternoon. You’ll feel a hint of the warm and toasties, but ten minutes after watching it you’ll forget all about it. Kinda like your last romance…

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