Carolina
2005
In this romantic comedy featuring Shirley MacLaine as a wacky grandma, Southern girl Carolina (Julia Stiles) envisions an entirely different existence for herself, far from the maddening mix that is her family. So, she leaves home for California, where she hopes she'll find some tranquility. But her efforts are soon wasted when she finds herself torn between two men. Who will win her heart?

Scott Hardie: “It sucked.”

"Is it hard work being so dense?" asks Shirley MacLaine in this film, and for once, instead of channeling past lives, she seems to be channeling the audience's frustration. This straight-to-DVD washout is a obnoxious cavalcade of stupidity, accented by a circus-like musical score that gets louder every time the film gets extra-moronic. Not only is it the kind of sub-"Roseanne" melodrama that gets drunk on treating ordinary life events as High Drama, but it is rotten with clich├ęs, from the grinning game show host who's an asshole off-camera, to the mangy dog that ruins the big family dinner by running on the table, to the protagonist who secretly attends a friend's book-reading from the back row only to learn that the book is about her. One of the first lessons I learned in creative writing class was that mid-scene entrances and exits of characters are signs of desperation by a writer, who shuffles around the characters when she can't think of anything worthwhile to have them say or do. It speaks volumes that "Carolina" has the most such entrances and exits I can recall seeing in one place; the film can't seem to sit still for thirty seconds without a new character walking in, or another storming off, or a door slamming, or an elevator opening, or a car pulling up, as if the film is in the constant business of pretending to have something happen.

Screenwriter Katherine Fugate based the tale on her own grandmother, who raised three girls single-handedly, and I can admire that level of selflessness in a woman, but it gets awfully hard when the fictional version is so aggressively repellant. One scene has her attending a movie with her daughters, in which she shouts at the characters on the screen and passes around bowls of gumbo from her own kitchen instead of buying popcorn, then stands up and loudly chews out the manager who comes to remove her. I can't tell if these behaviors were invented merely to give the scene conflict or if someone actually thought this material was funny, but if the film's goal is to endear us to this colorful old grandma, this scene (like most others) has the precise opposite effect.

[Plot spoilers ahead.] The only positive mention I can give the film is its acting, particularly by Shirley MacLaine and Julia Stiles. They may be playing highly obnoxious and highly implausible (respectively), but they know what they're doing, and having former drama coach Marleen Gorris in the director's chair probably helps. But their talents are wasted on a movie pitched at a thirteen-year-old girl's perception of reality, in which a Stiles can play a 21-year-old television producer (!) who goes unemployed for the better part of a year while living in a cavernous apartment and throwing expensive-looking formal parties. There's no use developing your characters when the screenplay needs them to turn on a dime, such as when Randy Quaid's character is chastized for being a lifelong drunk and then later is chastized for showing up late to a family event because he was at an AA meeting, or when Mika Boorem's character obsesses for months over her lottery numbers to the point of hyperventilation, then casually shrugs off the $24-million jackpot when the numbers finally do come up because she's learned that the only important thing is that she was "right" about them all along. I've seen Cocoa Puffs commercials with more verisimilitude. Amateurish and sheetrock-stupid, this torturous production is an early contender for the worst film of 2005.

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