A reader wrote and recommended this to me as being enjoyably awful and, well… what is enjoyably awful for one person is just plain awful for another. Although this could be quite enjoyable in the presence of a bunch of other people to make fun of it with you. This is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer—I think we’re beginning to see the problem already—and directed by this guy David McNally. This was McNally’s first directing gig. His next was Kangaroo Jack. Then straight to television for Mr. McNally, where he has directed four TV episodes since 2003. The writer, Gina Wendkos, also wrote Kevin Smith flop Jersey Girl, as well as The Princess Diaries One and Two, and the reputedly sick and hideous The Perfect Man. I think it’s clear that suicide is an attractive alternative when compared to this movie.
What you’re in for begins to be apparent even before the menu, when a ludicrously long trailer for the special edition DVD of the Gone in 60 Seconds remake with Nicholas Cage plays, going on so long and into SUCH detail about all the billions and billions of special features you start to think “WHAT kind of person would want that?” I mean, it’s one thing to watch that movie once by mistake or because you think Angelina is hot or whatever, but to want to OWN it? And not just that, but pore over HOURS of extra features? About this flat-out piece of shit? I seriously want some demographics on the kind of person who would add that to their library.
Anyway, so we begin in South Amboy New Jersey where Piper Perabo, who made a giant splash [set to a giant “WHO?”] with this film, is working her last day at some diner. She’s moving to New York to pursue her dream to be a songwriter! She signs her punch card and they put it on the wall of all the other waitresses with big dreams who used to work there, and kindly remind her that all the other former waitresses went out into the big world… and failed. Hey, thanks guys! She goes out with her friend, Gloria, played by Melanie Lynskey, so wonderful in Heavenly Creatures, who then fell to here. But survived, unlike others. You will notice that Piper is hyper-glammed at all times, with perfectly-curled and healthy little tresses, even when she’s supposedly dressing like a humble Jersey girl. Her and her friends get on stage and sing a heavily truncated karaoke version of ‘I Will Survive.’
The next day Violet is getting ready to leave, and her Dad, played by John Goodman, won’t wish her good luck, because he doesn’t want her to go. But he eventually comes and and says “Good luck. There, I said it.” Awwww, isn’t that sweet? I mean, if it weren’t so canned and cliché and an imitation of the exact same moment that has happened in 300,000 other movies? Violet and Gloria drive into the city, where they arrive at Violet’s nasty, run-down Chinatown apartment, which we know will be transformed into a fabulous shabby-chic pad. Gloria, who is going to get married and remain in Jersey [a fate, the film implies, clearly akin to death, but maybe okay for the pleasantly plump and less attractive], WEEPS WITH JOY for Violet, because she is following her dream and getting out of Jersey. It was at this moment that I realized that this story is a pure fairy tale about how, like, AMAZING it is to be young and totally pretty and move to New York and meet like a super-hot guy and have everyone totally worship your talents and have a few minor setbacks and ultimately achieve your dream and have everybody think you are like SO THE BEST. This film is related to reality as sea urchins are related to the planet Mars. It’s also around this time [a mere seven-and-a-half minutes in!] that I realized this entire movie would be made up of clichés from other movies and the Cosmo Girl’s Guide To Life, and will not contain ONE genuine element or character. And yet I still watched it until the end, with minimal fast-forwarding. That’s how much I love you, folks!
So that night Violet sets up hey keyboard, but barely gets a note out before the neighbor is pounding on the wall, screaming at her to shut up. Why, what better reason for her to decamp to the roof, where she can embody the movie cliché of the musician practicing on the shabby-fabulous roof in front of the picturesque New York skyline? The next morning—to the accompaniment of some HILARIOUS synthed-up late ‘90s “Rhythm of New York” music—she goes to the big music publishing companies to peddle her tape. Okay, so clearly she hasn’t even cracked the first book about how to approach publishing companies, but whatever. At the first, she becomes the victim of a black woman’s sassy tirade about how hard she’s had it, and now she’s going to make life hard for everyone else. The film goes so far out of its way to characterize this black woman as dementedly sassy and bitter it crosses the line into racism. Violet then meets a white, gay-seeming receptionist who tells her he can’t even touch her tape, lest his company be sued for plagiarism. In here, there has been more background about how everyone, EVERY SINGLE PERSON in New York is trying to make it as some kind of artist.
Violet then has the required meet-cute with the requisite Australian [you couldn’t POSSIBLY have thought her boyfriend would be American, did you?] which… Oh God, I can’t even possibly go into it. Anyway, he ends up with her tape, ensuring that they will meet again. His name is Kevin, and he is played by Adam Garcia, who, thankfully for all mankind, hasn’t gotten very far in his career. Anyway, the bitchy gay receptionist told her to perform at open mic nights, and she goes to one—but wimps out, because of her stage fright. Gee, I bet if she only believed in herself, all her problems would magically melt away!
Then she goes home to find that her apartment has been ransacked. This is one of those horrible New York clichés: that there’s such high crime and every time you turn around, your apartment is being broken into. They even stole her beat-up old keyboard. Look sweetie, no one in New York is going to steal your shitty ten-year-old Casio keyboard from K-Mart, okay? Robbers want things that are OF VALUE. So Violet goes to this all-night diner with her last $2 or whatever, where she sees these hot ladies being loud and obnoxious, and one of them, Tyra Banks as Zoe, gets up and dances in the aisle, which everyone at the diner thinks is SO WONDERFUL! In reality, people who make such a scene at New York diners are regarded as self-involved assholes who should just shut the fuck up and eat or get out. Not that this kind of thing is anywhere like a common occurrence. Anyway, the hot chicks are looking through applications, and Violet finds out that they are “coyotes,” and work at this bar, etc. Why Violet thinks that she is pretty enough or could inexplicably become outgoing enough to—well, like I said, it’s a fairy tale. OH, and speaking of fairy tale, we find out that Zoe [I remind you: that’s Tyra Banks] is leaving the bar to… wait for it… GO TO LAW SCHOOL! I just love the whole concept of Tyra Banks as a lawyer. She could just throw her cell phone at opposing council!
So Violet goes to the Meat Packing District, where the bar supposedly is. At the time of this film, the Meat Packing District was filled with actual butchers and a few bars, but around the time of this film, it was discovered as a “hip,” “edgy” destination, and now it is packed with high-end luxury hotels, restaurants, and boutiques, populated by the desperately hip, and anything interesting about it has officially and permanently been snuffed out. Violet encounters slumming Maria Bello as Lil, owner of the bar, who is bitchy to her until Violet finally sasses back—which is what gets her the job! That night Violet goes to the bar, Coyote Ugly of course, which is packed beyond capacity, where she finds all the hot babe female bartenders dancing like strippers on the bar. At a certain point they spill liquor on the bar and light it on fire. I would LOVE to think the reason they need a new bartender is that one of them was burned to a blackened crisp one night in front of a packed crowd of spectators. The bar itself is enormous and packed wall-to-wall with biker types, despite the place being a very expensive version of “shabby.” Apparently everyone waits for their drinks while the women dance, then are served in between songs. Lil rips the sleeves and waist or Violet’s T shirt off—incredibly, they rip in ruler-perfect straight lines—and tells her she is to “act available but never BE available.” We also see that the waitresses flip bottles around like in Cocktail. Violet loses her job because she won’t dance on the bar [she’s shy!], but gets it back when she spontaneously breaks up a bar fight. One of Lil’s rules is no boyfriends in the bar, at which point we know with certainty that at a certain point Kevin will show up and make a problem. If we think a little harder, we know one other thing, too: that eventually Violet’s dad will show up, see his daughter dancing on the bar, and be all disgusted with her.
So she goes back to Kevin because she realizes he has her demo tape—yes, apparently she only has ONE—this girl, whom we are to understand is NOT retarded, only has ONE copy of her demo tape, that she intends to leave with music publishing companies. Hooooly Moley. Anyway, he listened to it, and of course he LOVED IT! He shows up at the bar, just as Violet loses the bar $500 somehow, and she auctions Kevin off, who does a strip show on the bar. You will notice that the population of the bar SUDDENLY changes to a bunch of middle-aged business women, who, to a one, are driven to THE BRINK OF INSANITY by the sight of this young buck stripping on a bar. This movie has something to offend everyone! One woman “wins” the auction of Kevin… and then the movie handily sidesteps his actually having to go through with his commitment. They go on a date, where Violet reveals that “all I ever wanted to be was the one who stays in the dark” and watches as someone else plays the song she wrote. She then rhapsodizes over the song “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the blandest choice possible. Everything about this movie seems nauseatingly focus-tested until all genuine human interest has been systematically eliminated. In the morning Kevin takes Violet to one of his many jobs, at the Fulton Fish Market [which no longer exists, thank you], which is supposed to be the kookily gross/fabulous job that’s just SO distinctive!
Now you might want to get an airsickness bag to have on hand. After we have a cameo from Michael Bay as a photographer from the Village Voice [Thank you Michael for bestowing your mark of quality!] there’s some altercation and it looks like there’s going to be a massive bar fight! So Violet gets up on stage and starts singing along to Blondie’s “One Way or Another” on the jukebox… and slowly, surely, her singing ALONG. TO. THE. JUKEBOX. Grabs the attention of the crowd and calms the erupting riot! It’s a miracle! Can you fucking believe this? Can you fucking believe I am STILL watching this shit!? You owe me one, big time.
Around this time I am thinking “This is a lot like Raise Your Voice,” the Hilary Duff vehicle/monstrosity which was also a complete load of hooey, but somehow I expected that—maybe because it’s Hilary Duff—but it REALLY started to remind me of that when Violet is back on the rooftop practicing, when suddenly she is distracted by a black guy in the loft opposite her practicing a dance routine to some upbeat music, and then suddenly Violet leaps back on her keyboard and starts improvising some hot jams and kicking some lyrics! Creative people are just LIKE that! I believe Kevin bought her a new keyboard, which she responded to with a demure “You did all this to help my career?” Well maybe, but it’s a safe bet he wants some pussy, too. Which he soon gets, in a ludicrous scene where she supposedly has to strip to make him understand how nervous she gets on stage. After they fucked I was like “Okay, but, uh, how exactly did that help her career?”
You know what I think could really liven up this movie right about now? A MONTAGE! And that’s exactly what we get, as we see Violet learning to flip bottles like the pros [and I’m sure Lil finds all those broken bottles of expensive liquor to be just so HILARIOUS!], writing songs, and playing softball on the Coyote team. Then, since Violet is getting on pretty well in New York, why, it’s time for some CONFLICT! As expected, her dad shows up and sees her gyrating and wagging her dirty pillows all over the bar, causing Violet to chase after him saying “I just sing here every night and people come to see me.” Now, keep in mind folks, Violet is still JUST SINGING ALONG TO THE JUKEBOX, and in the cracked-out fantasy of this movie, New Yorkers show up to hear that. Okay, if you were writing a screenplay, wouldn’t something as wholly ludicrous as flat-out STUPID as that kind of arrest your fingers before you could type? Well, not for Gina Wendkos. Go to her IMDb page and look at her picture. Wait, I’ll link it. Her screenplay for this movie made me HATE HER AS A PERSON.
Okay, I cannot believe I am still writing about this movie! WHY??? Kevin pays to buy a gig for Violet, but she can’t go because the bar really needs her and she’s got stage fright! Then Kevin beats up a guy at Violet’s bar, leading to the expected crap about how you shouldn’t bring your boyfriends to the bar. Then Kevin tells her she’s essentially just a stripper! Then Violet’s dad is in the hospital for some reason—I confess I was fast-forwarding by this point—which leads to the expected teary-eyed hospital-room visits, forgiveness, redemption, you know, all that crap.
There is one little detail in here that seems endemic to films like this, which is that at one point Violet gets a bunch of padded envelopes back from publishing houses, unopened and marked “unsolicited.” So, in frustration, she just dumps them all out in the hallway and enters her apartment. First, too bad your tape didn’t get listened to, but leaving a big mess in a public area for someone else to clean up is not going to change that. Secondly, it seems a part of the ethos of characters in movies like this—and in a certain segment of society—are people who feel that their own personal drama entitles them to do pretty much whatever they want, and everyone else should just understand that they were having a moment. So Violet’s neighbors should deal with the mess she has left for them because she was, like, REALLY frustrated. And the people she holds up while walking across the toll booths of the New Jersey Turnpike, which she does later, should just make allowances because she REALLY wanted to see her dad. And of course this ethos manifests itself in real life, when your downstairs neighbor feels justified in keeping you up with their loud music at 3 in the morning, and you should just understand because they TOTALLY love that song. And those morons are imitating movies like THIS ONE!Movies that tell them it’s not only okay—it’s SO ADORABLE!
So Violet finally gets that call from the Bowery Ballroom, where they loved her stuff and want her to perform! She goes—and Lil closes the bar and takes all the other bartenders to see her, as does her dad and the Jersey crew, as does Kevin. And Violet gives one of those typical movie performances in which she’s nervous at first and almost gets booed off, then SUDDENLY whips her shit together and abruptly transforms into a sexy, confident STAR! Everyone’s all happy, and by the next scene LeAnn Rimes has recorded one of Violet’s songs, and comes to the bar to perform, in the climactic event and hit single cross-promotion. I think one would have to admit that it’s a pretty sorry state of affairs when the climax of your movie is a big-screen announcement that LeAnn Rimes is the biggest music star you could get to associate herself with your film. It also gave me a good idea, though—they should film Rimes and everyone else separately, then, a few years down the road, they could have a current star re-record the song and splice her in, and keep updating it for video releases every few years. What do you think? Good idea, right?
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It seems that this movie was primarily intended for 13-year-old girls of little educational achievement who live in rural areas. This is a complete fairy tale from beginning to end, assembled solely from the clichés of pop culture past. There is not one original scene or beat or line of dialogue in the film—everything in it is pre-processed and canned. It’s such a strange, misshapen mass it really starts making you wonder about WHO wants to watch this, WHO would think it’s a good movie. Which leads one back to the aforementioned 13-year-old girls…
This movie is intended for someone who wants to vicariously live Violet’s story, which is why Violet, throughout, is portrayed as SO AMAZINGLY ADORABLE! She is always made up to be gorgeous—even when she’s supposed to look shabby, her hair is perfect, clothes fitted and lighting impeccable. The movie also finds everything she does and says completely enchanting—I don’t think she does anything that might annoy anyone or make any mistakes. And the fact that she moved to New York to be a songwriter without cracking the SLIGHTEST material about how the songwriting industry works, and continues to pigheadedly go about pursuing her career in ways she has been explicitly told don’t work—well, none of that matters, because she’s got PLUCK! And that’s all you really need! This movie is all about imagining that YOU are Violet, and somewhere, a camera [and behind that, an audience] is gazing at you, rapt, unable to believe how amazingly beautiful and perfect and talented and enchanting you are!
Which is the kind of thing that encourages people to be on reality shows. You kind of feel sorry for people that might be taken in by this film. But what’s wrong with it—shouldn’t girls be allowed to dream? Of course, but I don’t think this kind of wildly unrealistic fantasy material helps anyone, as those girls will find out when they move to New York and find out that the music industry doesn’t really care what totally sweet people they are. That their disgusting apartment is really just disgusting, not shabby chic. That hot, charming Australian boyfriends are not exactly growing on trees here. And most of all, that they are just one of 1,000,000 adorable girls exactly like themselves, all of whom want to break into the music business, just like them, and there is actually nothing special about them whatsoever.
I know I sound a little bitter, but as I write this I think about two things: the first is the massive influx of cute single women who obviously moved to New York to live the life they saw on Sex and the City, doing nothing but shopping for shoes, dating a never-ending string of rich guys with spiky haircuts and rock-hard abs, and chugging Cosmos in exclusive nightspots while laughing TOO LOUD to show everyone that they’re having the BEST TIME!!! The second is a recent article in the New York Times about open tryouts for America’s Next Top Model, where two separate people among the hundreds who were turned away without even being seen were quoted as tearily lamenting “This was my dream…” This is one of those movies that seems to both reflect the behavior of its audience and to enforce and create further behavior in that vein, which is why it seems particularly ugly and damaging.
But anyway, as a movie? Of course it’s horrid, but is it at least amusing? I didn’t think so, but I can see where it would if you had a bunch of people together and were drunk off your face. I suppose one can get into a place where something like this is funny—I was laughing all the way through Raise Your Voice—but I don’t know, I think that one was generally more laughable. Here, there’s just nothing weird or distinctive enough about it to really stand out. I don’t know… I would avoid it like the plague.
I don’t think so, but if you do, have booze and friends. And more booze.