Friday, March 17, 2006

KEEPING MUM - Alleged comedy about an axe-wielding au-pair that is significantly less funny than you might think from that description

KEEPING MUM is a movie made in the “British Nanny” genre. This includes many movies which are not in fact British and do not feature British characters, or even a nanny. But you know what I mean. They are movies like Nanny McPhee, The Sound of Music or Don’t tell Mom, The Babysitter’s Dead. There is a family that is troubled – the kids are unruly, the parents in difficulty – but nothing actually dysfunctional. In walks the nanny figure, who may or may not actually be a nanny. He/she starts cooking, cleaning and sorting out the local bully, and before you know it, everything is hunky-dory again. Generally speaking, I don’t mind these movies. They plug a gap in the market for safe kiddie-friendly films, and leave you with a generally warm feeling – as if all of life’s problems could be solved with some home-made scones and a cheery tune.

However, in order to bask in the audiences collective good-will, these movies need to get two things right. First, they need to have genuinely engaging and sympathetic characters. I don’t need to find the characters plausible, I just need to be happy to spend two hours in their company. Second, there have to be some good gags.

All of which brings me round to telling you why I think KEEPING MUM is a cinematic stinker. In features a bunch of great British character actors being self-absorbed and mean, even after the Nanny arrives. We have Rowan Atkinson as a vicar who is too busy with work to pay attention to his wife, and then post-nanny, too busy with his wife to pay attention to his parishioners. His wife, played by the usually marvellous Kristin Scott Thomas, is having an affair with a lecherous golf-pro, played by Patrick Swayze. She decides to chuck in her husband almost on a whim and post-Nanny undergoes a highly ridiculous conversion into…well, that would ruin the alleged plot-twist.

The second problem is that the script does not contain enough funny material. Somewhere out there there’s probably a great film about an axe-murdering au pair, but this just isn’t it.
Even Swayze in a posing pouch doesn’t raise a titter, and while he does languish in sleaze, this isn’t as blackly funny a role as the one he took in Donnie Darko. Even when Rowan Atkinson gets transformed into a “funny” vicar, and is supposedly packing in the audiences with his side-splitting homilies, I could still not detect a joke. Sucks.

KEEPING MUM is now available on Region 2 DVD. But then again, so is CATWOMAN, but you don't see me renting that either.

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