A few years ago, Robert
Capelli, Jr. and Doug Bollinger made a kind of silly comedy called Mail
Order Bride, in which they got some pretty impressive talent like Danny
Aiello, Ilana Milicevic, Vincent Pastore and past and current Howard Stern
sidekicks Jackie Martling and Artie Lange. The movie was savaged by
critics and never received wide release, but you have to give it to the
guys, they are taking another shot.
Here, again, they get some
relatively well-known actors – Emmanuelle Chriqui, Grant Shaud, Betsy
Palmer, Paige Turco and Casey Siemaszko. Lange is also back, though
it is a glorified cameo – despite the fact he gets prominent billing he
only has a couple of scenes.
From an original story by
Guy Shockley (who was also going to direct this as his first film before his
tragically young death), Waltzing Anna is juggling a lot of balls –
it's trying to be a romantic comedy, a
feel-good reminder that the elderly are people too, a tale of redemption and
an expose of the nursing home industry.
Maybe the three writers
should have tried to scale back a bit, because despite all the ideas, none
of them really works too well. Robert Capelli, Jr. plays Dr. Charlie
Keegan, a pop-eyed and wild-haired charlatan doctor who has long ago
forgotten his hippocratic oath and now considers medicine to be a way to get
easy medicare money. When arrested for scamming patients, he is
sentenced to six months of community service in a nursing facility called
At first life at the
facility fits in
perfectly with his cynical attitude, the home's director (Grant Shaud of
Murphy Brown) and head nurse are even bigger crooks than him.
However, eventually he meets a gorgeous, dedicated nurse Jill (Emmanuelle
Chriqui) and a whole group of "crusty but lovable" (thanks, Paddy Chayefsky,
for that perfect description) nursing home residents. There is the old
coot with a heart of gold, the aging slut, the sweet-but-addled Alzheimer's
patient, the guy constantly waiting for his son who never visits.
Dr. Keegan wants nothing to
do with these people, but eventually he discovers – mostly through nurse
Jill who despises the doctor at first but slowly thaws to his thuggish
charms – that these elderly patients are vital, interesting people.
As almost always in her career (On the Line, In the Mix, National
Lampoon's Adam and Eve, Waiting) Chriqui is much better than her
material (in fact, only in her recurring role of E's girlfriend in
Entourage does she seem more than window-dressing to filmmakers.)
When, suddenly, out of the
blue, Jill off-handedly acknowledges that she has fallen in love with him,
the audience is every bit as flummoxed by the revelation as he is. She
has only recently seemed to kind of start to respect and like him – the
jump is too far. It also makes it hard to exactly gauge Charlie's new
attitude – does he really care for these patients or is he just trying to
Of course, Dr. Keegan
should be used to schizophrenic character shifts, because his character and
beliefs change with the wind. He is supposed to be a heartless scam
artist, but we never quite buy that because he really can't pull off
ruthlessness. Nor do we really believe it when he has a complete
transformation to realize that he loves the old people he is watching over,
because even well into his "transformation" he often still acts like a
selfish asshole, just because the plot requires a bit of conflict.
the fact that Capelli seems to be channeling his character from an old
Bowery Boys short makes it even harder to connect with him.
By the end, the movie gets
extremely heavy-handed – lots of dramatic scenes of desperate older people
and overpowering background music dramatize the true (but somewhat obvious)
scandal of how people of a certain age are mistreated or forgotten.
Dr. Keegan finally finds his conscience and commits himself to his patients
– and gets the love of his hot nurse as a special bonus. It may just
be his best scam yet.
Waltzing Anna has
its heart in the right place, but it's just not a good enough movie to make
its valid and important points.
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Posted: August 7, 2006.