Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
January 2009

Go to sleep

Can't complain about 'Bedtime Stories' - it offers only what's expected of it

Bedtime Stories
Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Adam Shankman
Screenplay: Matt Lopez and Tim Herlihy
Starring: Adam Sandler, Keri Russell, Guy Pearce, Russell Brand, Richard Griffiths, Teresa Palmer, Courteney Cox, Laura Ann Kesling and Jonathan Morgan Heit
Rated PG / 1 hour, 35 minutes
Opened December 25, 2008
(out of four)

The one thing you can say about movies like Bedtime Stories is that, generally speaking, they meet your expectations. You know what you're getting from the start - it's probably not going to be much better and it's probably not going to be much worse.

You always hope, though, that this'll be one of the exceptions - the rare movie that manages to hit its demographic without sacrificing quality.

But when you add the extra caveat of Adam Sandler being involved, those chances diminish significantly. For all their innocence and good intentions, Sandler's movies are sentimentally cloying and emotionally dishonest. But, y'know, for kids.

By that standard, Bedtime Stories is a rousing success. Yes, it's still cloying and it panders too much, but at least there's some life in it.

In this one, Sandler goes back to his role as the aw-shucks, loveable loser. Redemption comes in the form of his niece and nephew, who he gets to babysit for a week, and who end up teaching him the importance of . . . y'know, important life stuff. The same stuff he learns in every movie.

Skeeter (Sandler) is a handyman at a ritzy hotel - which used to be owned by his father, but in a much smaller, more modest form - who is taking care of Bobbi (Laura Ann Kesling) and Patrick (Jonathan Morgan Heit) while his sister (Courteney Cox), an elementary-school principal, is out of town looking for a new job in Arizona. He tucks them into bed, tells them a bedtime story and, lo and behold, certain parts of the story (only the parts the kids make up, much to Skeeter's chagrin) end up coming true the next day.

After gumballs inexplicably start raining from the sky one day - just like in the story - the filmmakers gently give us a rational explanation for the event. We are nudged toward the conclusion that bits of serendipity are pushing Skeeter toward what has been his destiny all along.

The filmmakers' biggest creative challenge, of course, is putting together the fantastical setpieces of each story. One is set in the Old West, another in a distant galaxy, one more in ancient Greece. So they have a lot of sets to play with and action sequences to create. No one will accuse Adam Shankman of being a great director, but he does a nice job blending the childish sensibilities of the kids' fantasies and Skeeter's adult male fantasies.

Naturally, the characters in the story mirror what's going on in Skeeter's life - and every person we see in the real world has some sort of role in every story. Even the annoying CGI-enhanced hamster. There's the owner of the hotel, Barry Nottingham (Richard Griffiths); his daughter, Violet, a Paris Hilton-type (Teresa Palmer); and most surprisingly, Guy Pearce as Nottingham's right-hand man and future son-in-law, Kendall - who also, as it turns out, becomes Skeeter's arch-rival.

Needless to say, Kendall is sickeningly arrogant and uptight, a perfect contrast to Skeeter's down-to-earth, happy-go-lucky persona.

Oh, and of course there's the requisite Rob Schneider cameo. Because we just couldn't live without that.

The director, Shankman, is coming off his best work, last year's Hairspray. Then again, he still has to atone for Cheaper By the Dozen 2, Bringing Down the House and The Wedding Planner.

As for Sandler, he's tried to branch out more in recent years - first with P.T. Anderson's great Punch-Drunk Love, again with James L. Brooks' Spanglish and Mike Binder's Reign Over Me and next year with Judd Apatow's upcoming Funny People. There is better work to be done; hasn't he done enough of this to have satisfied his demographic for long enough?

The most appropriate comparison to Bedtime Stories is 2006's Night at the Museum . . . only without the great Ricky Gervais cameo. It's passable entertainment, it gets the job done for the kids, we can all get behind the message. But at the end of the day, it's just another holiday movie that no one will remember.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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