When you see a movie like "The Wedding Planner," which unveils its awfulness
in the opening scene, you aren't disappointed as much as you are disgusted by
what dreck it is. Opening a week after that film is another romantic comedy,
albeit a darker one, called "Head Over Heels," which begins with such promise
that you are severely disheartened when the plot mechanics start cranking
into overdrive and the whole picture, including the charming characters and
their budding relationships, go on autopilot. In short, "The Wedding Planner"
was bad from the start, whereas "Head Over Heels" has higher aspirations, but
sacrifices many of them for cheap jokes and dumb writing.
Unlucky-in-love Amanda Pierce (Monica Potter), an art restorer at the Met in
New York City, can't understand why she only attracts jerks. After catching
her latest beau (Timothy Olyphant, in a cameo) cheating on her in their bed,
she moves out and rents an apartment with four aspiring supermodels--Jade
(Shalom Harlow), Roxana (Ivana Milicevic), Candi (Sarah O'Hare), and Holly
(Tomiko Fraser). Feeling like a fish out of water with these women--the
self-proclaimed "last four non-smoking supermodels in the world"--Amanda,
nonetheless, is taken in by them, and they immediately attempt to include her
into their circle of beauty, money, and men.
Amanda is more interested in Jim Winston (Freddie Prinze Jr.), though. An
easygoing fashion executive, she and Jim instantly hit it off (after Amanda
is literally hit and, subsequently, humped by the horny dog he is walking),
realizing that they both feel out of the loop when it comes to romance, love,
and the opposite sex. Just as they begin to date, Amanda, whose apartment is
across the street from his, thinks she sees Jim beat and kill a blonde woman
to death, via silhouette. Convinced he is a serial murderer, Amanda and her
four bumbling roomies set out to investigate what really went on on the other
side of the closed curtain of Jim's apartment.
For its first 30 minutes, "Head Over Heels," directed by Mark S. Waters
(1997's "The House of Yes"), is far better than it has any right to be. The
characters were brightly performed and the dialogue, from an uneven
screenplay by Ron Burch & David Kidd, sparkled with comic deftness. The
offbeat romance between Amanda and Jim was being set up with a gentle touch
that made their burgeoning relationship all the more sweet. The moment Amanda
is watching Jim from across the way one night, and is shocked to see what
appears to be a murder taking place, the film derails and only recovers in
time for its final scenes.
The biggest question that plagues my mind after seeing "Head Over Heels" is,
"what went wrong?" Director Waters so successfully introduced the characters,
including the delightfully shallow, oddly likable four models (who were
played by real-life models, and do a fine job, to boot), that it is a crying
shame he didn't follow through to create a rare, intelligent romance.
Instead, its witty wordplay is replaced by physical pratfalls and sophomoric
bathroom humor, and the main character's IQ drops about fifty points.
The treatment of Amanda is the picture's most notable disappointment. As
played deliciously by Monica Potter (1998's "Patch Adams"), she is smart,
instantly engaging, and has actual thoughts in her head. She's also
absolutely stunning to look at--perhaps the most beautiful actress since
Julia Roberts, whom she coincidentally resembles--and is far more attractive
than the overly skinny walking-stick models that she is supposed to pale in
comparison to. When the boneheaded mystery plotline is introduced, Potter is
forced to automatically act below her obvious intelligence level--a cardinal
sin in motion picture screenwriting.
Freddie Prinze Jr. (2000's "Boys and Girls"), a wildly popular actor in most
teenybopper circles, has bewildered me ever since he first popped onto the
moviemaking scene in the mid-'90s. Acquiring no overt acting talent, he is an
almost-always wooden actor who never seems to have anything going on beneath
his exterior except for the lines of dialogue he is valiantly trying to
remember. Working with Potter benefits him, just as it did with Claire
Forlani in "Boys and Girls," because these superior costars must act as
inspiration for him to at least not embarrass himself (as he did in 2000's
puke-inducing "Down to You").
"Head Over Heels" is over after a speedy hour-and-a-half, and although that
is precisely the right length for such a feathery confection, too much time
is spent on throwaway gags and plot devices. The movie, no doubt, would have
prospered by deleting the whole "Rear Window"-esque twist, and centering on
the way two underdogs find love and learn to relate to one another. At the
end of the day, the movie's major saving grace is Monica Potter, who is
simply radiant. On the evidence of this film, she is on the edge of breaking
out into superstardom. Whatever her fate may be, she is sure to be remembered
long after "Head Over Heels" is forgotten.
Copyright © 2001 Dustin Putman