I Could Never Be Your Woman (United States, 2007)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Considering the talent involved - writer/director Amy Heckerling (Clueless) and actors Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd - I Could Never Be Your Woman could contend for the most high-profile motion picture yet to take the direct-to-DVD route. This wasn't intended to be the path traveled by this motion picture; had all gone well, it would have been on multiplex screens a year or two ago. Financial mismanagement and bad decisions made the movie unreleasable and it languished until The Weinstein Company executed their home video rights. The result is a mixed blessing for Heckerling - her movie gets to see the light of day but it does so with the unenviable "direct-to-DVD" label. It's good enough to warrant better than the curt dismissal it is likely to receive in some corners.

Rosie (Pfeiffer) is a fortysomething TV writer/producer whose once popular TV series is beginning to fade. The show's star, Brianna (Stacey Dash), is a high maintenance diva and the slipping ratings no longer justify her salary or the program's budget. In an attempt to enliven things, Brianna brings in a new character, to be played by twentysomething actor Adam (Paul Rudd). Adam is attracted to Rosie, and she to him, but she views their age difference as an insurmountable obstacle and resists his advances. Meanwhile, she's shepherding her daughter, Izzie (Saoirse Ronan), through puberty. Izzie has a crush on a male student at her school and is determined to capture his attention at all costs. So, while avoiding her own potential romance, Rosie seeks to advance her daughter's.

If Clueless made Heckerling a bright star in the Hollywood, her follow-up, the little seen Loser, brought her crashing back to Earth. Had anyone gotten a chance to see it, I Could Never Be Your Woman might have removed some of the tarnish from Heckerling's reputation, but not all of it. This is far from a perfect movie, and not all the problems are related to its long release delay. The inclusion of Tracey Ullman as Mother Nature, who appears to be a figment of Rosie's imagination, is a miscalculation. The character is distracting and annoying and belongs in another motion picture. The film also suffers a late loss of focus. Toward the end, the screenplay puts the central romance on the back burner so it can focus on the relationship between Rosie and Izzy. While this provides some heartwarming drama, Heckerling never bothers to return to the romance, resorting instead to a series of stale flashbacks with a Beach Boys song playing in the background. Huh? Did someone lose part of the final reel?

Heckerling's writing is as sharp and pithy as ever, although some of her pop-centric comments are dated since they were written in 2005 and are being seen in 2008. (Her tongue-in-cheek explanation is that I Could Never Be Your Woman is a "period piece" with the period being 2005.) This problem is more the production company's fault than Heckerling's but it nevertheless diminishes the movie's wit. For example, a joke about Will and Grace loses something now that the show is off the air.

Pfeiffer and Rudd have adequate chemistry to pull off the romance. Arguably, a little too much is made about the age difference, and methinks Rosie doth protest a little too much when it becomes apparent that Adam's intentions aren't strictly platonic. Viewers aren't going to confuse Rudd and Pfeiffer with any of the great screen couples, but it's not a stretch to believe these two are into each other, especially when they're bouncing on the bed with abandon. Neither actor stands a chance, however, when they share the camera with scene-stealer Saoirse Ronan. The young Irish actress (with a perfect American accent) gives a brilliant performance. Had this movie been out in the marketplace before her Golden Globe nomination for Atonement, she wouldn't have taken everyone by surprise. Her Izzie is a little like what Juno might have been like four years before her pregnancy. And the way Ronan skewers Britney Spears (with an assist from Heckerling's altered lyrics) is the film's comedic highlight. On the negative side, Sarah Alexander is shrill and disappointing as the uninteresting villain and Fred Willard, normally a reliable comedic presence, doesn't have a single funny line or moment. For the most part, he looks bewildered.

Had I Could Never Be Your Woman been released into theaters, it would have received mixed reviews, slanted toward the mildly positive. It's a pleasant diversion - an enjoyable romantic comedy that has enough going for it to make it worth a recommendation. As a direct-to-video offering, it's a positive triumph. One doesn't see something of this quality suddenly appearing without fanfare on video store shelves. See it for Pfeiffer, who's still sexy past 40. See it for Ronan, who provides a preview of where her career is tracking. See it for the dialogue, which, despite its occasional stale moments, still crackles. And see it in the hope that this might represent (albeit unintentionally) the future of the direct-to-video feature.

Note: The DVD package is relatively barren. There are a few deleted scenes, only one of which has any juice. The "theatrical trailer" is a nice curiosity since it was never used. The commentary is a waste of bandwidth. With as convoluted a production and distribution history as this movie has, one might expect Heckerling and producer Cerise Hellam Larkin to provide a wealth of insight. Instead, all they do is ramble about what scene was filmed in London and what scene was filmed in L.A. and how the weather was nicer in England than Southern California. Listening to the commentary is a waste of time. Fortunately, watching the movie isn't.

I Could Never Be Your Woman (United States, 2007)

Director: Amy Heckerling
Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer, Paul Rudd, Saoirse Ronan, Sarah Alexander, Stacey Dash, Jon Lovitz, Tracey Ullman, Fred Ward
Screenplay: Amy Heckerling
Cinematography: Brian Tufano
U.S. Distributor: The Weinstein Company
Run Time: 1:37
U.S. Release Date: 2007-02-12
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1