Film Scouts Reviews

"A Simple Wish"

by Leslie Rigoulot

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All the little girls ranging in age from four to thirteen had a great time, and so did my thirteen-year-old son. (I really didn't have him just so I'd have a test market for movies, but he sure does come in handy!) What's more, I also thoroughly enjoyed what looked like it-could-have-been another summer disaster. But "A Simple Wish" plays on Mara Wilson's sweetness, Kathleen Turner's sassiness and Martin Short's goofiness - perfectly.

Mara Wilson's character, Anabel, has one wish - that her widowed Dad get his big break in a Broadway musical so that they all don't end up moving to Nebraska. Dad is Robert Pastorelli, who drives a hansom cab in Central Park and looks after her and Francis Capra as her brother, Charlie. But the star is Martin Short as Murray who tries to break the gender barrier by becoming a Fairy godfather. Thankfully, the film doesn't stay in the same silly tone as the opening scene when he is taking his National Association of Fairy God Mothers final exam. Another kind of silliness takes its place as he tries to grant Anabel's simple wish. But Kathleen Turner is Claudia, a godmother turned bad, and she is out to reclaim her wand. That means a showdown between good and evil, and Murray can use all the help he can get.

I think I fell in love with Mara Wilson when she stole scenes from Robin Williams in "Mrs. Doubtfire", and she can steal anyone's heart in this one. She just sparkles! And when Murray screws up his simple spell that is supposed to take them to Central Park, she is hilarious as Murray's mishaps continue to make a bad situation worse. She even manages to stand up to the scene stealing queen - Kathleen Turner. Turner is back in "War of the Roses" smart style with overblown mannerisms to match her overblown costumes. But pint-sized Mara holds her own. I do think my age/film experience was showing, though, when I was the only one in the audience who got the joke when Turner did a swell Bette Davis imitation with her signature line. But most grown-ups got a kick out of the faux-Broadway production that poked fun at Andrew Lloyd Webber's extravaganzas; "Two Cities" is a take-off on Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities" and includes such memorable numbers as "It's a Far Better Thing I Do" and "It's the Best of Times, The Worst of Times." I was impressed with Peter Samuels, who actually sang for Robert Pastorelli throughout the film. You know, if Webber thinks he can make money off it, we are liable to see "Two Cities" on Broadway next year!

"A Simple Wish" also gives its supporting cast a chance to shine. You may remember Amanda Plummer as Honey Bunny from "Pulp Fiction" or as Robin Williams' idea of perfection in "Fisher King", but she makes a great mutt turned henchman. And I know you know who Teri Garr is; she has done a lot of other things besides being Lisa Kudrow's birth mom on TV's "Friends." And she is a lovely fairy godmother-receptionist here. I only wish that Robert Pastorelli had been given more screen time. But I can content myself with his new ABC series this fall, "Cracker". Let's face it: "Murphy Brown" hasn't been the same since he left. In all, this is a delightful movie that will entertain kids and their parents and all who are tired of explosions and chases. Rated PG, Universal.

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