One For The Money Scores With Heigl But Still A Mixed Bag
By Alex Cranz
As we speak One For The Money is seriously “overperforming” at the box office. This means it is doing much better than anyone thought it would.
What surprises me is how much box office analysts seem to have underestimated Janet Evanovich’s readers.
Most fans of the series from which One For The Money is based are well aware of the ten plus years this film has been in development. The poor fans have suffered through some interesting choices for lead actress including a post-Erin Brocovich Julia Roberts. They’ve waited and pined and had plenty of time to fan cast this film a few times over and plot how they’d shoot it if they could.
And at the theater I went to with my mother the fans of the character Stephanie Plum were out in full force. It was a sold out theater made up almost exclusively of women. Some even sat there with the original book in their hands or on their Kindles, revisting a novel they may not have read since it was first published in.
These were the fans of the books. The people that ensured that all eighteen novels have been bestsellers. If they were 16 instead of 60 this would have been considered one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year. There would have been websites and Tumblrs and Youtube videos devoted to it. There would be Team Joe and Team Ranger t-shirts.
But Hollywood? The blogosphere? We cannot comprehend a film that entices our moms. That titillates women who are happily married and looking for a little escapism. So the film is “overperforming” like some kid stepping out of turn and analysts and the media will soon be shocked at the films success.
But is the film worthy of that ten plus years of development hell? Is it worthy of the fans? Is this the proper adaptation of one of the most popular murder mystery series in the history of publishing?
Unfortunately the movie I sat through was a mess with only a few bright spots. Katherine Heigl was an odd choice for the role of Stephanie Plum, but with the dark hair and a break from the media spotlight she seemed almost like a different actress. I found myself charmed by her in the role of the plucky lingerie saleswoman turned bounty hunter who’s caught between hunky guys and constantly on the look out for an easy paycheck (because she’s kind of lazy in a relatable way). She had that right blend of girl next door and sassy asshole that is the character Stephanie Plum.
Only she was in a movie that was…small. It was less like a big screen adaptation of a best-selling book and more like a pilot for a new tv show on TNT. Director Julie Anne Robinson actually comes from tv and her resume there is incredibly impressive with successes like Blackpool, Weeds and some of the best episodes of Grey’s Anatomy (which would explain the cast), but that talent for storytelling on the little screen did not translate. The big climatic moments of the film are anti-climatic, the emotional beats barely resonate and the characters meant to be spewing the firecracker dialogue of the books lumber through instead.
And her cast? Jason O’Mara and Daniel Sunjata are gorgeous guys. Seriously good-looking hunks of man meat with all kinds of definition and panty tingling delight about them. Visually they’re the characters they’re cast as and they even play them much like they’re presented in the books. They’re guys you can see being two corners of a super sexy love triangle. Yet they never quite seem…big enough for the film.
Same with Sherri Shepherd as Lula. I don’t remember much about the character of Lula. All I really remember is her version of the Atkins involves a purse full of roasted chickens and bacon and she seems pretty okay with herself whether she’s in the sex industry or moonlighting as a bounty hunter. Woman is funny, but also…real? There’s a grit to her. A grit that Sherry Shepherd doesn’t even bother to play. She’s pure “sassy black comic relief” instead of playing the nuance that is Lula…and sweet lord I can’t believe I typed that. Whatever. I did. Lula deserve more than a limp caricature.
Besides Heigl the only one who seemed to actually belong in a theatrically released film version of One For The Money is Debbie Reynolds. This is because she’s a genuine movie star, but as charismatic as she is, as perfect for film as she is she’s just too damn classy for One For The Money. She’s all the hypersexuality of Grandma Mazur with none of the bite.
The odd casting coupled with Robinson’s poor attempt at directing a theatrical film add up to something that never quite succeeds as a film.
And that’s a shame. Stephanie Plum is the exact kind of heroine we need in movies. She’s confident of her body and sexuality, smart when she needs to be, vulnerable without being irritating, and damn it, she’s fun. Heigl as Plum is fun. I’d love to watch her in a whole series of Stephanie Plum films. I’d love to watch her caught up in a love triangle and navigating friendships with characters like Lula and Ranger.
But when the movie she’s in is this…incompetent it’s hard for me to get excited. This was a chance for the film producers at Lionsgate to create a big franchise that women of all ages would be turning to after Twilight and Hunger Games were laid to rest. This was a chance to shut up sites like FemPop and specifically our complaints about the lack of interesting but fun adult female leads in mainstream films. This was a chance to have a female led film that wasn’t about weddings or which guy to date or babies. It was a chance to really capture a female audience. Only they wasted thirteen years staring at the property in bewilderment before finally giving us a half-assed film that has never the less done quite well for itself despite little to no publicity and a bevy of mediocrity.
As a film One For The Money is okay. As a reminder of where women stand in Hollywood? It’s painfully perfect.