Barefoot (2014) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sexual content, brief strong language and a scene of violence
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Scott Speedman, Evan Rachel Wood, Treat Williams, Kate Burton, J.K. Simmons
Director: Andrew Fleming
Screenplay: Stephen Zotnowski
Review published February 25, 2014
Barefoot is a misguided American regurgitation of the 2005 German romantic comedy from Til Schweiger, titled Barfuss (which means "barefoot" in English). At its heart, it's a Cinderella story, if the prince is a two-bit crook and Cinderella is a simpering imbecile.
Evan Rachel Wood (The Ides of March, Whatever Works) gets top billing, co-starring as Daisy, a newly committed Los Angeles mental patient with severe arrested development issues, hospitalized after she ends up (perhaps) killing her uber-domineering mother, who sheltered her into a pre-adolescent mind state for her entire life. She is the reluctant choice to play the would-be girlfriend of the hospital's no-goodnik parolee janitor, Jay (Speedman, Barney's Version) who is desperately seeking a last-minute date for his brother's wedding in New Orleans, in the hope of asking for a handout from his normally disapproving dad (Williams, 127 Hours) to square some deep gambling debts. A road trip follows, then some deep-rooted family issues, until finally the two have to come to terms with the connection they've formed along the way.
Wood delivers what might have been a good performance if the movie were better around her, as she does infuse her role with the kind of personality and emotion that isn't ingrained from the written page. Unfortunately, perhaps she is a bit too good for the role, as this light romantic comedy lurches erratically into drama regularly, as Wood mopes, cries, and appears far too sympathetic to continue to find humor in seeing her being used and hurt in such a careless fashion, regardless of whether she has a romantic happy ending. Do people really find it amusing that a 20-something woman is abused by a mother to
the point where she can barely understand how to flush a toilet and that she thinks driving will make her pregnant?
As we definitely feel that childlike Daisy, who seems like Marilyn Monroe post lobotomy, is in need of some serious psychiatric care, and that Jay is one of the more abhorrent of cinematic scumbags, our interest in seeing them together is pretty much zero. I suppose that the film banks on audiences thinking that a handsome man and beautiful woman (how does she she know how to present herself so appealingly while being a forced recluse her entire life?) should always be able to overcome whatever major obstacles stand in their way in order to be together in a romantic comedy, but in this film, neither one of them should be trying to get into a relationship until they get their massive trainwreck of a life in order.
Though it is supposed to be an off-the-wall zany romp, it telegraphs the setup to nearly every gag. From the moment we see dad's prized classic RV, we know that amoral Jay is going to take it for an unauthorized spin later on. Stephen Zotnowski's sporadically witty screenplay (he developed and co-wrote the original 2005 script) seems to be aiming for big laughs, but the direction by Andrew Fleming (Hamlet 2, Nancy Drew) wants to be that in addition to an affecting romance, but the characters are just not built to exist in both worlds. As a result, the film often comes across as tacky and tasteless, especially in its cavalier attitude expressed toward the criminal and insane. Silly hijinks, such as Jay borrowing a bunch of clothes from his stripper friends in order for Daisy to have something to wear seems exploitative in its way to have Wood don a lot of sexy attire (somehow, all of the clothing Jay snags perfectly fits!), but also lacks any real comedic appeal.
Unless seeing Evan Rachel Wood in smutty attire seems worth sitting through 90 minutes of ill-conceived comedy, you'll probably want to have your shoes on for when you walk out on Barefoot.
©2014 Vince Leo