I remember sitting in a theater back in 1995 watching Clueless for the first time. I really enjoyed it and can still enjoy it today. Cher was certainly pampered, rich, and a bit of ditz, but she never lost her lovability. We could always tell there was a smart and wonderful person just underneath her exterior. We understood and believed her transformation from the superficial to the person we could see from the beginning waiting to spring forth from just under her persona. Even in the poor man’s Clueless that came out last fall on Hallmark called Harvest Moon they created a character that we could find endearing on some level. The Sweeter Side of Life does none of these things.
Just before showing that title card we are introduced to our main character named Desiree Harper (Kathryn Morris). We see her turn off her fancy alarm clock with a fancy watch sitting just next to it. Then we see that she not only sleeps with a sleep mask on but a pillow of sorts that wraps around her neck. Something someone uses for pain problems, but here is supposed to show just how rich she is. Then the typical walk-in closet scene happens while a maid cleans the New York City apartment where she lives. But she’s not unlikable enough yet.
That’s why we get this scene with her friends at the gym looking at an overweight woman while debating the maximum weight allowed for wearing latex. This is followed by the shopping montage before she sits down at a lunch with her friends. One of them is seeing a guy named Renaldo who they just found out has three kids and a wife back in Argentina. Another friend says, “Who cares as long as his family stays over there, right?” Our lead who is already unbearable says she’d care. That’s the one hint at this point that there might be a decent person in there. I know I can’t really get across how she manages to be so darn unpleasant already, but take a look at her.
Actress Kathryn Morris may be the nicest person in the world in real life, but her appearance combined with the way she acts in only these first few minutes makes it really hard to warm up to her. She goes home and finds her husband missed their anniversary for a last minute surgery so she gets drunk for the night. Couldn’t care less at this point.
The next morning she finds her husband at the dinner table and we see that they have a giant hand sculpture in the house. That’s interesting. Now we find out that her husband is going to leave her for his 20 year-old acupuncturist Olive. Here’s my requisite joke that he has also been sticking her with a little needle too. Couldn’t let that go. Now we get to the best character of the film.
This is her somewhat slimy, comical, and lovable lawyer. If they could make his character this way, then why couldn’t they write her the same way? He’s here to remind her she signed a prenuptial agreement. The movie will never bring up whether the agreement had anything in it about adultery which is weird. He also reminds the audience that her family bent over backwards to send her to Columbia where she obtained an MBA which she never used. She says that the interview would ask her about job experience and that all she has experience in is shopping. There are jobs where that actually is a skill, but they don’t bring that up even though I have seen a Hallmark movie with a personal shopper (12 Gifts of Christmas). He asks her where the girl he knew in elementary school went. However, he doesn’t give us any details which would have been really important so we could see beyond her nasty exterior.
Now of course her credit card is taken away from her, she gets hit by a car, and she wakes up in New Jersey with her dad. Her family hasn’t changed her room since she was little. That’s nice. Her father even has breakfast ready so what are some of those first words out of her mouth?
Oh, and the fact that the husband said she shouldn’t drink so much dairy before dumping her doesn’t make this line any more digestible. She moans and groans including that she was a good wife. Could have been helpful for us to see something that hinted at her being a good wife. All I saw was body shaming and shopping. She wonders how she is going to support herself. The father reminds her that she knows how to bake. He runs a bakery. Since she hasn’t been shell shocked enough, we need to have her do some deliveries using the local florist’s car. This really only exists so she can meet a love interest. Yes, this movie will ask us to buy that this guy…
should have any reason to want to be with her, despite only being in a couple of scenes together. He’s rich too. Of course their first meeting has her hitting and knocking down his bird house.
I think the screenwriters may have seen Clueless. Here she was looking at someone getting into a chopper and saying she wants the rich life back before hitting the bird’s nest. Love?
She makes it back alive and we get a proper introduction to the florist. She is also a reasonably likable character especially because we find out she’s smart and cultured even when it comes to rap music.
Now we get a weird scene. The movie will never follow this scene up either to really explain it. There’s a black kid who works at the bakery. She catches him presumedly stealing from the register, but covering it up by saying that it has just been popping out on it’s own. This is never followed up on even though he asks if he can take on more duties than just cleaning up and that his family needs the money. Is the film saying he was going to steal and that she is helping him or not? And the fact that someone immediately comes up to the register, the drawer pops open, and he says it’s doing that again and needs to be fixed doesn’t help. Was this supposed to say that Desiree was racist? It doesn’t make sense. Especially when we will see her help a black policewoman by giving her one of her outfits a little later. A character that will come around at the end of the film in a relationship with the lawyer. Honestly, the movie would have made a lot more sense had she ended up with the lawyer who bends over backwards for her and has an affection for her. Also, remember Cher’s father was a lawyer in Clueless. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.
Anyways, it’s time to learn that Desiree is still stuck up because she wants to straighten her hair? I don’t get that at all. But what I really don’t get is why her hair dryer is shaped like a gun.
Then in case we didn’t know the dad is really supposed to be, dare I say, clueless, he apparently had no idea that some clothes have to be hung to dry and has shrunk one of her dresses. What? He raised her and isn’t gay or anything so he was a married to a woman. Not that there aren’t men’s clothes that aren’t supposed to be put in the dryer as well. It’s just a really stupid scene that just tells us she still hasn’t changed and her dad is supposed to be so different because he is an idiot. Actually, this scene exists just so that the next ridiculous thing can happen on her way to meet with lawyers in the city.
She has to wear the same clothes she wore when she lived with her father back in the 1980s cause she’s wearing the early Madonna clothes. Not funny, and nor did I feel sorry for her when one of her friends brushes her off because of her fall from riches. Oh, and when they have her walking through the crowded sidewalks they do it in slow motion with upbeat I’m going to show them music, but why? She hasn’t changed at all. She shrieked at the reality of having to wear the clothes and just finished complaining about her hair dryer as well as her father’s incompetence. Why use this type of shot that is normally reserved for someone full of confidence? Makes no sense.
Oh, and small complaint, but her former friend tells her the 80’s have come and gone twice after looking at her outfit. Can someone please tell that to all the woman I see with off the one shoulder tops in modern movies? This lady is right. It’s not the 1980s all over again. While we’re here. One of the things that made Clueless so good is that part of Cher’s transformation is to stop seeing and treating her friends as superficial and start to appreciate the good and special things about them. Why is it necessary to lump all her former friends in the trashcan for characters as deep as a puddle who we are supposed to accept as better simply because they live in New Jersey?
She now goes in to meet with her husband’s lawyer and you know why nothing is brought up in her defense? Like the adultery for example. It’s because the lawyer comes in and is stoned after a dental visit. Yep. The only thing of value here is that we find out Olive is pregnant.
After a kitchen accident which isn’t funny, it’s time to insult the black kid who shows up on a pink scooter. He’s wearing pink too. Just in case we thought this was a meaningless little joke it immediately cuts to two guys at the counter where one says to the other “I want the fruity one” to which the other replies “I pointed to it first.” Yeah, that’s great. They do come across as if they are supposed to be a couple. Wouldn’t have been an issue if they hadn’t just harassed the kid about the pink. In fact, it would have made them seem progressive seeing as they don’t seem to have any reaction to these two guys. If you think I might be reading too much into this, then go watch the Hallmark movies Nearlyweds with it’s really gay stereotype hair dresser or Strawberry Summer where the singer has to assure the country folk that he doesn’t come from “those parts” of New York City but “the good parts.”
After people talk behind Desiree’s back, she gives them a piece of her mind, and a nun pops out of nowhere for comedy, the florist sits down with her to have a heart to heart. And by heart to heart, I mean insult her for standing up for herself. She even says that while they may have deserved it, her father certainly didn’t. Oh, that’s nice except nothing she said was directed at her father, he was there to hear their insults, and he doesn’t defend her after she stormed out, but simply asked who’s next. She then insults her for her supposed lousy work ethic. Really? When? When she did her father’s deliveries even though she knew she was out of practice driving or maybe when she tried baking even though she really has no experience in it. That and covering the counter for him. Yes, lousy work ethic indeed. By the way, Desiree still manages to be unlikable even though she doesn’t deserve this from the florist. We also discover that her father’s business isn’t doing so well. She says she had no idea since why would she. The florist tells her because she didn’t even bother asking. Somewhere during this, when even the audience is given no reason to believe his business is in trouble, she was supposed to ask him about it while also dealing with all these other things. I don’t like her, but cut her a little slack for crying out loud.
Now she seems to take an interest in her father’s business. That’s nice, but now bird house boy named Benny/Benoit stops by. We find out that he’s rich. Yep, she’s going to go from a rich guy in the city to a rich guy in the “suburbs”/”country” of New Jersey. During this scene he hands her a check to settle his account for the month. He’s a major chef and the scene leads us to believe he’s buying his stuff from them seeing as he is giving them a check. Why is the father’s business in trouble? Is this meant as a handout? He asks for her phone number here so is he trying to buy her or lure her to him with his money?
I keep bringing these things up because this movie keeps doing stupid things throughout it. She’s still rather insufferable too.
Now out of nowhere she is suddenly making these lovely little pastries that will be called Paddycakes after her father Paddy even though only a few minutes ago she was a disaster in the kitchen. Yes, these paddycakes will be the savior of the bakery. That’s because of this lady.
She is very impressed, and of course will turn out to be a newspaper writer later on.
After stupid dancing and shtick, the lawyer shows up again to remind us he really is the only character we enjoy in this movie. Oh, but before that we need to get in another homophobic bit.
At least the guy says he knows but still likes coffee in a cup like that to which the father responds, “good grief”. The rich guy again shows up to get her phone number and the instant she says he still can’t call her, he just walks away.
When the lawyer shows up, the joint is apparently doing really well now. Those must be some paddycakes. A few scenes, then the article comes out in the newspaper! Just look!
The bakery is so great that it had to repeat “In Flamington New Jersy, life just got sweeter, and it’s all thanks to a little slice of nirvana, called Paddy’s Bakery” three times! But what is the rest of the article here? I’m telling you, Darcy from A Gift Of Miracles is everywhere and she can shapeshift into other people too.
-The “Old men nurse cups of coffee, police officers linger over pastries and families…” come from a New York Times article by Rebecca Flint Marx.
-The “I saw something of my own childhood, albeit a decade’s remove, in Colson Whitehead’s memoir of growing up in the seventies with low-budget, low-esteem science-fiction movies. He writes, ‘If I was lucky, I’d come home from elementary school to find WABC’s…” comes from a New Yorker article written by Richard Brody.
-The “But the bakery swallowed its umbrage long enough to see an upside: it put up signs about Cookiegate, changed its outgoing phone message to mention…” comes from a New York Times article by Michael Barbaro.
The second one makes sense…sort of…since the magazine the article is in is supposed to be The New Yorker.
Now it’s off to dinner with Benny. She even fixed his birdhouse. This is when something weird happens yet again. Her and Benny are going down a hallway to have some privacy when she notices an open door with an office inside. He quickly closes it saying she doesn’t want to look at it which she responds with an odd “okay”. Now we find out for sure he’s single. Then they make out. Now she notices this painting as she is pinned against the wall being kissed.
He says it’s his great uncle. What was all that about? Is this supposed to imply his family was involved with the Nazis via the Vichy regime? I don’t really recognize the uniform. What was the point of the office and painting? It doesn’t make sense and is never brought up again.
After we have a stupid conversation about waiting three days before calling up Benny, the lawyer calls to tell her he has a deal to “franchise the bakery”. The father just sends her. Doesn’t come along at all. I know I can’t possibly get this across, but the movie really hasn’t given us any reason for this. He even corrects her when she says it’s not his bakery, but their bakery. Then doesn’t that mean he should be there even more? I know it’s supposed to show he trusts his daughter, but we don’t have any real reason too as the audience.
Of course big city folks meddling in small businesses are usually portrayed as evil, so she turns down their deal.
You’ll have to take my word for it, but these are the only lines in this that she delivers that are done right. They make sense, we feel that she really believes in what she is saying, and we finally see some believable change in her character. Why couldn’t this have been going on throughout the movie? I don’t get it.
She goes home when the husband shows up. No reason given for why he shows up other than that Olive dumped him and the pregnancy was fake. That’s nice, but the only thing we saw Desiree do prior to being dumped is spend his money in the short time we spent with her prior to the breakup and we could hardly stand her afterwards. Again, it doesn’t make sense. We just are supposed to believe from their really short little exchange that she brought something to the marriage that he would want back. Just a simple scene where we at least see her being used as a trophy wife would have gone a long way.
Obviously she shuts him out, she winds up with Benny, the lawyer shows up with the policewoman from earlier, they dance out the door of the bakery, Desiree and Benny kiss, etc.
This movie sucked. Plain and simple. In the end, she has changed, but it’s too late at that point. Go watch Clueless or Harvest Moon instead.
Now a tribute to the best character in the entire film: the lawyer played by Steve Varnom.