(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR. She has over 170 movies recorded and she’s trying to get them all watched before the beginning of the new year! Will she make it? Keep checking the Shattered Lens to find out! She recorded the 1992 dramedy This Is My Life off of Indieplex on March 20th.)
This Is My Life tells the story of Dottie Ingels (Julie Kavner). Dottie may be stuck working in a dead end job at a cosmetics counter but she dreams of becoming a successful comedienne. She even entertains her customers, who all seem to be delighted to put off making their purchases so that they can listen to an aspiring star tell corny jokes that were probably considered to be dated even at the height of vaudeville. Most of Dottie’s jokes deal with raising her daughters — Erica (Samantha Mathis) and Opal (Gabby Hoffman) — on her own. Times may not be easy but … well, actually, as portrayed in this movie, times are remarkably easy for a single mom with a job in retail. It’s certainly easier for Dottie than it ever was for my mom.
Anyway, Dottie’s aunt dies and leaves her some money, so Dottie moves herself and her daughters to New York City so that she can pursue her comedy career. With the help of an eccentric agent (Dan Aykroyd) and his assistant (Carrie Fisher), Dottie starts to find success as a performer but her daughters also start to resent the fact that their mother is no longer around as much as she used to be. While Dottie is getting invitations to appear on late night talk shows, Erica and Opal are feeling neglected. Finally, they decide to run away from home and head upstate to see their father, little realizing that he may not have room for them in his new life.
This Is My Life is one of those films that could only have been made by someone totally in love with the concept (as opposed to the reality) of show business. While Dottie does have to sacrifice to find success, the film has no doubt that the sacrifices are worth it. As played by Dan Aykroyd, Dottie’s agent is a big lovable eccentric who just wants the best for all of his clients. In fact, everyone in this movie just wants the best for Dottie. As a result, the film is so good-natured that you kind of feel guilty if you don’t force yourself to love it. At the same time, it’s such an unabashedly sentimental movie that it’s difficult to take any of its conflicts seriously. It’s like a fantasy of what it’s like to be an aspiring star in New York. Making her directorial debut, the famous writer Nora Ephron laid on the schmaltz so thick that, for the majority of the film, there’s not even a hint of a rough edge or a ragged corner. This is a film that really could have used a little more profanity. And while Julie Kavner is undoubtedly a funny actress, she’s never believable as a stand-up comedienne. (At least not a successful one…)
That said, there were a few things that I did like about This Is My Life. Mathis and Hoffman are believable as sisters and there’s a natural poignancy to the scenes where they manage to track down their father. I related to those scenes and they brought tears to my mismatched eyes, not that it’s particularly hard to do that. Otherwise, This Is My Life felt like a typical directorial debut: heartfelt, uneven, well-intentioned, and just a little too heavy-handed.