Sunday, March 26, 2006
I'll get you my pretty... and your little dog too!
Were the people behind the movie, Nanny McPhee marketing it as sort of a Mary Poppins in reverse? That's certainly what came to mind when I first saw the standee some months ago. I was actually expecting a Tim Burtonesque film since that was what the graphics in the standee (which only showed her silouhette with a bit of spirally thing behind her) suggested. A certain air of mystery and nastiness hung around which raised the possibility of us watching something akin to an Addams' Family movie (imagine me doing a nasty snicker while rubbing my hands in a mad professor sort of way). What we were treated to was something different altogether. Not at all dark and grey but weird all the same. It's also colorful in the way Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was presented, maxing the colors out to take advantage of every color there is in the Crayola box. Or something.
Although it wasn't at all what I expected, the story was really something else. The screenplay was penned by Ms. Thompson herself based on the book Nurse Matilda by the late Christianna Brand (1907-1988) was charming and meritorious at the same time. There were originally three stories in the book and I'm not sure if Ms. Thompson also took bits and pieces from the two subsequent stories for her treatment of this movie. The story revolves around the Brown family, a single parent unit with seven unruly children. The dad owns a funeral home, is reserved and isn't home most of the time leaving the kids in the care of hired nannies. Unfortunately the children have run 17 and counting out of their house and Mr. Brown (Colin Firth) is at his wit's end trying to find a solution to his problem. Most of the time he would talk to an empty chair his deceased wife used to occupy while another young help, Evangeline (Kelly Macdonald), whom the children trusts most, keeps the house from falling apart. Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) enters the picture, mysteriously at that too, arriving at their doorstep without so much as a recommendation or anything from the agency. She's not much to look at actually though she was fairly straightforward as she only had to two conditions for herself and five rules the children should learn to complete the job: Go to bed when you are told, get up when you are told, get dressed when you are told, listen and behave. The children raise hell to try and send her screaming out the door like all the past nannies but she doesn't flinch and with a tap of her walking stick she puts a spell on them and turns their ruse back at them. They quickly learn her first two lessons by the end of the second day with them realizing that she means business. But things weren't as well in the Brown's household as their problem is taking another turn for the worse. Mr. Brown's Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) and the household's benefactress, have threatened to cut off all means of support if he doesn't get married by the end of that month. This sends him into a frenzy, digging up old files of potential widows he could settle down with. He ended picking the least favorite candidate for reasons unknown to everyone else but himself, Mrs. Quickly (Celia Imrie). The children were flabbergasted to say the least, from their knowledge from all the fairy tales their mom used to tell them they knew that step-moms are bad business and they want nothing to do with them whatsoever. The eldest, Simon (Thomas Sangster) tried to reason with his dad but knowing what he knows and has been withholding from the children, he refused to listen driving the kids further away. The kids had no recourse but ask favors a couple of times from their Nanny to use her powers and her permission to ward off potential disasters. The first one was deemed a success when their Grand aunt Adelaide dropped by unannounced supposedly to take one of their children to raise as her own. Simon managed a switch after a lot of distractions involving some farm animals. The second incident involved a supposed marriage proposal to Mrs. Quickly but they were warned the second time around about dire consequences regarding their actions. Though they initially appeared to understand and control the situation, the results of their pranks came back and blew up in their faces. They now have no one to depend on but themselves to try and correct everything they have done.
Having grown up reading fairytales (I like those stories by the Brothers Grimm better than Hans Christian Andersen) more or less I know what I want with children's stories and fortunately this movie is packed with goodies. The story, as was adapted in the able hands of Ms. Thompson, was just right. Like any great children's tales, or parables, if you may, it succeeds in inserting moral lessons without sounding preachy. And the visuals! It may sound funny but it took me a while before I realized how the colors used in the rooms of the house and clothes of the characters weren't the common ones used during the period the story was set in. I didn't think anything about the bright green walls in Mr. Brown's study nor the royal blue colors in the hallway. And don't get me started on the two lambs Mrs. Quickly was tugging during the wedding nor the Bo-peep line of clothes the children were forced to wear. It was quirky but not at all exagerrated to the point of distraction. There were also a lot of funny scenes like the one where Nanny McPhee would unexpectedly appear or disappear in front of Mr. Brown, Ms. Lansbury's Adelaide by herself was funny looking (one of her lines that I laughed at specifically was when she shouted "Incest!" when Mr. Brown proposed marriage to her adopted daughter, Evangeline), her mistaken reaction to the dressed up farm animals, the afforementioned colored lambs, the proposal scene with Mrs. Quickly which the children tried to sabotage, and lot lots more. I think the ending rounded the story nicely because not only did everyone get what they richly deserved but mostly because of the lessons both the children and adults learned. Like I said earlier it wasn't preachy at all but the message was clearly put across as one concerned viewer put it:
"Some films and shows go the kiddie route and say that kids should do what they want and they'll be right in the end. Such as disrupt a father's or sister's date, because in the end the person will be a fiend. So they were right all along (even if they didn't know the truth when they acted -- So what if they were a perfect and kind match?). Or they go the route of kids need to learn their place. This movie went the route of saying kids need to learn to respect their caregivers, but need to be open and share their concerns and fears. Kids can act, but they have to be aware that things can be made worse. And that parents need to let the kids in on big decisions, so they can understand what is happening, and express themselves. Everyone needed to learn in this story."*Not only in the story actually. The same goes to all the folks working in the movie industry and to all of us as well. I hope we're all seriously listening to this apt advice.
* IMDB.com: Re: Fabulous Film (comment w/ possible spoiler)
** Check out also the review in Hollywood Jesus for more insightful reactions to this good movie.