May 28, 2010

[Movies] Keeping Mum (2005)

Keeping Mum (2005)Good comedies are a lot harder to come by these days. Perhaps it's just me, but more and more the notion of what makes a "good" comedy has gravitated more towards the extremes of pure slapstick and gross-out humor. As much a I respect movies like There's Something About Mary, they heralded an age of comedy being less about intelligent witty writing and more and more about visual gags, uncomfortable and awkward situations and basically spending more time laughing at the characters instead of laughing with them.

Maybe I'm just being too traditional or biased or something, but I feel somewhat strongly about this. I miss comedies that new how to balance both slapstick and wit like the Mel Brooks movies or even the deadpan humor of the Airplane! and Naked Gun movies. These are not movies that are meant to change the world or anything like that but they still require you to think and keep up with the zingers being issued by the actors left and right. You just don't get that as often anymore.

Or at least, you don't get that from Hollywood anymore. There's still hope for more intelligent humor in other parts of the world.

And no, the local comedies are hardly an example of good comedy either.

Keeping Mum is an unusual 2005 black comedy with some rather high profile stars brought together by an amusing and yet highly oddball tale.

The movie starts with the sentencing of young Rosie Jones (Emilia Fox) for the murder and mutilation of her husband and his mistress. Committed to a institution for the criminally insane, she's doomed to spend the rest of her life behind bars.

Fast-forward 43 years to the "present" day and we meet the Goodfellows - a seemingly happy family in the village of Little Wallop. Reverend Walter Goodfellow (Rowan Atkinson) is busy preparing for his big speech at an upcoming conference. His wife Gloria (Kristin Scott Thomas) has gotten into an affair with her charming golf instructor Lance (Patrick Swayze). Their daughter Holly (Tamsin Egerton) has become highly promiscuous and seems to have a new boyfriend every day. And then their son Peter (Toby Parkes) is constantly bullied and picked on at school. All this is about to change when the new housekeeper, Grace Hawkins (Maggie Smith) arrives on the scene.

Naturally you might be thinking this is turning into something like Mary Poppins or Mrs. Doubtfire, and that may not be a bad assumption to make. However Grace is obviously also Rosie Jones finally out of prison, otherwise the opening sequence would not have made any sense. Thus "Grace" sets about helping the family with their various problems in her own "special" way starting with the incessantly noisy dog next door that makes sleeping next to impossible...

Dame Maggie Smith was an absolute gem in this movie. As much as I already respect her for her more dramatic performances plus her bringing to life Harry Potter's Professor McGonagall, she was just amazing in this dark comedy and performed even better than I had hoped. I probably need to watch more of her movies since all this time I've missed her amazing talent for comedy and her excellent mastery of timing. So yeah, Maggie alone drives this movie to another level entirely.

I was surprised that Rowan Atkinson wasn't so over the top in this movie. Then again, I suppose we've all gotten so used to his performances as Mr. Bean that it becomes a challenge to remember his prior comedic work. His role in this movie was very understated and he also executed things well and made a nice contribution to the overall story.

And the plot is what really carries the movie forward. The story is a good one that a lot of us can somewhat relate to in terms of the average problems and Grace is able to resolve them in the ways that we all wish we could solve certain issues in our lives. The writing is just stellar - wonderfully intelligent and perhaps undeniably British. A lot of the jokes end up coming across as rather dry or subtle, but then within the context of the culture, that makes perfect sense. This is definitely the kind of intelligent, witty comedy that I've been looking for in recent years and I'm thankful to my boss for lending me a copy of this movie.

Keeping Mum is an excellent way to relax after a stressful day even if it still demands a bit of action from your aching brain cells. But it's certainly more than worth the laughs and the movie deserves 4 magical worlds like "broccoli" out of a possible 5.

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