Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Review: A Plumm Summer

It's summer, and that means it's blockbuster movie season. There are several mega-movies coming out that are high on my "must-see" list - I love me some good popcorny entertainment - but I admit that by the end of summer I'm often maxxed out on CGI explosions, car crashes, bullet-time and death-defying finales. Enter A Plumm Summer, a kid- and family-friendly movie that has more in common with the Disney movies-of-the-week they used to show when I was a kid than your typical kid-fare of the new millennium. (Remember Escape to Witch Mountain? Damn, I loved that movie.)

The story is based on an actual event that happened in Billings, MO MT in 1968. Billings had an extremely popular local kids' show called Happy Herb and Froggy Doo (this was before the era of national network programming). The show was something of a local legend that made national news when Froggy Doo, the central marionette character, was kidnapped and held for ransom. For serious. They reported it on the Brinkley report and J. Edgar Hoover sent out FBI agents to find the lost puppet. Crazy, no?

The film takes these events as its jumping-off point, creating a fictional story of two brothers, aged 13 and 5, who go in search of Froggy Doo, aided by their Trixie Belden-loving (female) neighbor. The boys, whose home life is being wrecked by an alcoholic father, find common ground in their search for the TV character, and the older boy in particular uses the experience as a way to navigate the tricky waters of adolescence. Nostalgic scenes of small-town life in the late 60s are portrayed from a kid's point of view, and the gorgeous Montana scenery is almost another character in the story.

The filmmakers clearly want to hearken back to the good-ole-days when men were men, women were women, and family movies were predicated on a good, moral story rather than on an inflated special effects budget. I've got nothing against special effects when well used, but I can certainly understand the appeal of a simpler approach - and in many respects A Plumm Summer achieves its goal of old-fashioned family entertainment. I have to say that I found the script a bit clunky, and I thought it showed that this is the director's first feature film. There's also some world-class scenery chewing from some of the adult actors, particularly Brenda Strong as Happy Herb's fiancee and co-star, and Billy Baldwin as the boys' alcoholic father. (Of course, you can't really be surprised to see Billy Baldwin overacting. It's what he does.) But Henry Winkler is absolutely charming as Happy Herb, and the kids playing the three main characters are uniformly good. The five-year-old Rocky, played by Owen Pearce, is particularly adorable - he manages to have a lisp and glasses and yet not be a walking cliche. (On a side note, I also really appreciated that all of the female characters had real bodies, with curves and soft parts and everything, and not creepy plastic model-y hollywood bodies.)

The plot is predictable, and the ending is pretty corny, but these are things more likely to bother a Snarky Squab than the kids the movie is targeting. Overall, it's a nice alternative to more big-budget stuff. Heck, it's nice just to HAVE an alternative to the big-budget stuff. If you're looking for a movie that you can take both your tween-ager and your parents and grandparents to, A Plumm Summer may be your only option this summer. It's opening this weekend in California, Minnesota and Alabama only, so if you live in one of these states and want to support this kind of filmmaking, get out there and see it this weekend! (I've listed MN theatres showing the film below; you can find other listings on the official movie site.)

Minnesota Theaters featuring A Plumm Summer April 25, 26, and 27 and May 2, 3 and 4

* AMC Eden Prairie 18 (4000 Flying Cloud Drive Ste 2400 Eden Prairie, MN 55344)

* Lakeville 18 (Country Road 70 & 35W Lakeville, MN 55044)

* Eagan 16 (2055 Cliff Road Eagan, MN 55122)

* Showplace 16 (10051 Woodcrest Drive Coon Rapids, MN 55448)

* Showplace 16 (5567 Bishop Avenue Inver Grove Hts., MN 55076)

* Oakdale 10 (1188 Helmo Avenue North Oakdale, MN 55128)

Reviewed as part of the MotherTalk series.