Home Video Hovel: Wild Oats, by Alexander Miller
There’s nothing worse than a comedy that’s not funny. In the universally malleable genre and its various subsets, writers and directors are usually savvy enough to make us chuckle or at least grin regardless of whether you’re watching a satire, spoof, rom-com, dramedy or whatever suffix/prefix is attached to the description. In this instance, you could call Wild Oats a situational comedy featuring two veteran performers, Shirley MacLaine and Jessica Lange. Eva (MacLaine), a retired high school teacher, receives a life insurance check after the death of her husband. However, Eva receives the sum of $5,000,000 instead of the expected $50,000; in lieu of this miscalculation Eva and her best friend Maddie (Lange) decide to cash in and check out, leaving for a vacation in the Canary Islands.
Throwing caution to the wind, these two ladies are in for an adventure. At least, that’s what the setup would have us believe. I have no reservations about calling a film like Wild Oats superficial. In some respects, superficiality isn’t exactly a detriment, after all. If history has shown us anything, it’s that there is always room for a few cheap laughs. However, this outing is a cumulative gathering of low stakes, lower energy, saccharine quips, lethargic pacing, and worst of all it squanders the films leading players, which I would say is the second most injurious blow to the movie behind the violation of an unfunny comedy. MacLaine and Lange’s credentials speak for themselves but the script gives them so little comedic minutia (or any for that matter) that reading the synopsis is about as exciting as watching the movie. To the credit of Shirley MacLaine and Jessica Lange do their best with the material, and project some energy onto the screen, but the collateral effect leaves the lingering taste that these two adept performers could have saved a lackluster script had it been imbued with a little more than a hobbled concept. The story sounds like it was culled from Alan Alda’s character in Crimes and Misdemeanors, a hack writer/producer trumpeting half-baked scenarios into his tape recorder. Another indication of misplaced talent is the casting of Demi Moore in the supporting role as Eva’s daughter Crystal, who is forgettable due to the thematic stalemate that is at the heart of this film.
Expectations are always a force in the way we interpret movies; did I anticipate Wild Oats to be an intellectually rewarding dissertation? Not at all, but in a broad manner of speaking comedies are a vehicle for humor, but Wild Oats is a loose fitting attempt to squeeze laughs from thoroughly unfunny scenarios and characters.
The proverbial “fish out of water” motif, a potential springboard for something entertaining, limply tosses us into a gaggle of banal wordplay, head scratching sex humor (so sex is funny if you’re a woman over the age of sixty?) and obligatory ageism. Anything remotely funny feels as if someone is nudging you, whispering, “Get it? It’s funny because they’re old!” Which is about as lazily conceived as a knock-knock joke worked into a screenplay.
Whether it’s Eva and Maddie nervously bantering their way through depositing the insurance check or finding themselves in some lukewarm water toward the final act, the sum is lesser than its parts and Wild Oats is forgettable screen fodder. Wild Oats relies on a weak scenario that doesn’t afford much to elaborate on, if that’s the case, why not draw from a different well?
Director Andy Tennant has credentials with a consistent thread of “safe” romantic comedies, (one standout title includes the enthusiastically received Cinderella story Ever After) such as Sweet Home Alabama and Fools Rush In. Such hackneyed vehicles for simplistic humor and sanitized romance are harmless but these forgettable movies are frustrating because there’s enough on screen to indicate that something more could come from these movies. Instead, the collective impression is that good enough is good enough.