I have a confession.
My viewing of Andrew Fleming's Barefoot started out as a gag when I was a guest on a local radio show, Film Soceyology, a show where my status as a double amputee (ie, footless) is fodder for many jokes and irreverent comments. As I was preparing only moments before the show, I happened to be looking at the movie ads and noticed that Barefoot, a film I'd previously not heard about, was actually opening in one theater in Indianapolis. Thus, the running joke (get it?) throughout the show became that I was going to leave when the show was done and immediately check out Barefoot.
Well, I didn't actually leave and immediately go to check out Barefoot but I did honor my irreverent obligations as a footless film critic and make my way to the theater to check out Barefoot, a film which I've noticed is receiving mostly scathing reviews mostly owing to its retro, rainbow-colored cinematic lens.
Fleming, who hasn't directed a feature film since 2008's under-appreciated Hamlet 2, has in recent years been focusing on television work including three episodes of The Michael J. Fox Show and episodes of New Girl, Franklin & Bash, and Wedding Band. Fleming is a solid "working" director who has a strong sense of artistic integrity and is willing to let a film be what a film is actually meant to be. He did it with Hamlet 2, and he's done it on such films as Dick, The Craft and Bad Dreams.
It's easy to note, of course, that none of the films with Fleming's name attached are particularly brilliant but, let's be honest, that's really pretty common in Hollywood.
After all, when was the last time you saw a brilliant film made by Dennis Dugan?
Barefoot, which was made into a 2005 German film directed by and starring Til Schweiger, isn't in the market to be a "brilliant" film but to be a simple, laid back film with a simple, laid back story. It reminded me in some ways of the under-rated Our Idiot Brother starring Paul Rudd, though I'd imagine most who see the film will flash back to 70's and 80's light romantic comedies with easy to swallow messages and pleasant enough performances.
Jay (the always under-appreciated Scott Speedman) plays a worldly guy, the black sheep of a wealthy family who works as the janitor at a mental hospital while also working overtime to avoid a loan shark and behave reasonably well while on parole. At the hospital, he encounters Daisy, played by a winning Evan Rachel Wood, a new patient having trouble coping with the recent death of her mother.
Jay is worldly but not so wise.
Daisy is painfully sheltered but instinctively wise and possessing of uncommon goodness.
Yes, you know where Barefoot going but that doesn't make it an unpleasant trip getting there.
Jay is looking for a way to pay off his debts and opts to take a co-worker's advice and attend his brother's wedding where, it is believed, his father is destined to be in good spirits and more open to helping his troubled son. The problem is that Jay has projected a stability that doesn't exactly exist by creating a relationship with a nurse.
If you don't know where this is going, then you probably haven't been into a movie theater since Gone With the Wind.
Evan Rachel Wood gives Daisy a sort of Goldie Hawn meets Liza Minnelli that is comical and endearing even as a story unfolds that isn't even remotely believable. It's a winning performance because Wood keeps us invested in Daisy even when her story is rather nonsensical.
Speedman, a gifted actor who has never seemed to find the right film to make him a household name, does a nice job of selling a character whose development really never makes a lick of sense. Treat Williams (Where has he been?), Kate Burton, and J.K. Simmons all do a fine job as supporting players.
Barefoot is better than many film critics will have you believe, though the Roadside Attractions release is destined to have a far longer life once it arrives on home video. It's the kind of film that we've come to expect from Andrew Fleming, a competently made film with winning moments and moments that just plain don't make sense at all.
Most easily described as a guilty pleasure of sorts, thanks largely to Wood's oddly appealing work here, Barefoot is most hindered by Stephen Zotnowski's uneven and, at times, even unappealing script that threatens to but never manages to derail the film's overall good spirit.
Sometimes, you just plain enjoy a film despite all its flaws and, indeed, despite all its flaws I found myself enjoying my time with Jay and Daisy and smiling as I left the theater. I wasn't quite footloose, but maybe just a little more fancy free.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic