Less Wizard, Just Weird
As is sometimes the case it is the talent on show in "Surrender, Dorothy" rather than what it's about which drew me to watching. Unfortunately whilst you have young talent such as Tom Everett Scott, Lauren German and Chris Pine as well as Oscar winner Diane Keaton they can't stop "Surrender, Dorothy" from disappointing. Ironically it is not the storyline which disappoints a grieving mother discovering secrets about the daughter she thought she knew so well is good but the delivery of it is messy. It's messy because it feels like an emotional drama but there is lots of forced humour thrown in that it ends up feeling wrong. And whilst I am sure director Charles McDougall was aiming for something different to the norm, and in some ways achieves it, he also ends up making "Surrender, Dorothy" overly quirky and disjointed.
Having headed to the beach house in the Hampton's to share summer with her friends, Sara (Alexa Davalos) is suddenly killed in a car accident. Sara's intrusive mother, Natalie Swerdlow (Diane Keaton - The Family Stone), decides to head up to the beach house and spend summer where Sara would have been to get close to her friends even though they don't really want the domineering Natalie there. But as the days pass secrets are revealed as each of the friends discover something about each other they never knew and Natalie learns stuff about Sara as well which comes as a huge shock as she thought they didn't have any secrets.
So with the exception of the rather cheesy "Wizard of Oz" reference which explains the title the opening of "Surrender, Dorothy" starts quite well. It maybe cliche that a group of diverse thirty something friends are spending their summer together by the beach but the diversity of this group from a gay friend to a married couple works. And of course this summer is quickly spoilt when Sara dies in a car crash which brings her domineering mother Natalie to the beach house.
Now this set up leads you to expect a tense emotional drama where Natalie learns things about her daughter she never knew despite being under the illusion that they were close and at the same time struggling with her loss. And to be honest we get this, we get Natalie struggling and blaming her friends in particular Adam for her loss, whilst also going through various aspects of grieving such as excessive cleaning and looking for reasons. But on top of Natalie learning things about her daughter these friends learn things about each other and turns "Surrender, Dorothy" from being this emotional drama into a strange sort of reunion movie where the past is revisited and causes issues amongst each other.
In a way that is not the biggest problem which causes "Surrender, Dorothy" to suffer as it is the comedy which gets thrown in. When Natalie immerses herself in cleaning we have her doing so in a frantic manner whilst singing in Japanese with headphones on much to the bemusement of everyone else. It simply feels forced as is the way Natalie gets close to each of Sara's friends often making fun of them at the same time. And even before that we have the rather strange bearded woman at the ice-cream parlour, why a bearded woman as I have no flipping idea. Maybe the intention was to be quirky but it goes beyond quirky and is plainly odd.
In a way many of these problems stem from the character of Natalie who seems to be simply unreal, a domineering divorced woman who behaves like a teenager. You don't know whether we are meant to feel for her, despise her as she seems almost vindictive or just laugh at her over the topness. As such it's a rather strange performance from Diane Keaton because she does deliver the emotional unrest of Natalie as well as being domineering and to be honest also the quirkiness but it feels like she is as bemused by this character with multiple personalities as we are. It also doesn't help that a moment of humour she has to deliver about Woody Allen falls painfully flat.
And to be honest the character of Natalie is such a domineering force that the rest of the cast end up being over shadowed. The exception to this is Tom Everett Scott who as Sara's best friend Adam seems the most normal character in the entire movie. But then the irony of that is that in a movie of almost extremes being normal ends up feeling out of place.
What this all boils down to is that "Surrender, Dorothy" whilst certainly not dull is a rather strange movie. It most certainly isn't just some mainstream drama as it tries to mix emotion with comedy but it most certainly isn't a marriage made in heaven and ends up a very strange experience, to commercial to be arty, but to quirky to be mainstream.