Carolina is a bittersweet family story/romance about a young woman trying to escape the trappings of her dysfunctional family. It has an impressive cast, but is the movie as impressive as its elements?
Shirley MacLaine as a wise-cracking, eccentric old lady. Randy Quaid as a scatterbrained, deadbeat dad. Julia Stiles as an adorable, smart, strong young woman looking for love. I get it. It's Steel Magnolias meets National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation meets every movie in which Julia Stiles has starred. Only difference is, this one's based on the screenplay writer's life.
Carolina (Stiles) was raised by her grandmother (MacLaine) because her father (Quaid) can't stop having children with different women and leaving them on grandmother's doorstep. Carolina has two other sisters, named after the states in which they were born, as was Carolina. Maine (Mika Boorem) is the youngest, obsessed with horse riding and prone to speaking in British tongues. Georgia (Azura Skye) pretty much takes after her father…only problem is, when she sleeps around, she's the one who gets pregnant. The only vaguely sane person in Carolina's life is her best friend Albert (Alessandro Nivola—who has dimples to die for). Albert is the ghostwriter for star romance author Daphne St. Claire (Barbara Eden—looking fabulous as always), who doesn't even know who he is when she stands face to face with him. Carolina is the casting director for a television dating game, which gives her an opportunity to cast a British hunk named Heath (Edward Atterton) when she sees his interview tape. Miracles do happen, because his television romance doesn't work out, and he becomes VERY interested in the casting director. But that may change when he's invited to Christmas dinner at Carolina's house, to meet her wacky family, and a mysteriously protective and jealous Albert….
Each actor in this movie is pretty much playing a caricature of roles they've been playing for years, which, on the bright side, they all do well because they've had so much practice. There's really nothing new here. We've seen movies about a prospective lover being exposed to a quirky family. We've seen Bridget Jones, in which two men, a Brit and an American, vie for the attention of a blonde. And we've seen romances in which the girl gets the guy we want her to get. The only thing that makes this movie original is the fact that much of it is apparently lifted from the writer's real experiences with her family. In a way, the realism works against the movie. All the silly things that go on with the family during dinner are SO real that they fall flat as comic devices. They're the kinds of things that might be funnier if a person was telling you "you're never going to believe what happened during my family's holiday dinner gathering." Here, they end up feeling a little too cute. Some of it also seems forced, real or not. For instance, at one point, Albert hires the "Clean Queens," two over-the-top stereotypical flamboyant gay men wearing tight, nipple showing body suits, to deliver a singing telegram to Carolina before we never see them again. It seemed like someone decided, "gays in Hollywood are really big right now, so we need to inject a bit of gay camp into this very heterosexual movie." As a gay man, believe me, I'm very capable of enjoying a totally heterosexual movie that doesn't have any representation of my "people"—particularly if they're going to be represented this ridiculously. The upside to the movie is a really unseen plot twist at the end, which helps this movie break the mold a tiny bit. And it also gives Julia Stiles a good opportunity to shine as an actress. Other than that, this movie is pretty much something you'd see on Lifetime. It's a movie for women…just women. Not gay men.
The movie is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 1:85:1. Haloing causes a somewhat soft image, and doesn't help bring any depth to the image, which is rather flat. There's noticeable pixilation and some grain, and it's not consistent. At times, the image looks okay, and other scenes are glaringly grainy. The darks are overpowering and the colors are a tad washed out, particularly the flesh tones. There are a few hints of dust and hair on the print, but not much.
The 5.1 surround sound works mostly as 2.0. I rarely heard any effects coming from the rear speakers. There was noticeable depth in the front, and occasional left/right travel, but the sound was very center focused. The bass was unresponsive. There was also a drastic sound hiccup at 1:10, but there wasn't any dialogue missed because of it.
Traliers begin automatically but can be skipped and selected from the menu. The trailers are really odd choices to be on this disc: Scary Movie 3 and .My Baby's Daddy. Go figure. Scene selection offers 20 chapter breaks, and you can choose from English or Spanish subtitles. There's one 8 minute "behind the scenes" feature. This consists of interviews with the cast, director, producers and writer. Everyone raves about Shirley, everyone raves about Julia. They discuss the L.A. locations for the set. This documentary is mostly worth it just to learn that the writer based the story on her life.
Carolina feels very familiar as a romantic comedy/drama because you've seen it all before, from the plot to the characters played by each actor. The main reason to watch this one is if you're a fan of either Shirley MacLaine or Julia Stiles (I'm a fan of both). Otherwise, I'd wait a few years, because this one's guaranteed to be a Lifetime movie of the week.