Lea Thompson plays Mary Maroni, a mother of three daughters and cupcake chef whose creations are one of the only popular things remaining in the dying town of Bridgeville. Every year, Mayor Bloodworth (Tom McCarthy) runs unopposed (save for one eccentric local who always votes for himself), and Mary expects the new year to be no different, until one of her daughters secretly submits her as an election candidate. In the end, Mary only gets 32 votes, but when Mayor Bloodworth keels over and dies before his win can be certified, Mary becomes the new mayor of Bridgeville.
As a nearly lifelong fan of Back to the Future (and having recently suffered through Howard the Duck), my interest in Mayor Cupcake was mainly about seeing whether Lea Thompson still has talent and charm. Although Mayor Cupcake is a terrible vehicle for those qualities, there is at least one scene in the film, in which she coaxes a local to give up a prized item for her husband's birthday, where she proves she still has both. Said husband, local police officer Donald, is played by fellow '80s icon Judd Nelson, whose performance is slightly off-key, but he too has his moments, like his system of replacing profanity with the names of US Presidents in chronological order, or his secret passion for the harmonica (although the filmmakers can't resist having one of the daughters play "Don't You (Forget About Me)" at a concert).
Unfortunately, the screenplay and direction of Mayor Cupcake are a mess. The film opens with voice-over narration by Mary, and although her stumbling and pauses might be part of the character, it sounds more like a first take, plopped into the film unedited. From there, we get almost 25 minutes of awkward, clunky, show-and-then-also-tell exposition that feels like it was developed by someone who only has a loose grasp of how two human beings communicate with one another. That the movie improves to a more general sense of aimlessness once Mary officially becomes the mayor is not saying much.
More than anything, the problem with the film is that "cupcake chef and mother becomes mayor" is an idea, not a story. Co-writer/director/producer Alex Pires spends the movie searching for a hook to hang the film on, but none materialize, scene after scene. There's little conflict here: Mary is a good mother with a happy life who sees a town dying around her, and although she cares about Bridgeville, all the problems her character faces are actually caused by becoming mayor, like Mary spending less time with her family, and the declining quality of her cupcakes. Pires also tosses in a corruption plot that only really has any relevance when it's introduced at the beginning and resolved at the end, giving the film the illusion of a story despite the corruption not having any impact at any other time. Both the movie and Mary's character call out for a sense of how the becoming mayor is secretly a good fit for Mary, or a way in which it ties in with her experience making cupcakes, but the movie never really combines the "cupcake maker" and "mayor" ideas into a way that transforms both of them.
The film is dedicated to Mary C. Pires, the "inspiration" for Mary Maroni. It's a perfectly nice idea, to make a movie dedicated to your mother, but perhaps Pires would've been better helping with the overall story and then standing aside for a screenwriter or director with more experience. As it is, Mayor Cupcake is an pleasant but unfocused picture that doesn't convey to the audience why Mary (and therefore Mrs. Pires) is a woman worth making a movie about. Although aspects of the film are charming, the "cupcake mayor" concept is poorly delivered, rendering the final product into a story that probably means plenty to Pires, and very little to anyone else.
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