'Calendar Girl': Some like it luke

MOVIE REVIEW

September 06, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Marilyn Monroe has had a better career since her death than before it. A wonderful light comedian and not so wonderful dramatic actress before she died 1962, she's been a dish who 86'd too young, a Kennedy babe, an icon of male victimization, a feminist rallying point, a conspiracy fantasy, an object of obscure desire for a prominent but addled novelist and a much-mourned film star since. She's been revised more times than a script!

But not even Marilyn can stand the treatment ladled in her direction by "Calendar Girl," which is less revisionism than reductionism. It makes Monroe the one thing she never was: smaller than life. It has the effrontery to take this complex, gifted, ambitious, vain, self-hating and ultimately self-destructive woman, and turn her into a Cub Scout den mother!

The year is 1962, the locale small-town Nevada. Three XTC best-friend guys who are just about to step into adulthood decide to commemorate their coming of age by driving to L.A. and throwing themselves at the woman they've adored for 10 years.

Already you can see the problem. It's quite all right for the boys to worship Monroe, whose public image was carefully tended to the end. But it's quite another thing for us to get with the program, because we all know the sad truth of the great MM: By the year of her death, she was a chronically unprofessional, tardy, blowzy, overweight drug addict who had just lost a job and quite possibly a career. She was a walking tragedy, even as these silly boys are romanticizing her.

Maybe if the film had used that truth as a sobering lesson it might have worked; instead, they go to meet the dream girl and after a number of mild adventures finally bring it off. And she's a dream girl! Huh? She's "a regular person," gasps Ned Bleur (Gabriel Olds), the "smart one" of the trio. She sets him straight with a little bromide about not being afraid to ask for what you want and making your dreams come true.

Of course, that's what killed Marilyn: Her dreams came true, but it was no help with the agonies of doubt and insecurity that assailed her. This elephant-sized irony is entirely lost on director John Whitesell and writer Paul W. Shapiro.

Marilyn doesn't appear until the last act, and even then is only photographed from tricky angles where her face isn't clearly visible. It's like the old thing they used to do with Jesus in '30s religious movies. Maybe in Hollywood in the '90s, the young directors think of both as obscure cult figures of equal moral value.

The three kids are played by Jason Priestly (the wise guy), Olds (as I say, the smart guy) and Jerry O'Connell (the Howdy Doody-looking one). Their adventures are mild and not particularly involving. For example, Priestly has a difficulty with his distant, macho father, evoked in Reel 1, handled in Reel 6; total screen time, 3:54.6. He's also being hunted by two goofy Mafia enforcers (Stephen Tablowsky, a long-time movie nerd who gets to throw his first movie punch here, and Kurt Fuller) but he manages to fake them out. Total screen time, 7:32.7. The Howdy Doody-looking guy feels bad about betraying his fiancee, except of course he really doesn't. Total screen time, 2:34.2. And finally, in the frame story (it's a flashback set in 1963 that looks back to '62, then to '52, then back to '62, then returns to '63; like Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, the movie is unstuck in time), the smart one tries to get up the nerve to talk to a pretty co-ed (51.6 seconds) and then actually does (13.9 seconds).

But nothing in "Calendar Girl" could be said to have weight. It deals with mild issues meekly, it's neither funny or particularly witty, it has no edge, it has no powerful performances. It's really a soundtrack with a movie haphazardly attached. And in the famous L.A. mausoleum, with the fresh rose provided daily by Joe DiMaggio still, that sound you just heard was somebody rolling over.

MOVIE REVIEW

"Calendar Girl"

Starring Jason Priestly, Gabriel Olds and Jerry O'Connell

Directed by John Whitesell

Released by Columbia

PG-13

**

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