With the fall season comes the expected push of European comedies and quirky family melodramas and 2006, no particularly special year, has its own bounty on the horizon. The first of the batch, preceding Confetti and Driving Lessons, is Keeping Mum, a slightly raunchier take on Mary Poppins, with the elder Poppins being played by none other than the great Maggie Smith. As with most films, there's a tiny twist.
The Goodfellow family has problems. The father, Reverend Walter Goodfellow (an exhaustingly unfunny Rowan Atkinson) seems to be at the beck and call of an elderly parishioner who is in need of constant companionship. This leaves his wife, Gloria (Kristin Scott Thomas), sexually frustrated and constantly without her husband to solve it. She also has a daughter (Tamsin Egerton) who has a knack for making vans rock and a son (Toby Parkes) who can't stand up to a gang of bicycle riding twerps.
Enter Mrs. Hawkins (Smith), a nanny and housekeeper with a sunny disposition and an odd sense of humor. The minute she enters their lives, things begin to get better: the yapping dog across the way shuts up and disappears, Toby finds that by simply saying the word 'broccoli' the brakes on the bikes of the gang go out, and Gloria's lover, Lance (Patrick Swayze, doing that sleazy thing), stops videotaping her daughter changing in the window. Suspiciously, these nuisances tend to be sorted out with violence and, in some cases, homicide. There's no way Mrs. Hawkins could be responsible. No bloody way, right?
Adapted from a Richard Russo story (to think the man behind Empire Falls is also behind this rubbish), Keeping Mum seems to be apt for that family who wants just that little hint of darkness in their Saturday night/post-church Sunday morning movie. It's a tease, and for the most part, a total sham. The supposed Mary Poppins-cum-Serial Mom tendencies don't help the fact that we still know that everything will be solved. If you've seen Sinbad solve Phil Hartman's problems, Maggie Smith solving Kristin Scott Thomas's isn't exactly new hat. Furthermore, the darkness and the murders have no real consequences, nor do they ever have any specific use besides trying to make the film darker.
Maggie Smith tends to be acceptable in anything she does, and this is no exception. Her delivery and simple presence polishes up the film just a little bit. Besides that, the entire film, including Gavin Finney's insufferably drab cinematography and Dickon Hinchliffe's abhorrently sweet score, seems to be shrouded in a veil of utter boredom. Do yourself a favor: save some money, go to England, and see the good British films that are coming out next year at this time. Or, I guess, you could go to a museum or something.
What say we all go to the road house?