Culture Representation: Taking place in Boston, Rome, and Central America, the comedy film “Confess, Fletch” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: In his first night at a rented vacation townhouse in Boston, a freelance journalist finds a murdered woman in the living room, he becomes a prime suspect in her murder, and he annoys the police by trying to solve the murder himself.
Culture Audience: “Confess, Fletch” will appeal mainly to people who are star Jon Hamm and fans of author Gregory Mcdonald’s “Fletch” mystery novel series and murder mystery comedies that have wisecracking characters.
Thanks to a very talented cast, the comedy film “Confess, Fletch” is an adequately entertaining story that should satisfy fans of murder mysteries and the book on which this movie is based. Jon Hamm’s skill for dry wit holds everything together. Without his great sense of comedic timing, the protagonist of “Confess, Fletch” wouldn’t be as interesting to watch.
Directed by Greg Mottola (who co-wrote the “Confess, Fletch” screenplay with Zev Borow), “Confess, Fletch” is adapted from Gregory Mcdonald’s 1976 book of the same title. The movie has been updated to take place in the early 2020s. This update is put to great use involving the movie’s running gag about GPS tracking.
At the beginning of “Confess, Fletch,” Irving Maurice Fletcher (played by Hamm), who prefers to be called by his nickname Fletch, is spending his first night at a rental townhouse in Boston. He goes downstairs to fix himself a drink, she he sees a murdered young woman on the living room floor. The cause of death is blunt force trauma to the head.
Fletch calmly calls 911 to report the murder, and he fixes himself drink. When the police arrive, Fletch appears too casual about everything and immediately falls under suspicion, since he was the only person in the house to find the body. When the estimated time of death is later revealed, Fletch doesn’t have an alibi. To make matters worse for Fletch, his fingerprints are all over the murder weapon: a wine bottle.
The name of the murder victim is Laurel Goodwin (played by Caitlin Zerra Rose), who was an aspiring art dealer or art broker. She was working as a barista while trying to start a career in the art industry. Fletch insists to the police that he never met or saw Laurel before he found her dead in the townhouse. He also says he has no motive to kill this stranger.
The two police officials who are on the case are Sergeant Inspector Morris Monroe (played by Roy Wood Jr.) and his rookie partner Griz (played by Ayden Mayeri), who also goes by the name Gracie. Fletch is the type of person who’s irked that he had to tell these investigators his real full name, but Griz refuses to tell Fletch what her real full name is. Throughout the movie, Fletch plays pranks on Griz, who is more gullible than Inspector Monroe.
Inspector Monroe thinks that Fletch is the most likely suspect, and he’s inclined to arrest Fletch for the murder, but there’s not enough evidence. Instead, Inspector Monroe keeps telling Fletch to make things easy for everyone by confessing to the murder. Instead, Fletch (who has a background in investigative journalism) irritates the police by trying to solve the murder himself.
Why is Fletch in Boston? The townhouse was actually rented by Fletch’s new girlfriend Angela De Grassi (played by Lorenza Izzo), a wealthy Italian heiress whom he met in Rome. Angela and Fletch have been dating for only one month. During their whirlwind romance, Angela finds out that several valuable paintings owned by her father have been stolen. And then, her father gets kidnapped. One of the paintings is a Picasso worth $20 million.
Fletch was able to find out that a Boston-based art collector named Ronald Horan (played by Kyle MacLachlan) has bought one of the paintings, but the painting hasn’t been delivered yet. It doesn’t mean that Ronald knows that the paintings have been stolen. Fletch is in Boston to investigate who will be delivering the painting and to find out if Ronald knows that the art has been stolen. Police in Italy are investigating the reported kidnapping of Angela’s father.
In other words, Fletch has tasked himself with two investigations in this story: the investigation of who murdered Laurel Goodwin and the investigation of who stole the De Grassi family paintings. Angela bitterly complains to Fletch that Angela’s stepmother Countess Sylvia De Grassi (played by Marcia Gay Harden) is a gold digger and might have been responsible for this art theft to get a secret fortune from selling the paintings.
Fletch sometimes stumbles and fumbles in his investigations, but he often manages to stay one step ahead of the police. He encounters some eccentric chararacters along the way, including Countess De Grassi, who tries to seduce Fletch in ways the movie deliberately compares to the Mrs. Robinson character in the 1968 film “The Graduate.” Harden (who is American in real life) is hilarious in this Countess De Grassi role, even though Harden’s Italian accent isn’t always believable.
The townhouse is owned by Owen Tasserly (played by John Behlmann), a wealthy heir who has been floundering in life. He tried and failed to be an actor and a restaurant owner. Owen is currently an art dealer who’s in the middle of a contentious divorce and custody battle over his underage daughter. Owen was apparently away on a trip to Europe during the murder, so he has an alibi.
Other characters in the story include Owen’s flaky neighbor Eve (played by Annie Mumolo), who is a talkative stoner with an apparent crush on Owen; Tatiana Tasserly (played by Lucy Punch), Owen’s pretentious and estranged wife; and gruff and sarcastic Frank Jaffe (played by John Slattery), who used to be Fletch’s boss at the Los Angeles Tirbune and who currently works as an editor at the Boston Sentinel. “Mad Men” fans should be pleased that former “Mad Men” stars Hamm and Slattery have a few scenes together in “Confess, Fletch.”
The movie has a breezy tone that plays up Fletch’s “naughty boy” attitude. Fletch is also a huge fan of the Los Angeles Lakers, which is used for recurring jokes in the film, such as Fletch’s fondness for wearing a Los Angeles Lakers cap and flaunting his Lakers fandom to people in Boston, who are no doubt Boston Celtics fans. Comparisons are inevitable to director Michael Ritchie’s 1985 “Fletch” movie (starring Chevy Chase in the title role), but “Confess, Fletch” and Hamm’s portrayal of Fletch makes this character less of a slapstick buffoon and more of a grizzled wiseass with sex appeal. Overall, “Confess, Fletch” (just like the title character himself) has some flaws and missteps, but the movie’s self-effacing comedy is appealing because it always lets the audience in on the joke.
Miramax/Paramount Pictures released “Confess, Fletch” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 16, 2022. Showtime will premiere the movie on October 28, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place in California, the action film “Top Gun: Maverick” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: U.S. Navy Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell returns to the TOPGUN aviator program, where he reluctantly becomes an instructor for new recruits, including a man who blames Maverick for damaging his career and causing his father’s death.
Culture Audience: “Top Gun: Maverick” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Tom Cruise, 1986’s “Top Gun” and any formulaic action sequel that is a virtual copy of its predecessor.
“Top Gun: Maverick” is an uninspired, outdated retread of 1986’s “Top Gun,” but with more implausible scenarios and with no women in military leadership positions. Even the original songs in this sequel are forgettable. While “Top Gun: Maverick” has more racial diversity than the first “Top Gun” movie, the people of color in the movie are still relegated to “sidekick” and forgettable roles. “Top Gun: Maverick” makes the same mistake that a lot of sequels do: Copying the same plot as the first movie without improving it.
What makes this mistake less acceptable is that “Top Gun: Maverick” has arrived 36 years after the release of the first “Top Gun” movie. That’s plenty of time to think up ways to take the movie in innovative and clever directions. (By contrast, Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible” movie franchise keeps things fresh with stories and action scenes that are unique to each movie.) Directed by Joseph Kosinski, “Top Gun: Maverick” was originally supposed to be released in 2019, but it was delayed multiple times because of post-production issues, the COVID-19 pandemic and other reasons. The movie was filmed before the pandemic.
A sequel should have familiar elements of its predecessor. It doesn’t mean that a sequel should rehash a predecessor’s plot. Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie wrote the formulaic and disappointing screenplay for “Top Gun: Maverick,” which essentially regurgitates the same story in “Top Gun.”
Both movies are about the U.S. Navy’s Fighter Weapons School at Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego. This elite school is nicknamed TOPGUN. Both movies are about a hotshot young TOPGUN school airplane pilot clashing with an arrogant rival classmate while being haunted by the death of a loved one and facing a big challenge in the training program.
In “Top Gun,” Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell character (played by Tom Cruise) was the hotshot student. In “Top Gun: Maverick,” he’s the main TOPGUN instructor, who has to teach his group of TOPGUN graduates how to fight in a secretive government mission targeting an unsanctioned uranium nuclear plant. In a case of history repeating itself, “Top Gun: Maverick” also has a funeral scene when someone close to Maverick dies.
Eddie Murphy’s horrible 2021 comedy Coming 2 America (the long-awaited sequel to 1988’s “Coming to America”) made the same mistake of lazily copying the same basic plot of its predecessor and trying to make the story look new by introducing a younger generation of new characters. “Coming 2 America” had even worse results, because of the movie’s awful racism and sexism, including making a joke out of an African American woman getting pregnant after she drugged and raped a man. “Top Gun: Maverick” isn’t as offensively bad as “Coming 2 America,” but the movie still has a “stuck in the 1980s” mindset that looks out of place in a movie that’s supposed to take place in the 21st century.
The first “Top Gun” movie (directed by Tony Scott, who died in 2012, at the age of 68) had only two or three people of color in the entire movie. They were African American men who were mostly put in the background. Only one of the African American men was allowed to speak in the movie, and he was literally given just two minor sentences to say. “Top Gun” was written by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr.
To its credit, “Top Gun: Maverick” has a lot more racial diversity in its cast. There are some African American and Latino characters who say more than a few sentences, but their personalities are very hollow and generic. Needless to say, the people of color in “Top Gun” Maverick” do not get backstories or a significant storyline in the movie.
“Top Gun: Maverick” also falters in its depiction of women, who are once again made into token characters. But in “Top Gun: Maverick,” the depiction of the women goes in a backwards direction, because there are no women shown in positions of power in the U.S. miliary or in the TOPGUN training program. Women have come a long way in the U.S. military since 1986, but you’d never know it from watching “Top Gun: Maverick,” which puts only men in military leadership positions.
At least in “Top Gun,” one of the main characters was an intelligent woman in a position of power, even though she was still a token: Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood (played by Kelly McGillis), a civilian and an astrophysicist, who was an instructor in the TOPGUN program. Charlie and Maverick became romantically involved with each other. The movie realistically shows that Charlie was conflicted about this relationship because of how it might compromise her professional judgment and reputation. McGillis shared top billing with Cruise in “Top Gun.” In “Top Gun: Maverick,” Cruise is one of the movie’s producers, and he’s the only star who gets top billing.
The only other woman in “Top Gun” who had a significant speaking role (but got a lot less screen time than Charlie) was bubbly and outgoing Carole Bradshaw (played by Meg Ryan), the wife of Lieutenant Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (played by Anthony Edwards), who was Maverick’s best friend and Radar Intercept Officer, also known as a “wingman.” Carole and Goose have a son, who’s about 5 or 6 years old in the movie. In “Top Gun,” Goose died in a tragic accident during a training session with Maverick as the pilot. Maverick was cleared of any wrongdoing, but he’s been guilt-ridden about Goose’s death ever since.
Charlie and Carole are not in “Top Gun: Maverick” because these female characters weren’t even considered for this sequel, according to interviews that director Kosinski has given about the movie. Charlie is not mentioned in “Top Gun: Maverick.” Carole is briefly mentioned because she’s dead, having passed away for an untold number of years before this story takes place. In other words, the “Top Gun: Maverick” filmmakers killed off the Carole Bradshaw character.
In “Top Gun: Maverick,” the son of Goose and Carole is all grown up now. And just like his father, he’s a U.S. Navy lieutenant who’s now a trainee in the TOPGUN program. His name is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (played by Miles Teller), and he’s got a chip on his shoulder and a lot to prove because he’s living in the shadow of his dead father, who was considered a military hero. If those “daddy issues” sound familiar, it’s exactly what Maverick was going through when he went through the TOPGUN training program. Maverick’s high-ranking U.S. Navy father was on a top-secret government mission when he went missing and is presumed dead.
Rooster knows that Maverick was not responsible for Goose’s death, but Rooster still has hard feelings toward Maverick over his father’s untimely passing. Rooster also resents Maverick because Maverick blocked Rooster from getting into the U.S. Naval Academy. Unbeknownst to Rooster, Maverick did so at the request of Rooster’s mother Carole, who didn’t want Rooster to be in the military. It was only after Carole died that Rooster was able to enroll in the U.S. Naval Academy.
In the beginning of “Top Gun: Maverick,” Maverick still has the ranking of captain. It’s explained that he has not been promoted for all these years because he has a tendency to be rebellious and reckless. However, the U.S. Navy has kept him on as a test pilot because of his extraordinary pilot skills. It’s mentioned in the movie that’s he’s the only pilot in the U.S. Navy to shoot down 30 enemy planes.
Maverick is considered a dinosaur relic from a bygone era by several high-ranking people in the U.S. Navy. Some of those people think he needs to be honorably discharged, but Maverick loves his military job too much to leave, and he is being protected by Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (played by Val Kilmer), who has a small supporting role in “Top Gun: Maverick.” As shown in the first “Top Gun” movie, Iceman (also played by Kilmer) was Maverick’s biggest rival in the TOPGUN program. However, they eventually became friends with deep respect for each other.
In California’s Mohave Desert, Maverick is part of a program that is being shut down because it hasn’t met Mach 10 standards. Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (played by Ed Harris) is coming to the naval base for the official cancellation of the program. To embarrass him, Maverick takes a plane in the air, and not only hits the Mach 10 target, but he also exceeds it. But by doing so, he ends up flaming out, but how Maverick lands the plane is never shown. All that’s shown is that he comes back looking dirty and disheveled, without any injuries.
This unauthorized use of a military plane for a showoff stunt would be grounds for serious disciplinary action in the real world. But in this make-believe world where Maverick is supposed to be a roguish hero, time and time again, he gets let off the hook for his flagrant insubordination. Hammer tells Maverick with begrudging respect, “You’ve got some balls, stick jockey. I’ll give you that.” Get used to hokey dialogue like this in “Top Gun: Maverick,” because the movie is full of it.
Now that Maverick’s program has been shuttered, he’s been assigned to do something he doesn’t want to do: Go back to the TOPGUN program in San Diego to be an instructor. Maverick is one of those people who believes in that old saying, “Those who can’t do, teach.” In other words, he thinks this teaching job is for someone who’s a has-been or a never-was, who doesn’t have what it takes to currently be a pilot.
Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (played by Jon Hamm) is one of the Navy officials who is gunning for Maverick to leave the Navy. He even says as much, when he tells Maverick: “The future is coming, and you’re not in it.” Cyclone has a sidekick named Admiral Solomon “Warlock” Bates (played by Charles Parnell), who doesn’t do much but be in the same room as Cyclone and go along with almost everything that Cyclone says. However, Warlock has a few moments where he shows that he’s really rooting for Maverick. The same goes for Warrant Officer-1 Bernie “Hondo” Coleman (played by Bashir Salahuddin), who makes some bland wisecracks during the movie.
Maverick has to choose six of his 12 students to go on the secret mission to disable the uranium plant, which is set to activate in about three weeks. Predictably, Rooster and Maverick clash with each other. At one point, Rooster yells at Maverick: “My dad believed in you. I’m not going to make the same mistake!”
More than once in the movie, Maverick tells his trainees to ignore what they were taught in the Navy’s rulebook, and he says some variation of “Don’t think, just do” He expects them to not overthink things and to trust their instincts. Of course, in Maverick’s lectures about not following what authority figures say, he thinks he’s the exception, because he wants to be the only authority figure who must be obeyed in this program.
In addition to Rooster, the other students in the program include Rooster’s smirking, cocky rival Lieutenant Jake “Hangman” Seresin (played by Glen Powell), whose personality is a virtual replica of how Iceman was in the first “Top Gun” movie. Hangman tries to find emotional weakness in Rooster to have a competitive advantage. When Hangman discovers Rooster’s “daddy issues” and why Rooster has tensions with Maverick, it leads to the inevitable fist fight between Hangman and Rooster.
The token woman in this group of chosen trainees is Lieutenant Natasha “Phoenix” Trace (played by Monica Barbaro), who doesn’t have much of a personality, except trying to fit in with the guys. Lieutenant Robert “Bob” Floyd (played by Lewis Pullman) has the role of the nerd who’s somewhat of social outcast in this competitive group. Bob gets teased because he hasn’t thought up a flashy nickname, also known as a call sign, like all the other TOPGUN aviators.
The other trainees do not have distinguishable personalities and are given very trite dialogue. They include Lieutenant Reuben “Payback” Fitch (played by Jay Ellis); Lieutenant Mickey “Fanboy” Garcia (played by Danny Ramirez); and Lt. Javy “Coyote” Machado (played by Greg Tarzan Davis). Most viewers of “Top Gun: Maverick” will have a hard time remembering these three characters’ names and what they said by the time the movie is over.
Unlike the first “Top Gun” movie, which showed the male trainees carousing at bars and trying to pick up women, the trainees in “Top Gun” are a much tamer crew. When they go to a bar, they gather around a piano and sing Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire,” with Rooster playing the piano. Maverick sees this camaraderie, and it triggers him to have a flashback memory to when he, Goose and other TOPGUN trainees did the same thing, with Goose’s young son sitting nearby for the sing-along. (This scene from “Top Gun” is shown as a flashback.)
Speaking of bars where these TOPGUN people hang out, the main bar they go to is The Hard Deck aviators’ club. It just happens to be owned and bartended by Penny Benjamin (played by Jennifer Connelly), who is the daughter of a U.S. Navy admiral. Penny was briefly mentioned, but never seen, in the first “Top Gun” movie as one of the many conquests whom ladies’ man Maverick got sexually involved with and then dumped.
Penny is now a divorced mother to a daughter named Amelia Benjamin (played by Lyliana Wray), who’s about 13 or 14 years old. Penny’s ex-husband, who is never seen in “Top Gun: Maverick,” has remarried and is living in Hawaii. It’s implied that never-married bachelor Maverick and Penny have had an on-again/off-again relationship, where Maverick left her heartbroken because he ended things with her every time. When Penny sees Maverick again all these years later, she predictably gives him a hard time for breaking up with her.
But just as predictably, she eventually lets him back into her life, and they rekindle their romance. Maverick and Penny look good together as a couple, but they don’t generate as much romantic heat as Maverick had with Charlie. Although Penny is a business owner, her role is essentially to be a generic love interest who follows Maverick’s lead when he courts her and succeeds in winning a place back into her heart.
Penny initially wants to keep this rekindled romance a secret from her daughter Amelia, who inevitably finds out anyway. Even after it’s no longer a secret, Maverick doesn’t spend any quality time with Amelia, which he would care about doing if he’s serious about a relationship with Penny. That’s why Maverick’s level of commitment to Penny is questionable, no matter how many “romantic” scenes are shown of Penny riding with Maverick on the back of his motorcycle. This scenario of Maverick giving his love interest a motorcycle ride is also recycled from the first “Top Gun” movie.
“Top Gun: Maverick” delivers when it comes to the airplane action scenes (with the F/A-18 being the airplane of choice), but too much of the movie is tediously predictable recycling of plot points and scenes from the first “Top Gun” movie. The scene of Maverick on a motorcycle while playfully racing a soaring fighter plane is recreated. It’s in the movie for pure nostalgia reasons for people who saw the first “Top Gun” movie.
Another recycled scene takes place at a beach where the TOPGUN aviators are playing a sports game together in their free time. In “Top Gun,” it was volleyball. In “Top Gun: Maverick,” it’s touch football. This beach frolicking scene only seems to be in the movie so that Cruise and the other men can be shirtless and show off their toned physiques. Even the closing credits scene is styled exactly like the first “Top Gun” movie.
One of the highlights of “Top Gun: Maverick” is a poignant scene between Maverick and Iceman, who is battling throat cancer, just Kilmer is in real life. However, “Top Gun: Maverick” ends up being marred by too many unrealistic scenarios. There’s even more disregard of real-life U.S. military protocol than what was in the first “Top Gun” movie. Maverick does things that would get him dishonorably discharged in the real world—but of course he doesn’t get discharged, because this is a Tom Cruise movie. And the ending of “Top Gun: Maverick” is even more cornball than the ending of the first “Top Gun” movie.
The “Top Gun” soundtrack was the biggest-selling soundtrack of 1986. And it’s easy to know why. People who’ve seen the first “Top Gun” movie know how the music was used to great effect. Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” song fueled a high-energy scene early in the movie. Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” memorably played during a romantic scene between Charlie and Maverick on the night that they became lovers. Those two signature “Top Gun” songs were instant classics that stayed in viewers’ minds long after seeing the movie. Although “Top Gun” got some criticism for being filmed almost like a music video, there’s no denying that the movie’s music was one of its biggest assets.
Unfortunately, “Top Gun: Maverick” has an utterly mediocre soundtrack, with songs that have been used in many other movies, such as Foghat’s “Slow Ride” and T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On).” There’s nothing wrong with these tunes, but they’re overplayed in too many other places. And because “Top Gun: Maverick” is a movie of rehashes, “Danger Zone” also makes a reappearance. The original soundtrack songs on “Top Gun: Maverick,” such as Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand,” won’t be winning any Oscars, like Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away.”
Viewers who will enjoy “Top Gun” the most are those who want to see a superficial recreation of the first “Top Gun” movie. But for other people who know that “Top Gun: Maverick” could have been a lot better, the movie falls short in coming up with any major story arc that would be truly original and daring for this sequel. The performances in “Top Gun Maverick” aren’t terrible, but they aren’t that special either. In the end, “Top Gun: Maverick,” just like its main character, is stuck in a rut of reliving past glories, and ends up having more swagger and posturing than any real substance.
Paramount Pictures will release “Top Gun: Maverick” in U.S. cinemas on May 27, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Ireland and in New York City, the romantic drama “Wild Mountain Thyme” has an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: Two oddball Irish farmers—one female and one male—have very different views of love and marriage, while the male famer’s rich American businessman cousin might be part of a love triangle for this would-be couple.
Culture Audience: “Wild Mountain Thyme” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching romantic movies that are pretentious and ridiculous.
The production notes for “Wild Mountain Thyme” describe the movie as a “comedic, moving and wildly romantic tale.” Comedic? The reality is that “Wild Mountain Thyme” is a drama with a lot of unintentionally so-bad-it’s-funny moments. Moving? This painfully dull movie doesn’t pour on the sentimental sap until the last 15 minutes of the film—and it does so in the corniest way possible. Wildly romantic? The characters in “Wild Mountain Thyme” are so dysfunctional and/or emotionally repressed that there’s almost no passionate romance in the film, and the characters spend most of the movie bickering about land ownership and who’s a legitimate farmer.
“Wild Mountain Thyme,” which takes place mostly in Ireland and partially in New York City, was written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, who adapted the movie from his 2014 Broadway play “Outside Mullingar.” Even though Shanley has won an Oscar (for writing 1987’s “Moonstruck”) and a Tony and a Pulitzer (for the play “Doubt: A Parable”), those prestigious awards don’t mean that someone is incapable of making an embarrassing stinker. “Wild Mountain Thyme” is an overly verbose story that ultimately doesn’t have much to say and should have remained on the stage, where pretentiously worded dialogue is expected and therefore much more palatable than it is for a movie audience.
“Wild Mountain Thyme” (which was filmed primarily in Mayo County, Ireland) gets its name because there are scenes in the movie where people sing “Wild Mountain Thyme” in a pub. The cinematic version of the story also greatly benefits from showcasing the lush and gorgeous landscape of rural Ireland. There’s no denying that the film’s cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt is one of the movie’s few high points.
But right from the start, the tone of “Wild Mountain Thyme” is off-kilter, by having a dead character as the movie’s intermittent guide/storyteller. There’s voiceover narration from Irish farmer Tony Reilly (played by Christopher Walken, doing his usual eccentric schtick) explaining how the would-be couple at the center of the story first came to know each other. Tony announces at the beginning of the narration that he’s dead, so people will know that they’re supposed to be hearing the voice of a ghost. Very morbid.
Tony says, “They say if an Irish man dies while telling a story, you can rest assured, he’ll be back.” This movie is so unimaginative that, sure enough, toward the end of the film, Tony’s voice comes back into the narration to repeat the same line. The narration is really unnecessary because Tony doesn’t provide any insight that isn’t already presented in the movie characters’ actions.
“Wild Mountain Thyme” producer Martina Nilan is quoted in the movie’s production notes as saying that “Wild Mountain Thyme” is “a timeless fable with a heightened fairy-tale tone.” However, the movie isn’t timeless and actually is very outdated with its old-fashioned views of strict gender roles for men and women when it comes to love and romance. Based on what the “Wild Mountain Thyme” characters say and how they act, they believe that women’s ultimate goal in life should be to get married and have children, and women have to wait until men make the first move in a courtship.
The movie also has the sexist notion that women who’ve never been married by a certain age have to be desperate to get married. “Wild Mountain Thyme” also pushes a narrative that a woman isn’t considered a “real woman” unless she wants to become a mother or is a mother. Meanwhile, men who’ve never been married and have no kids by a certain age might be considered “strange,” but they don’t have to be desperate to find a spouse.
It’s this moldy concept that stinks up the “will they or won’t they” relationship of Rosemary Muldoon (played by Emily Blunt) and Anthony Reilly (played by Jamie Dornan), two Irish farmers who embody the old-fashioned stereotypes of what usually happens in romantic dramas: The woman wants to be romanced by the man and be in a committed relationship with him that leads to marriage, while the man spends almost the entire story resisting. In other words, the man always has the “upper hand,” because he’s the one who decides if there will be a romantic relationship or not.
The movie sticks to this formula like patriarchal glue. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a story about falling in love and wanting to get married and have kids. But the way this story is told in “Wild Mountain Thyme” is extremely off-putting because the filmmakers want to pretend that it’s a feminist movie, when it’s just the opposite. For almost the entire movie, Rosemary mopes around and sulks because she’s waiting for Anthony to show a sign that he wants more than a platonic relationship.
As Anthony’s dead father Tony explains in the narration, Rosemary has been in love with Anthony since they were both 10 years old. (In flashbacks, Abigail Coburn plays a young Rosemary, while Darragh O’Kane plays a young Anthony.) The Reilly family and Muldoon family are farmers who live right next door to each other in rural Ireland, so the kids grew up knowing nothing but life on a farm.
The adult Rosemary and Anthony in this story are now in their late 30s. Because of Tony’s ghostly narration, this entire story is a flashback. Tony’s death and funeral are eventually shown in the movie.
The Muldoon family owns a strip of land that overlaps into the entrance of the Reilly family’s home. Tony tries in vain to get the Muldoon family to sell that strip of land to him. The questions over who owns this strip of land and who will inherit the entire Reilly family property are sources of contention throughout the story.
Anthony’s widower father Tony wants Anthony to inherit the farm. However, Tony is having doubts about his son’s ability to handle the responsibility because Anthony is an emotionally immature loner who doesn’t seem very smart about the business side of running the farm. Tony also disapproves of Anthony not showing any interest in getting married and having kids, while Anthony is extremely unwilling to become a husband and father. In fact, Anthony shows no interest in having a committed relationship with anyone.
What’s odd is that later in the story, Tony mentions Anthony’s two other siblings: Trish and Audrey, who are never seen or heard in the film. It’s implied that these two sisters are still alive somewhere. But because the movie has a sexist tone to it, these female characters are easily dismissed and never mentioned again, as if Anthony is the only rightful heir in the family.
Tony’s wife Mary (played by Clare Barrett), who died when the children were young, is also sidelined. She’s only seen briefly in flashbacks, where she’s cheerfully singing or cooking in the kitchen by herself, with no lines of dialogue. Considering this film’s sexist attitude about women only existing to be wives and mothers, it’s no wonder that Mary is only seen in the kitchen.
At one point in the movie, Tony admits to Anthony that he married Mary out of loneliness, not out of love, but that Tony eventually came to appreciate his wife, who was the one who pushed for them to get married in the first place. It’s an obvious parallel to what’s going on with Rosemary and Anthony. The only time that Anthony mentions his mother is when he tells Rosemary: “When my mother died, I couldn’t see colors anymore.” Cue the violins.
Rosemary is an only child who lives with her widowed and very opinionated mother Aoife (played by Dearbhla Molloy), who also wants Rosemary to get married and start her own family. But Rosemary is pining over an emotionally stunted Anthony, because she thinks he’s “the one.” Aoife (who affectionally calls Rosemary “mad,” as in crazy) also thinks that Anthony is a good match for Rosemary, but you get the impression that Aofie mainly wants to see Rosemary become a wife and mother to any suitable man who might come along.
Rosemary won’t come right out and tell Anthony that she has romantic feelings for him because she expects him to do the “manly” thing and make the first move and ask her out on a date. When Anthony tells her that he’ll never get married, she says that she doesn’t believe him. Rosemary even tells Anthony that she will have her eggs frozen if necessary, until he comes around to the idea of being her husband and the father of her children. But Anthony just acts confused and slightly repulsed (apparently he’s ignorant about modern fertility treatments) and tries to ignore Rosemary’s desperation.
In a flashback to Rosemary’s childhood as a 10-year-old, she’s doing what she usually does in this movie: pouting and obsessing over Anthony. Her father Chris (played by Don Wycherley) notices Rosemary sulking at the kitchen table. She tells her father in a depressed voice: “I’m just a girl. The world is full of girls.”
Her father responds by saying, “You’re not just a girl … You’re a queen … You are the white swan … It means no one can top you. The world is yours. You can do anything.”
Because of this little pep talk, Rosemary becomes fascinated with the ballet “Swan Lake.” There are several references to “Swan Lake” throughout the movie. And these “Swan Lake” references are as cloying and sappy as you might think they are.
In the beginning of the movie, which jumps around in flashbacks throughout the film, Chris has died, so viewers don’t really get to see the relationship that Rosemary had with Chris when she was an adult. However, Rosemary is very close to her mother, who can often get on Rosemary’s nerves with nagging about Rosemary being a spinster. However, no one puts more pressure on Rosemary to become a wife and mother than Rosemary herself.
There’s also a hint that Tony has been attracted to Aofie for quite some time, but he didn’t act on that attraction because she was married. Not long after Chris’ funeral, Tony doesn’t waste time in flirting with Aofie and making it clear that he’d like to get to know her better if she’s interested. Thankfully, that potentially awkward storyline goes nowhere.
After Chris’ death, Rosemary has fully taken over the Muldoon farm’s operations. Of course, the movie doesn’t actually show her doing much dirty work on the farm, since the filmmakers want to confine Rosemary in the stereotypical role of woman who’s mainly concerned with getting an uninterested man to be her husband. There are some scenes with some adorable animals though, with the predictable cute “reaction” shots of an expressive pet dog who seems to know what the humans are saying and has the head tilt and emotional eyes to prove it.
In the ghostly narration, Tony describes Rosemary as being “besotted with love,” which will make viewers wonder if Rosemary’s obsession with Anthony is true love or if she’s just in love with the idea of being married and having her own family. The filmmakers try to make Rosemary look like a moody, tobacco-smoking feminist (she smokes cigarettes and pipes), but she’s really just a run-of-the-mill “damsel in distress” who’s waiting around for a sour and grumpy Anthony to rescue her from her loneliness.
In addition to the cliché of a desperate woman longing for an emotionally unavailable man, “Wild Mountain Thyme” has another over-used cliché in movies about romance: the possibility of a love triangle. It starts from Rosemary and Anthony’s childhood, when there are a few brief scenes of a character named Fiona (played by Anna Weekes), whom Rosemary sees as a threat for Anthony’s affections. It’s mentioned that in her childhood, Rosemary even got into a physical fight with Fiona, by pushing her down. The adults didn’t do much about it but give Rosemary a mild scolding.
However, just like all the female characters with supporting roles in the movie, Fiona only seems to be there for filler and not to further the story in any way. When Anthony and Rosemary are adults, there is a brief reference to Fiona when Anthony mentions to Rosemary that he saw Fiona by chance somewhere and he had brief conversation with her. (Anthony and Fiona’s conversation is never shown in the movie.) Rosemary gets visibly jealous when she hears that Anthony and Fiona were in contact with each other.
There’s a brief scene that shows Anthony is interested in dating women when he has a drunken encounter with a pretty but scruffy blonde named Eleanor (played by Lydia McGuinness), who’s got spiky and messy hair styled like the ’80s female pop trio Bananarama. Anthony and Eleanor meet in a pub, get drunk together, and hang out on a ledge, where she confesses some sordid sexual secrets to him. She’s so tipsy that she loses her balance and falls off of the ledge. Eleanor is never seen again in the movie.
The main love triangle in the story is between Anthony, Rosemary and Adam (played by Jon Hamm), who is the American son of Tony’s brother. Adam is a single, successful money manager in New York City, because apparently the “Wild Mountain Thyme” filmmakers want to shut out any possibility that there are plenty of eligible bachelors in Ireland who could catch Rosemary’s fancy. Adam, who is very brash and confident, loves to flaunt his wealth. And by his own admission, Adam relishes being the center of attention.
Because Tony has doubts about Anthony’s ability to take care of the farm, he tells Anthony that he’s contemplating having Adam inherit the farm, even though Adam has no experience in farming. However, Tony is impressed with Adam’s business skills and he thinks the farm has a better chance of thriving if Adam took over the operations.
And so, Adam is invited to Ireland to look over the farm. Adam thinks of himself as someone who can easily be a farmer, because it’s something that he’s been fantasizing about for a while. However, it’s clear as soon as Adam comes to visit, he’s really a city dweller at heart. He wants to own the farm, not be an actual farmer.
Because he’s a showoff, Adam drives up to the farm one day in a silver Rolls Royce, which greatly impresses Tony. Meanwhile, Anthony is naturally feeling overshadowed and unappreciated when Adam is around. Anthony makes a point of telling Adam that he’s not a real farmer. The business-minded Adam is appalled that Anthony and Rosemary don’t know how many acres of farm land that they have.
It isn’t long before Adam shows that he’s attracted to Rosemary. The feeling isn’t really mutual, but Rosemary likes the attention, which is something that she doesn’t get from Anthony. Whereas Anthony can’t even be bothered to go over to the Muldoon house to visit Rosemary (even though she lives next door), Adam eagerly invites Rosemary to visit New York City, within a few hours of meeting her. Rosemary tells Adam that she’d love to go to the theater in New York. And this is the point in the movie where viewers can predict that if Rosemary does ever go to visit Adam in New York, you know exactly which stage production she’ll want to see.
Meanwhile, whenever Anthony gets irritated with Rosemary (which is often), he tells her that she should think about selling the farm and that she should leave Ireland. She usually replies in a huff that maybe she will leave. But she’s not fooling anyone. Rosemary is too obsessed with Anthony to leave.
Anthony occasionally mentions that he’s thinking about leaving farm life behind too. At one point, he makes a very un-patriotic comment about Ireland: “It’s a terrible place for a decent person.” Anthony, who keeps telling people that he thinks he’s “mad” (as in mentally ill), is also somewhat of a social outcast in the community.
Anthony’s oddball reputation is further fueled after an incident when a neighbor named Cleary (played by Barry McGovern) sees Anthony practicing a marriage proposal in a field. Anthony is rehearsing this proposal because he’s starting to wonder if maybe he should marry someone someday. Anthony thinks the only witness to his “marriage proposal rehearsals” is a donkey in the field.
But the nosy neighbor sees Anthony and wrongly assumes that Anthony is proposing marriage to the donkey. He tells other local people about what he saw, and soon Anthony becomes part of a community joke that Anthony might be into bestiality. Although this notion about Anthony is far-fetched, it at least accurately demonstrates how quickly gossip can spread in a small town.
When Rosemary asks Anthony why he won’t leave the farm, he replies: “These green fields and the animals living off them. And then there’s us living off of the animals. And over that, that what tends to us, lives off us maybe. Whatever that is, it holds me here.” This is the type of eye-rolling dialogue that’s littered throughout the movie.
“Wild Mountain Thyme” has scene after scene that’s supposed to be “deep philosophy from Irish farmers who look like movie stars,” but it all just sounds like nonsensical crap. For example, Rosemary asks Anthony: “How many days do we have until the sun shines?” Anthony replies, “It’s not shining.” Rosemary then says, “I believe that it is.” Obviously, this is a not-so-subtle reference to Rosemary’s optimism about love and Anthony’s pessimism. And only in a badly written entertainment project do farmers really talk like that.
One of the worst things about “Wild Mountain Thyme” is that it pushes a narrative that a romantic person who’s desperate to be in love, just by sheer force of will and being persistent, can “change” a person who resists the romantic person’s amorous intentions and the romantic can “make” that person fall in love with them. But “Wild Mountain Thyme” can’t even push this narrative in a clever way. It’s an unhealthy approach to relationships because true love is accepting people for who they are, not trying to change them to fit someone else’s fantasies.
One of the most cringeworthy scenes in the movie is when Rosemary and Anthony have an argument after she tells him about an encounter that she had with Adam where Adam made it very clear that Adam is interested in dating Rosemary. Rosemary declares to Anthony during this argument: “I want a man! Adam smells like soap! He smells like the lilies of the field!”
Anthony replies, “Why would you want to smell the cows on me, when you can smell the lilies on him?” Rosemary shouts, “I’m the one who should smell good! A man should stink—like you!”
And then, Rosemary says to Anthony: “It’s good that you’re tall. Men are beasts. They need that height to balance the truth and goodness of women.” We shudder to think what Rosemary might think about men who are short or average-sized. What’s also strange about this dialogue is that Anthony isn’t really that tall.
Anthony replies to Rosemary by saying something that viewers are thinking at this point: “There’s no answer to blather like that.” Rosemary continues undaunted, with a pseudo-feminist rant: “Hope is a force. And women are the salvation of the world! I believe that, and mean to make you believe it!”
The actors should be commended for not doing this scene without breaking out into laughter at the ridiculousness of it all. That’s no guarantee that people watching the movie won’t laugh (or groan or cringe) at this scene, which is intended to be a serious emotional moment in the film, but comes across as something that might be in a rejected soap opera script. And again: What kind of farmers talk like they’re competing in a Bad Prose of the Year contest?
Blunt gives it her best shot to make Rosemary as feisty and “lovable” as possible. But it’s all just a façade, because Rosemary’s actions and intentions show how she’s not the strong-minded, independent woman she would like think she is. Almost everything she does in the story is to try to impress Anthony or get a reaction out of him. Her self-esteem is wrapped up in him, not in herself.
And the chemistry between Blunt and Dornan isn’t very believable, not the least of which because Anthony is supposed to be this sulking, brooding type who does everything he can to avoid having a serious romance with anyone. At one point in the story, Rosemary asks Anthony if he’s gay. He emphatically says “no,” and acts very offended by the question. And when Rosemary asks him if he’s a virgin, he scoffs at the idea.
You can’t really blame Rosemary for asking, because there’s no indication that Anthony has ever had a serious girlfriend. One of the biggest flaws of “Wild Mountain Thyme” is that even though the main characters in this movie talk a lot, they don’t really show much personality. Anthony comes across as cold and very hard to read. Rosemary’s only real passion is trying to get Anthony to fall in love with her.
However, fans of Blunt (who starred in the Disney movie musicals “Into the Woods” and “Mary Poppins Returns”) will at least be happy to know that she does sing quite well in “Wild Mountain Thyme,” since she has a solo performance when Rosemary gets up on stage at a pub to sing “Wild Mountain Thyme.” Dornan also breaks out into song in the movie. And the music in “Wild Mountain Thyme” is a family affair, since Dornan’s wife Amelia Warner is the film’s composer.
The biggest unintentional laughs in the movie are toward the end, when Anthony confesses a secret to Rosemary, after she begs him to tell her why he’s so against the idea of falling in love and getting married. It’s when the movie goes from bad to beyond redemption, and takes an abrupt turn into the depths of phony schmaltziness. “Wild Mountain Thyme” tries to throw in this sweet sentimentality to try to pander to a certain formula, but the movie really just stinks like the garbage that it is.
Bleecker Street released “Wild Mountain Thyme” in U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on December 11, 2020.
Culture Representation: The documentary “The Story of Soaps” takes a historical look at American TV soap operas and their impact on pop culture, by interviewing a racially diverse (white, African American and Latino) group of actors, screenwriters, TV producers and other people connected to the business of soap operas.
Culture Clash: Many of the people say in the documentary that soap operas are often misunderstood or underrated and that reality TV shows have brought on the decline of soap operas with professional actors.
Culture Audience: “The Story of Soaps” will appeal primarily to people who want to learn more about this type of this “guilty pleasure” TV genre and also take a breezy nostalgia trip for American soap operas’ most notable moments.
The comprehensive and thoroughly entertaining “The Story of Soaps” skillfully manages to make this documentary go beyond the expected compilation of TV clips and commentaries from talking heads about the history of American TV soap operas. The documentary also puts all of this sudsy entertainment into a cultural context that shows how soap operas have had much more influence than they’re typically given credit for when it comes to our entertainment choices and how we see the world.
Directed by Robin Pelleck and Rebecca Gitlitz (who are also executive producers of the documentary), “The Story of Soaps” packs in interviews with numerous people (mostly actors, screenwriters and producers) who are connected to the world of TV soap operas in some way. The long list of actors includes Kristian Alfonso, John Aniston, Alec Baldwin, Maurice Benard, Carol Burnett, Bryan Cranston, Mary Crosby, Eileen Davidson, Vivica A. Fox, Genie Francis, Diedre Hall, Jon Hamm, Drake Hogestyn, Finola Hughes, Susan Lucci, John McCook, Eddie Mills, Denise Richards, Marc Samuel, Melody Thomas Scott, Erika Slezak, John Stamos, Susan Sullivan, Greg Vaughan, Chandra Wilson and Laura Wright.
Screenwriters and producers interviewed in “The Story of Soaps” include Shelly Altman (“General Hospital,” “The Young and the Restless”); Brad Bell (“Husbands”); Lorraine Broderick (“All My Children,” “Days of Our Lives”); James H. Brown (“All My Children,” “The Young and the Restless”); Andy Cohen (“The Real Housewives” franchise); Marc Cherry (“Desperate Housewives”); David Jacobs (“Dallas,” “Knots Landing”); Agnes Nixon (the “All My Children” creator who passed away in 2016); Jonathan Murray (“The Real World”); Ken Olin (“This Is Us”); Jill Farren Phelps (“General Hospital”); Angela Shapiro-Mathes (“All My Children: Daytime’s Greatest Weddings”); Yhane Smith (“Harlem Queen”) and Chris Van Etten (“General Hospital”).
Other people interviewed are People magazine editorial director of entertainment Kate Coyne, “The Survival of Soap Opera” co-author Abigail De Kosnik, “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” co-star Erika Jayne, Netflix consultant Krista Smith, casting director Mark Teschner and Soap Opera Festivals Inc. co-founders Joyce Becker and Allan Sugarman.
Brad Pitt, Julianne Moore, Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones are named in the documentary as some of the Oscar-winning actors whose early careers on screen included roles in soap operas. Leonardo DiCaprio, Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei and Kathy Bates are other Oscar-winning actors who were in soap operas before they became famous. Other alumni of daytime soap operas include William H. Macy, Demi Moore and Meg Ryan.
The documentary begins with testimonials from several actors who were in soap operas in the early years of careers, such as Cranston (“Loving”), Baldwin (“The Doctors,” “Knots Landing”), Stamos (“General Hospital”) and Fox (“Days of Our Lives”). Cranston’s first TV job was a guest role in “One Life to Live” in 1968. And when he was in his 20s, he landed a recurring role as Douglas Donavan in “Loving” in 1983.
Cranston says, “I think there are these derisive comments made about soap operas and it’s not fair and it’s not accurate. You’re there to learn. You’re there to bring as much honesty and reality as you can to the moment—and it’s difficult.”
“This genre [soap operas], this job invited me in and put me to work like nobody’s business,” Cranston continues. “It made me feel accomplished, like I broke through a barrier.” Cranston went on to become an Emmy-winning actor several years later, for his role as methamphetamine manufacturer/dealer Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” which he says was a show that was really a soap opera.
Baldwin also says that working in soap operas was extremely valuable to him. He describes “Knots Landing” (where he played the role of Joshua Rush from 1983 to 1985) this way: “It was probably one of the five most important times of my life. They had a very good cast. They had a very talented cast. And that changes everything when you go to work. You don’t care if it’s a soap if you’re working with somebody who’s great. I loved it.”
The grueling hours of working on a soap opera, especially a daytime soap opera that airs five times a week, results in a “sink or swim” atmosphere for a lot of actors who are new to the business. Stamos, who’s best known for starring in the long-running sitcom “Full House,” comments on his 1982-1984 stint as Blackie Parrish in “General Hospital,” which made him a star: “It was great training.”
Fox (who co-starred with Will Smith in the 1996 film “Independence Day”) says of her time on “The Young and the Restless,” where she played the character of Stephanie Simmons from 1994 to 1995: “I learned so much. I learned to hit my cue, how to memorize, how to cry, how to flip my hair.”
“General Hospital” casting director Teschner comments: “There was this stigma to daytime [soap operas] and people misperceiving the acting style as being over-the-top and ‘soapy.’ But I always say that if you can do daytime, you can do any time.” Teschner also mentions that it’s not unusual for a daytime soap opera to film up to 120 pages of dialogue a day, which is the amount of pages that’s typical for a feature-length movie.
“General Hospital” star Francis, who’s been playing Laura on the show since 1977, says in the documentary about her dedication to staying on a soap opera: “Why do I do it? Why do I put myself through this? Because I love to tell stories.”
“General Hospital” co-star Wright, who’s played the role of Carly on the show since 2005, offers a more business-minded perspective to what actors bring to the escapism appeal of soap operas: “It’s our job to sell it to you.” Many of the actors in “The Story of Soaps,” including Melody Thomas Scott (who’s played the character of Nikki on “The Young and the Restless” since 1979), say that because TV brings repeated familiarity in people’s homes, many soap opera fans confuse the actors with the characters that they play on TV.
“The Story of Soaps” has various themed segments which give excellent analysis and commentary on important aspects of soap-opera history. The segment titled “By Women, For Women” details how daytime soap operas have provided many of the best opportunities for women working in television behind the scenes. While male executives dominated prime-time programming, female executives were allowed to shine in daytime television, since the early years of television.
Irna Phillips, who’s often referred to as the “Queen of the Soaps,” could be considered the godmother of daytime TV soap operas, which took the concept of radio soap operas and transferred them to a visual medium. Phillips created the TV soaps “Guiding Light,” “As the World Turns” and “Another World.” She also mentored “All My Children” creator Nixon (who also created “One Life to Live” and “Loving”) and William J. Bell, who created “Another World” (with Phillips), “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful.”
In the 1950s, when it was more common for the majority of women to be homemakers, daytime soap operas provided an ideal captive audience for advertisers. The term “soap opera” comes from the fact that during the radio era (before television was invented), soap companies would be frequent advertisers on these drama series.
“The Survival of Soap Opera” co-author De Kosnik notes that when soap operas began on TV, they pioneered the lingering close-ups of actors’ faces to show their emotions, thus adding to the melodramatic appeal. She also mentions that loyalty to certain soap operas would be handed down from generation to generation of women, much like loyalty to certain sports teams would be a generational tradition for men. Although soap operas tend to have a female-majority audience, there’s been a steady increase of male fans of soap operas over the years, especially for primetime soaps.
The documentary’s “Fan-Addicts” segment examines the culture of soap opera fans. Benard (who’s played Sonny Corinthos on “General Hospital” since 1993) calls soap-opera enthusiasts: “The most loyal fans in the world.” The documentary includes a lot of archival footage of fans giving adulation to some of the most famous soap stars over the years, including Stamos and Lucci.
Lucci says of her iconic Erica Kane character, which she played during the entire run of “All My Children” from 1970 to 2011: “I loved playing her. There was such range with her. She was a capable of doing and saying just about anything. And the audience saw humanity in her stories.” And yes, the documentary includes footage of Lucci finally winning her first Daytime Emmy in 1999, after she had a long losing streak of being nominated 18 times and never winning before.
Soap Opera Festivals Inc. co-founder Becker reminisces about the company’s first fan event in 1977, which she says drew “hundreds of thousands of people”—a crowd turnout that probably wouldn’t be possible today, considering how much the popularity of daytime TV soap operas has declined. Becker also describes why soap opera fans are devoted to soap opera cast members: “It’s almost like your own family.”
Legendary comedian Burnett is famously an “All My Children” superfan—so much so that she had a guest-starring role on the show as Verla Grubbs in 1983, 1995, 2005 and 2011. In “The Story of Soaps,” she repeats a story she told in her memoir: When she and her husband spent a month-long vacation in Europe many years ago (before VCRs and the Internet), Burnett asked a friend of hers to send a telegram every Friday with a summary of everything that happened on “All My Children” that week.
One time in the early-morning hours, Burnett was awakened by a hotel employee who was trembling with the telegram, because the visibly shaken employee thought that all the tragic bad news in the telegram was real. Burnett said she started laughing so hard that she began to cry, and the hotel employee thought that she was crying hysterical tears of sorrow, until she explained that what was in the telegram was really an “All My Children” plot summary. Burnett says later in the documentary about “All My Children” being cancelled in 2011: “I’m still angry that they took it off the air.”
A documentary segment called “Love, Lust, Luke & Laura” explores how TV soaps often pushed the boundaries of raunchiness with sex scenes and outrageous love stories, beginning in the 1970s and ramping up even more in the 1980s. Stories about infidelities are very common in soap operas, but the sexual revolution also opened up wilder storylines on soap operas, such as falling in love with a space alien, taboo stepsibling romances and as much nudity as possible.
“General Hospital” characters Luke Spencer (played by Anthony Geary) and Laura were undoubtedly the most famous couple on daytime TV soap operas. Luke and Laura’s 1981 wedding on the show was a major media event, and it remains the highest-rated daytime TV soap opera event, with an estimated 30 million U.S. viewers. However, their relationship was controversial because Luke raped Laura when they first began dating.
De Kosnik says that the 1979 rape storyline was concocted by “General Hospital’s” then-executive producer Gloria Monty (who died in 2006), in a desperate ploy to boost the show’s ratings, because “General Hospital” was on the verge of being cancelled at the time. The show’s producers explained that the rape was “rape seduction” and justified it by saying that Luke really loved Laura. However, that kind of storyline would not have gotten such an easy pass if it had been suggested in later decades.
In “The Story of Soaps,” Francis says about that controversial rape storyline: “I had to justify it for so many years. And I have to say that it feels good to sit here and say it’s awful. They shouldn’t have done it.” In 1998, “General Hospital” made an attempt to remedy this wrong by having Laura angrily confront Luke (they were still married at this point) about the rape.
The documentary segment “It’s a Revolution” is one of the best that demonstrates how soap operas are both a reflection of and influence on culture. Just as soap operas were often the first TV series to have groundbreaking stories about sex, soaps were also among the first scripted TV drama series to address serious social issues. The Vietnam War controversy, abortion, interracial romances, gay teens, transgender relationships, AIDS, mental illness and eating disorders were among the many topics that were considered too taboo for scripted TV series until they were presented on TV soap operas.
“Days of Our Lives” star Diedre Hall, who has played Marlena Evans on the show since 1976, says: “The most compelling thing about daytime drama is that we follow the pulse of what’s goin on.” “General Hospital” writer Van Etten says that he used to be a “deeply closeted” gay man, but he was influenced to come to terms with his own sexuality after seeing Ryan Phillippe portray gay teen Billy Douglas in a 1992 “One Life to Live” storyline.
Emmy-winning “General Hospital” star Benard’s Sonny character is bipolar, and so is Benard in real life. Benard says of the “General Hospital” executives’ decision to make Sonny a biploar character: “I can’t thank them enough.” He says that authentic representation matters in destigmatizing mental illness.
The soap opera “Generations” also led the way in representation for African Americans, since it was one of the first scripted TV dramas to feature a white family and an African American family as equal stars of the show. Although the show didn’t last long (it was on the air from 1989 to 1991), “Generations” co-star Fox comments that the show “changed perceptions” of black people on soap operas, since the black characters on “Generations” weren’t just playing servants, sidekicks or other supporting characters.
But daytime soap operas began to have more competition in popularity with the resurgence of primetime soap operas. The documentary mentions two major social changes that began in the late 1970s and affected the rise of American primetime soaps, such as “Dallas,” “Dynasty,” “Knots Landing” and “Falcon Crest.” First, more women began working outside the home and didn’t have time to watch TV during the day, but they wanted to get their soap-opera fix at night. Second, the VCR became available as a home product, thereby revolutionizing the way people watched TV, by giving people the freedom to record and watch programs whenever they wanted.
“The Story of Soaps” also points out that the most popular primetime soaps in the 1980s were about rich families because it was a reflection of the decade’s fascination with excess and wealth. Former “Dallas” writer Jacob says it all came down to this concept: “People like to see people that rich [can be] that miserable.” And, of course, the documentary includes a look at the “Who Shot J.R.?” cliffhanger phenomenon of “Dallas” in 1980, when lead character/villain J.R. Ewing got shot in the show’s third-season finale in March of that year, leaving viewers to wonder (until it was revealed in November 1980) who shot him and whether or not he was going to live. An estimated 83 million U.S. viewers watched the fourth-season premiere “Dallas” episode that solved the mystery.
And each popular TV soap opera of a decade is a reflection of what was going on society at the time. “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Melrose Place” were about people from Generation X establishing their identities and careers in the beginning of the Internet age. “Desperate Housewives” was a commentary on middle-aged, middle-class women in the suburbs during the end of the George W. Bush era and the beginning of the Barack Obama era. And awareness in the mid-to-late 2010s of more inclusivity on TV has been reflected in primetime soaps such as “Empire” (a show about an African American family dynasty) and “This Is Us,” which centers on an interracial family with diversity in body sizes.
The documentary’s “Stranger Than Fiction” segment takes an unflinching look at how reality TV has eroded the popularity of traditional soap operas. Reality TV programs have proliferated and thrived because they’re almost always cheaper to produce than scripted shows with professional actors. Several people interviewed say that the O.J. Simpson trial of 1995 was a TV game changer, since live coverage of the trial pre-empted many daytime soap operas, and many TV networks saw that the trial coverage got higher ratings than the soaps. The trial is often called “a real-life soap opera.”
“The Real World” executive producer Murray (who credits the show’s late co-creator Mary-Ellis Bunim for being a TV pioneer for TV soaps) says that they pitched MTV on the concept of “The Real World” as being a “docu-soap.” The late Pedro Zamora, who was on “The Real World: San Francisco” in 1994, is credited with helping bring more awareness to TV viewers about AIDS, since he was the first openly HIV-positive person to be on a reality TV series.
And most reality shows about people’s lives are basically just soap operas with people who usually aren’t professional actors. “The Real Housewives” franchise (which was inspired by “Desperate Housewives”) and the Kardashian/Jenner family are predictably mentioned. Many former reality TV stars have admitted (but not in this documentary) that much of what’s on these reality TV shows is already pre-planned by the show’s producers. Curiously, this documentary didn’t include any footage from “The Bachelor” franchise, which has been described as being among the most “soap opera-ish” reality shows of all time.
The documentary’s “Death of Daytime” segment gives an overview of the cancellations of numerous daytime TV soap operas in the 2000s and 2010s. “Guiding Light,” “As the World Turns,” “Passions,” “All My Children,” “One Life to Live” and “Port Charles” were the long-running American soap operas that were cancelled in these decades. “All My Children” was the cancellation that caused the most viewer outrage, according the documentary. The rise of social media, streaming services, interactive websites, apps and podcasts have further fragmented audiences, who now have millions of more options than the days when there were only a handful of national TV networks in the United States.
Although soap operas seem to be a dying genre, several people interviewed in the documentary point out that many Emmy-winning prestigious shows of the 2000s and 2010s were really soap operas, including “Game of Thrones,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Sopranos” and “Orange Is the New Black.” On the other end of the spectrum, trashy talk shows hosted by the likes of Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Morton Downey Jr., Sally Jessy Raphael and Jenny Jones also took their cues from soap operas, since these shows thrived on creating nasty fights with guests while the cameras were rolling.
TV news has also absorbed the influence soap operas, as many news programs (especially on cable TV) have taken big stories and presented them as soap operas, with TV hosts and commentators being sort of like a Greek chorus weighing in with their opinions. The overall message of “The Story of Soaps” seems to be that if people have a snobbish attitude toward soap operas, then they should take a look at their favorite entertainment and media and see how much soap operas have had an influence. They might be surprised to see how much soap operas have impacted our culture.
ABC premiered “The Story of Soaps” on May 19, 2020.
The following is a press release from Dick Clark Productions:
The 23rd Annual “Hollywood Film Awards” brought together Hollywood’s elite to honor the year’s most talked about and highly anticipated actors, actresses and films, and those who helped bring them to life. The awards ceremony, celebrating its 23rd anniversary as the official launch of the awards season, was hosted by actor and comedian Rob Riggle, and took place at The Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. In its 23-year history, over 340 of the world’s biggest stars and filmmakers have been highlighted at the “Hollywood Film Awards” and more than 140 of the honorees have gone on to garner Oscar nominations and/or wins.
Host Rob Riggle infused the ceremony with heart and humor, proving to be a steadfast guide through the evening’s many memorable moments. There was no shortage of standing ovations for both presenters and honorees alike, who included some of the most iconic members of the Hollywood community. Al Pacino took time to acknowledge many of his fellow honorees and friends in the room as he accepted the “Hollywood Supporting Actor Award.”
After a presentation from her mentor Martin Scorsese, “Hollywood Producer Award” recipient Emma Tillinger Koskoff delivered an emotional speech, offering a tear-filled thank you to the legendary director and producer. “Hollywood Filmmaker Award” honoree Bong Joon Ho, spoke in his native tongue to deliver a universal message that “we use only one language of cinema.”
In a touching moment between “Hollywood Career Achievement Award” presenter Nicole Kidman and this year’s honoree Charlize Theron, Kidman remarked that “we don’t get to choose our heroes, but through this journey, I got to work with one of mine!”
Dakota Johnson took the stage to present Antonio Banderas with the “Hollywood Actor Award,” and reflected upon her realization that Banderas has become one of the most influential people in her life. He accepted by dedicating the award to Dakota, and his daughter Stella, who was in the room to share the night with him.
Viola Davis presented Cynthia Erivo with the “Hollywood Breakout Actress Award,” calling her “fearlessness personified” as she takes on the role of Harriet Tubman. Ray Romano brought the laughs as he showered praise upon “Hollywood Breakout Actor” honoree Taron Egerton, pointing out how unfair it is that Egerton is not only endlessly talented, but funny as well.
Christian Bale and Matt Damon turned up to honor their “Ford v Ferrari” director James Mangold, while Robert Downey Jr. was on hand to laud “Honey Boy” actor and screenwriter Shia LeBeouf with the “Hollywood Breakthrough Screenwriter Award.” Former co-stars Jennifer Garner and Olivia Wilde celebrated Wilde’s “Hollywood Breakthrough Director Award,” each sharing humorous tales of their adventures together on set.
Kevin Feige and Victoria Alonso joined together to accept the “Hollywood Blockbuster Award,” thanking their amazing writers, directors, and awe-inspiring cast, including presenter Mark Ruffalo. Alicia Keys began her tribute to “Hollywood Song Award” honoree Pharrell Williams by recognizing all of the love in the room, before Williams delivered a powerful speech focusing on the unparalleled contributions made by “The Black Godfather” subject, Clarence Avant. He said that he has opened doors when others would glue them shut and has consistently demanded equality throughout his career.
“Judy” co-stars Finn Wittrock and Jessie Buckley were on hand to recognize their leading lady Renée Zellweger with the “Hollywood Actress Award.” She said that the experience of playing Judy Garland was “one of those rare opportunities that essentially make no sense at all, but becomes your greatest accomplishment!”
After an earnest tribute from Jon Hamm, “Hollywood Screenwriter Award” honoree Anthony McCarten joked about finding success when he strayed from his teacher’s advice to write what he knows. He advised others to write what they want to know, that curiosity is what drove him to this project. Willem Dafoe presented his friend and colleague Laura Dern with the “Hollywood Supporting Actress Award,” praising the inspiring way in which she connects to audiences through her compassion.
This year’s award show honored the following:
“Hollywood Career Achievement Award” Charlize Theron, presented by Nicole Kidman
“Hollywood Actor Award” Antonio Banderas for Pain and Glory, presented by Dakota Johnson
“Hollywood Actress Award” Renée Zellweger for Judy, presented by Finn Wittrock & Jessie Buckley
“Hollywood Supporting Actor Award” Al Pacino for The Irishman, presented by Francis Ford Coppola
“Hollywood Supporting Actress Award” Laura Dern for Marriage Story, presented by Willem Dafoe
“Hollywood Producer Award” Emma Tillinger Koskoff for The Irishman, presented by Martin Scorsese
“Hollywood Director Award” James Mangold for Ford v Ferrari, presented by Christian Bale & Matt Damon
“Hollywood Filmmaker Award” Bong Joon Ho for Parasite, presented by Sienna Miller
“Hollywood Screenwriter Award” Anthony McCarten for The Two Popes, presented by Jon Hamm
“Hollywood Blockbuster Award” Avengers: Endgame, presented by Mark Ruffalo
“Hollywood Song Award” Pharrell Williams for Letter To My Godfather, presented by Alicia Keys
“Hollywood Breakout Actor Award” Taron Egerton for Rocketman, presented by Ray Romano
“Hollywood Breakout Actress Award” Cynthia Erivo for Harriet, presented by Viola Davis
“Hollywood Breakthrough Director Award” Olivia Wilde for Booksmart, presented by Jennifer Garner
“Hollywood Breakthrough Screenwriter Award” Shia LaBeouf for Honey Boy, presented by Robert Downey Jr.
“Hollywood Animation Award” Toy Story 4
“Hollywood Cinematography Award” Mihai Malaimare Jr. for Jojo Rabbit
“Hollywood Film Composer Award” Randy Newman for Marriage Story
“Hollywood Editor Award” Michael McCusker & Andrew Buckland for Ford v Ferrari
“Hollywood Visual Effects Award” Pablo Helman for The Irishman
“Hollywood Sound Award” Donald Sylvester, Paul Massey, David Giammarco, & Steven A. Morrow for Ford v Ferrari
“Hollywood Costume Design Award” Anna Mary Scott Robbins for Downton Abbey
“Hollywood Make-Up & Hair Styling Award” Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou, Tapio Salmi, & Barrie Gower for Rocketman
“Hollywood Production Design Award” Ra Vincent for Jojo Rabbit
About Dick Clark Productions
Dick Clark Productions (DCP) is the world’s largest producer and proprietor of televised live event entertainment programming with the “Academy of Country Music Awards,” “American Music Awards,” “Billboard Music Awards,” “Golden Globe Awards,” “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest” and the “Streamy Awards.” Weekly television programming includes “So You Think You Can Dance” from 19 Entertainment and DCP. DCP also owns one of the world’s most unique and extensive entertainment archive libraries with over 60 years of award-winning shows, historic programs, specials, performances and legendary programming. DCP is a division of Valence Media, a diversified and integrated media company with divisions and strategic investments in television, film, live entertainment, digital media and publishing. For additional information, visit www.dickclark.com.
About the Hollywood Film Awards
The Hollywood Film Awards, founded in 1997, were created to celebrate Hollywood and launch the awards season. The recipients of the awards are selected by an Advisory Team for their body of work and/or a film(s) that is to be released during the calendar year. For additional information, visit www.hollywoodawards.com.