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It must have gone over big at the pitch meeting, but the idea of a “pulp fiction Mary Poppins” blithely blowing away a rogue’s gallery of despicable criminals doesn’t work at all in Miss Meadows, the directorial debut by screenwriter Karen Leigh Hopkins (Stepmom). Starring Katie Holmes, the film receiving its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival doesn’t have nearly the aim of its oddball title character in terms of hitting its satirical targets.
When first seen, Miss Meadows does indeed seem like a character out of a Disney movie, literally tap-dancing on the sidewalk while clad in a frilly dress — Brenda Abbandandolo’s girly costumes well convey the character’s essence — and joyously interacting with the birds and small animals she encounters. But when she’s rudely propositioned and threatened at gunpoint by a creep driving by, she whips a tiny revolver out of her well-accessorized purse and calmly shoots him dead.
Miss Meadows, a substitute elementary school teacher fond of using phrases like “toodle-oo,” attracts the attention of the local sheriff (James Badge Dale) when she stops her vintage car in the middle of a bridge to prevent running over an injured toad. He soon asks out the seemingly genteel young woman for a picnic during which they spontaneously break out into loose-limbed dancing.
Meanwhile, the small town’s body count keeps rising, thanks to the recent release of hundreds of prisoners from a nearby prison due to overcrowding. Coming upon a madman who’s just massacred the patrons of a fast-food restaurant, her response when he threatens to kill her is to coolly say “That is so not an option” before pumping him full of bullets. She later dispatches a pedophiliac priest and gets involved in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with a recently freed child abuser (chillingly played by Callan Mulvey).
Meanwhile, the couple’s relationship proceeds to the point where she becomes pregnant and he proposes marriage. But as a series of phone calls with her aphorism-spouting mother (Jean Smart) eventually makes clear, Miss Meadows’ grasp of reality is becoming ever more tenuous.
Holmes, using her doe-eyed adorableness to provocative effect, delivers a fine, startlingly off-kilter performance, and Dale is highly appealing as the gentle, accordion-playing sheriff. But director-screenwriter Hopkins is unsuccessful in navigating the absurd storyline’s jarring tonal shifts, with the result that this kinder, gentler variation on Ms. 45 mainly emerges as off-puttingly bizarre.
Production: Myriad Pictures, Rob Carliner Films
Cast: Katie Holmes, James Badge Dale, Callan Mulvey, Mary Kay Place, Jean Smart
Director-screenwriter: Karen Leigh Hopkins
Producers: Rob Carliner, Eric Brenner
Executive producers: Katie Holmes, Karen Leigh Hopkins, Sandra Siegal, Grant Guthrie, Jeff Steen, Darrel Casalino, David Harfield, Gary M. Pollak, Jarod Becker, Evan Israel Brenner, Jay Carr, Mark B. Johnson, Joan Sobel
Director of photography: Barry Markowitz
Production designer: Jennifer Klide
Costume designer: Brenda Abbandandolo
Editor: Joan Sobel
No rating, 88 minutes
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