Barefoot: Film Review

Roadside Attractions
With or without shoes, a false step for everyone involved.

Evan Rachel Wood’s psychiatric patient and Scott Speedman’s parole violator hit the road in a remake of a German rom-com.

Over the decades, there’s been no shortage of boneheaded premises for romantic comedies, but the painfully ill-conceived Barefoot takes boneheadedness to regrettable places. A variation on the age-old trope of unlikely soul mates falling in love while pretending to be a couple, the movie adds the moldy conceit of mental illness as an enchanted state. The poor excuse for a screwball romp unrolls as a cross-country road trip. The limited release isn’t destined to travel far.

Evan Rachel Wood and Scott Speedman are the not-so-hilariously mismatched couple: an escaped psychiatric patient who’s supposedly enlightened in her ignorance — an especially impossible role, though Wood gives it her best shot — and the reprobate who enlists her to be his date at a family bash.

At the helm of the misadventure — itself a remake of a 2005 German film, by Til Schweiger — is Andrew Fleming, whose past comedy projects have ranged from the inspired (Dick) to the insipid (Nancy Drew). Working from Stephen Zotnowski’s screenplay, Fleming has put together a solid technical production, but it would take more than the use of Nick Drake’s soulful “Pink Moon” on the soundtrack to give the material an emotional dimension.

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Speedman plays Jay Wheeler, layabout scion of a wealthy New Orleans family, scraping by in Los Angeles and a regular at strip clubs, casinos and the racetrack. In dire need of serious money before his creditors do permanent damage, he decides at the last minute to attend his brother’s wedding, the better to hit up the old man for some cash. Through a series of events that are as implausible as just about everything that happens in the movie, a new patient at the psychiatric hospital where he works as a janitor makes the trip with him, posing as his girlfriend.

She’s Daisy Kensington, a figure of wide-eyed naivete who likes to go barefoot and whose lack of experience is presented as the epitome of purity and whimsy. That it’s the result of a lifetime of abuse is a minor detail in this sorry romantic setup. The important thing is that Jay, a louse with a nice smile, is due for an infusion of her healing earnestness. The duo wind up on the lam in a dazzling vintage RV, swiped from Jay’s father (Treat Williams, delivering a boilerplate turn in a boilerplate role).

The feminine spin on Rain Man chugs from county fair to cornfield, and from one non-laugh to the next, among them the vision of the childlike daisy in borrowed itsy-bitsy pole-dancer outfits.

J.K. Simmons, as the chief of the hospital, and Kate Burton, as Jay’s compassionate mother, lend some warmth, and recognizable human behavior, to the proceedings. At the other end of the spectrum, two patients at the hospital played by David Jensen and Thomas Francis Murphy provide a bracing tonic effect, cutting through the sap like two characters who wandered in from a sharper and more believable story.


Opens: Friday, February 21 (Roadside Attractions)

Production: Whiteflame Prods.

Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Scott Speedman, J.K. Simmons, Treat Williams, Kate Burton, David Jensen, Thomas Francis Murphy

Director: Andrew Fleming

Screenwriter: Stephen Zotnowski

Producers: Lisa Demetree, David Scharf

Director of photography: Alexander Gruszynski

Production designer: Toby Corbett

Music: Michael Penn

Co-producer: Stephen Zotnowski

Costume designer: Caroline B. Marx

Editor: Tara Timpone

PG-13; 89 min.