The Beautician and the Beast (1997)

“Asking for directions is not the first step to a two-party system!”

Sue’s Rating: If she can make it there, she’ll make it anywhere!

Sue’s Review: This is dedication for you: Here I am, in my parents’ house, on a borrowed computer with a wonky keyboard, writing a review for Mutant Reviewers because… well, frankly because no one else is awake except for the cat who is very cute but also geriatric and deaf. Besides, while I’m traveling about on my mini-multi-mutant-summit, I feel sort of obligated to do something slightly more literate (aka: coherent) than the mutant viewing I know I did with Justin but honestly can’t remember typing.

Anyway, if there’s one thing you can do at my parents’ place, it’s watch obscure movies. My Dad, one of the original geeks on the planet (wearing pocket protectors and programming computers the size of yachts back in the day) has possibly the most extensive VHS movie collection known to mankind. Mind you, the tapes were mostly bought as blanks and he recorded practically everything off of cable, but he has a complex log to keep track. Return of the Jedi, for instance, resides on tape 50. Tape 48 apparently contains Irving Berlin’s 100th birthday celebration. 154 — a real gem — is the home of both Pride of the Marines and Invaders From Mars. Truly an eclectic man, my father. (It can also be noted that for many long years, he was so busy taping things that he never had the opportunity to watch them. He’s only now starting to catch up.)

So last night, when he asked casually if I’d ever had occasion to watch The Beautician and the Beast it shouldn’t have been a surprise and yet I couldn’t avoid a moment of suspicion that he was pulling my leg. By the time I realized that not only did the movie really exist, it also starred Fran Drescher, it was too late to run.

The story goes something like this. After rescuing several lab animals from a cosmetology school fire (seriously!), Joy Miller (Drescher) is hired as a teacher by a representative of an Iron Curtain-ish country’s leader. Miller, New Yawk accent in full voice, breezes into “Slovetzia” and basically turns the place onto its ear. Timothy Dalton plays the part of the country’s dictat- oh excuse me – “president;” a sort of Lo-Carb Stalin Lite whose four children Miller is expected to tutor.

We know from the outset that Dalton’s character, Boris Pochenko, is a bad man. We know this because of his bristly mustache, starched uniform and the way he growls at people. No, that wasn’t a metaphor. He really growls. He also has dissidents (like his eldest daughter’s free-press loving boyfriend) arrested and thrown into dungeons. Truly an enlightened fellow, yes?

We know that Joy Miller is a good woman. We know this because of the bright festive colors she wears when everyone else is in army-surplus drab, her plucky American accent and the fact that she calls everyone, “Aawwwww Honeeeeey!”

One evening Joy manages to charm Boris over a plate of sandwiches and convinces him that mustard is as good as mayo any day of the week. Somehow this leads to a change in national policy. Oh, and Boris shaves off the dictator ‘stache and becomes Mr. Charming Statesman. Actually, the Disney version of this fairy tale was probably a little more realistic.

What was funny was that my daughter, Spawn of Mutant 2, never made the connection to Beauty and the Beast, even though I’m sure she heard the title at some point. “Hey Mom!” she gibbered over the closing credits, “that was JUST like The Sound of Music!” And so it was, we decided together. Except for there being no nuns, no mountains, no music, no annexation of Austria and no Julie Andrews. Okay, it was nothing like The Sound Of Music, except that the kids had to wear ugly clothes, but any time the spawn and I talk movies is quality time. Score!

Somewhat to my surprise, I really enjoyed watching this movie. There were some sneaky little one-liners that caught me by surprise, and Drescher wasn’t nearly as annoying as she might have been. Dalton seemed to have some fun with his role and while the kids were mostly forgettable and clichéd, the fact that the youngest of them ran naked through a fancy state dinner made up for a lot of that. The ending was completely predictable and abrupt, but on the other hand, you have to respect a director who knows when the story is actually over. All in all, it wasn’t a bad way to spend an evening at the ‘rents!

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