Tiptoes (2002) — Gary Oldman shrinks as our disbelief grows

Justin’s review: Every once in a while there are movies made that are such an incredibly bad idea that it beggars belief that nobody put a stop to it at any point in the filming and production process. In 1972, Jerry Lewis thought it’d be a corking idea to make a comedy about a clown in a Nazi death camp (The Day the Clown Cried), which fully got made before someone came to their senses and said, “We can never, ever, ever release this.”

Unfortunately, nobody had the common sense to say the same thing about Tiptoes, a 2002 misfire of epic proportions. Now, I’m not saying that it was a bad idea to make a movie about little people. Actually, that could be a terrific concept if done right, because there are a whole lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings that could be cleared up with an honest look at the lifestyle and culture of those born with dwarfism. So it’s not so much the subject matter as the way the filmmakers approach it.

So let me tell you the plot summary, and you tell me when your common sense alarms start ringing. So Matthew McConaughey is Steven, a guy who’s getting married to Carol (Kate Beckinsale). Even though they’re at this point in their relationship, Steven hasn’t told Carol that he’s the only non-dwarf in an entire family of dwarfs.

Oh, and she’s pregnant, so he might have passed on the dwarfism gene to her. As Carol wrestles with this revelation, she finds herself kind of falling for Steven’s twin brother Rolfe, a dwarf who is played by Gary Oldman. Oldman, I must remind you, isn’t exactly a little person in real life, and did most of his role walking around on his knees.

Are those alarms going off yet?

What’s really bizarre about this is that Tiptoes has plenty of actual dwarfs, including Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage and Twin Peaks’ Michael J. Anderson. So why they went through all of the trouble to artificially reduce the size of a taller person instead of pulling from what had to be a wide field of little people actors is beyond me.

Even if Oldman wasn’t the centerpiece of Tiptoes‘ controversy, this approach to viewing dwarfism as some sort of shameful secret that has to be covered up wasn’t going to work anyway. It makes McConaughey’s character into a total jerk, which isn’t really a way I want to spend an hour-and-a-half. It’s absolutely awful.

Movies should tell actual stories, not be pointing fingers and going, “Hey, lookit this, innit this weird?” Little people can be part of those stories and even at the center of them without having to sacrifice dignity or — in the case of Tiptoes — coherency.

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