Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Ken Kwapis
Stars: Fran Drescher, Timothy Dalton, Ian McNeice, Patrick Malahide, Lisa Jakub, Adam LaVorga, Heather DeLoach, Michael Lerner, Phyllis Newman
Running Time: 105 minutes.
The Nanny does The King And I? Part contemporary fairy tale with the requisite happy ending, part culture-clash comedy, and part fish out of water tale, The Beautician And The Beast provides an unusual spin on the classic story of a beautiful, head strong tutor who tames a tyrannical and aloof father and enchants his children. Cleverly written by Todd Graff (Used People, etc), this entertaining and quite enjoyable film has been tailor made to suit the talents and distinctive, nasally voiced personality of its star, Fran Drescher, taking a brief hiatus from her popular tv sitcom.
Drescher plays Joy Miller, a beautician from Queens, who is mistaken for a gifted teacher after she saves several of her hair dressing students from a fire. She is whisked away to Slovetzia, a small Eastern European country, where she is assigned the task of tutoring the children of feared autocratic ruler Boris Pochenko (Timothy Dalton). Joy begins to give both the severe, humourless dictator and his country a much needed and long overdue make-over, giving Pochenko a softer, more human personality, and opening his people up to some of the wonders of 20th century American values. As Joy constantly reminds him, you instil fear, but you earn respect. While her catch phrase of “Talk to the hand” may become one of the more quoted lines of the year, it is still not as memorable as Jerry Maguire’s “Show me the money!”
She also helps his three children come to realise their aims and ambitions and develop their own strength of personality, enabling them to step out from their father’s overbearing shadow. Katrina (Lisa Jakub) is in love with Alek, a rebel who is locked up in the dungeons for opposing her father. Karl (Adam LaVorgna) has artistic leanings but is afraid of his father’s reaction, while Masha (Heather DeLoach) is plain and mousy, until she blossoms under Joy’s tutelage. Joy’s efforts at turning Pochenko into a benevolent and enlightened leader are greeted with chilly disapproval by the country’s Machiavellian Prime Minister (Patrick Malahide, recently seen as the shady CIA boss in The Long Kiss Goodnight, etc).
Much of the film’s comedy derives from the sight of the bright and brassy, garishly dressed Drescher transposed into a small European country with its own well-established quaint customs and traditions. The Beautician And The Beast contains many funny moments, and the rich verbal interplay between Drescher and Dalton is wonderfully delivered by the two stars, who are clearly enjoying themselves here. The character perfectly suits Drescher’s screen persona, and she positively revels in the role, while Dalton also lightens up considerably from his usual dour screen persona, and seems to be having fun portraying most of the clichéd gestures and mannerisms of a despotic Stalinesque dictator. He also manages to make convincing the change in his personality as he reluctantly develops a fondness for Joy, and learns to become a more humane and compassionate ruler. Ian McNeice (Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, etc) is a constant delight as Grushinsky, Pochenko’s emissary who observes the changes in both his leader and the country with tacit approval and he delivers some great lines in a very droll and winning fashion.
Director Ken Kwapis (Dunston Checks In, etc) has a feel for this style of light weight romantic comedy, and he keeps things moving along nicely, maintaining a jaunty and brisk pace throughout. Even audiences who are not fans of Drescher’s The Nanny should find this admittedly slim and lightweight romantic comedy a pleasant and entertaining enough diversion.