Wisegirls Review

Anyone who has been reading DVD Times for any length of time will know that one of my capacities as a reviewer here is to plough through many of the really crap movies that are out there. Not just the poor quality movies, but the real stinkers, the Battlefield Earth’s and Rollerball remakes. So it was inevitable that the acting career of Mariah Carey would intersect this “elite” group of appalling movies. After a “blink and you’ll miss it” appearance in Chris O’Donnell’s lame rom-com The Bachelor, she went on to star in the infamous “so bad it’s bad” disaster that was Glitter. But then she spoils things by choosing to appear in Wisegirls, a low budget mob movie that while no great movie, is, along with Carey’s performance, not a bad piece of work. Just a pity then, that while everyone shouted from the rooftops just how dire Glitter was, this low-key movie went from a promising debut at the Sundance Festival way back in early 2002 straight to cable movie channels in the US, and two years later appears in the UK straight to DVD.

To be fair, this movie isn’t a Mariah Carey starring vehicle as Glitter was; here she plays a supporting role to Mira Sorvino who is the real star of the movie. Sorvino plays Meg Kennedy, a former medical student from the Mid-West who has come to New York to escape a troubled past. Staying with her sick grandmother, a contact helps get her a job as a waitress at an Italian restaurant. After a shaky start she begins growing in confidence and forms a close friendship with two of the other waitresses, the mousey and meek Kate (Melora Walters) and the tough and no-nonsense Raychel (Mariah Carey). It quickly becomes clear though that the owners and a great deal of the clientele are “family” members. When Meg’s medical training helps save the life of one such mob guy, she becomes further invited into the inner circle of the owner Mr Santalino (Arthur Nascarella). Big tips are flowing, she can afford to move out of her grandmother’s house and into a flashy apartment of her own, and she has a strong friendship with Kate and Raychel. Things are looking good.

Inevitably, something has to go badly wrong. After getting caught in the middle of a mob murder, Meg is forced to participate in the clean-up and gets dragged right into the nastiest side of the mob operation that run the restaurant. After this, the story takes a big turn for the unpleasant, as the real face of those in the restaurant becomes apparent.

We’ve all probably seen a lot of mob movies before, a few very good ones, many indifferent and a lot bad. At least this one attempts to look at things from a different perspective, the girls here who are on the edge of what is a very male domain (though of course it could be argued that The Sopranos has covered this angle well enough for a long time). After a slow start, this mob story moves along well enough. Mira Sorvino, who is the real star of the movie, turns in a decent enough performance given some of the occasional script shortcomings she is working with. Inevitably, although she is just the co-star, much will be focused on Mariah Carey’s performance. Here she is a lot better than she was in the woeful Glitter (though that could hardly be difficult). Indeed, if Glitter had never happened and this had been Carey’s first major role, she certainly wouldn’t be looked upon with such disdain as an actress as she is now.

On the negative side, some elements of the plot and script are weak to bordering on downright silly. Sorvino’s character Meg goes from “no one could possibly be that naïve” to streetwise, and then back again, so much so that it’s even pointed out by another character in the movie. Her forced participation in the cleanup of a dead body is frankly ludicrous, and a story she tells the other girls about why she chucked everything in and moved to New York is meant to be sad and upsetting but is so ridiculous it’s a surprise they didn’t just burst out laughing.

Despite its flaws, this is a passable story of the mob, told from a slightly unconventional angle. The participation of Mariah Carey obviously focuses more attention on her than would normally be of a co-star in a movie; but overall everyone turns in a reasonable performance in what is a watchable though not particularly spectacular crime story.

An acceptable 1.85:1 anamorphic image is provided here, which is a little grainy at times, though that probably has more to do with the source print than the transfer. All in all, probably about as good as could have been expected.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track here is surprisingly lively for a low-key feature. There’s plenty of surround usage, and dialogue, effects and music are all presented with clarity. A more than adequate presentation for the task at hand.

There is just a pretty basic set of extras here, with no commentary present, and only the following available:

The Behind The Scenes featurette is quite a bit “press kit” promotional material, but does run for nearly twenty minutes so there are some points of interest. Mira Sorvino frequently drops into the “love-in” mode of just saying how wonderful it was to work with co-stars, director, etc, etc, though this does go against the alleged rumours of friction between herself and Mariah Carey. There are a lot of clips, some of which could be regarded as spoilers. Ludicrously, in one interview segment with Sorvino where she is talking about an element of the story she (quite rightly) says that she doesn’t want to give away the plot; and then the next clip does just that. So if you do watch this, make sure it’s after viewing the main feature.

Also included is the trailer, presented in widescreen but just 2.0 stereo. Like the featurette, it includes a couple of sequences that while not being total spoilers, certainly would influence the way you would regard certain characters in the film. What’s the point of twists if you are just going to announce them in the promotional material?

DVD-ROM Content
It will come as absolutely no surprise to learn that there are no ROM extras here.

Final Thoughts
Mariah Carey in “not bad” film shocker! It’s certainly not a great film, but it’s Oscar material when compared to Glitter. The disc is technically competent, with a slightly better than expected soundtrack, but extras are somewhat basic. Overall it's OK, and perhaps a little bit different, but nothing too spectacular.

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