With three vaguely satirical but wholly (and self-consciously) trashy efforts under his belt as writer-director – debut Freeway, Confessions of a Trick Baby and Bundy - Matthew Bright adopts a slight change in tact for his latest effort. Approaching the work of another writer, Bill Weiner, the result is Tiptoes, an undeniably different affair from the previous pictures, but also a work that can’t help but come across as equally odd. After all, when you’ve got Gary Oldman as your leading man but playing a dwarf, then it’s abundantly clear that Bright isn’t quite striving for mainstream acceptance just yet.
Not that those responsible for the trailer would agree. Here Oldman is billed – in a blatant piece of Oscar grabbing – as being “in the role of the lifetime”, whilst the comedic aspects and starry cast are likewise promoted to the hilt. In a way it’s easy to forgive them such a ploy as Tiptoes isn’t the most easily definable film around. Essentially the plot revolves around Matthew McConaughey, but he’s a far from simple character. An ex-navy firefighter instructor, he’s the only “big guy” in a family of dwarves. Oldman plays his twin brother, whilst Michael J. Anderson of Twin Peaks fame pops up as his father. Plus there’s Oldman’s buddy Peter Dinklage, also a dwarf as well as a gun-toting Marxist. He also has a girlfriend in the shape of Patricia Arquette’s new age prostitute-dress-alike, and so does McConaughey himself in the form of Kate Beckinsale’s artist who also happens to be pregnant. Their lives intermingle over the course of 85 minutes or so and as the film follows them it veers wildly all over the place.
Yet whilst the viewer is often dumbfounded as to where Tiptoes might be headed and what kind of agenda it may have – matter unavoidably muddied by Bright’s track record – it also seems likely that the director is suffering from a similar problem. If the film were simply a comedy then it would switch from sitcom-style gags to bedroom farce and many points in between. If, on the other hand, it were a straight ahead drama then it would be torn between the “worthiness” of able-bodied Oldman’s portrayal of someone less so, a TV movie-style ‘how to come to terms with a disabled child’-type picture and many more points in between. Yet in awkwardly – and hardly seamlessly – combining the two, it creates even more difficulties and results in an at times maddening miss; big dramatic scenes suddenly appear out of nowhere and just as quickly dissipate – the final moments in particular are just plain baffling.
It is fair to say, however, that not all of this solely the fault of Bright and that writer Weiner should at least share equal responsibility. His screenplay is one of numerous lazy ideas, the most obvious being his decision to make Beckinsale and Oldman an artist and writer, respectively. It’s indicative of Tiptoes’ approach as it’s a shorthand method that can be quickly established and then ignored (Beckinsale is seen painting in her first scene, mentions that it pays the bills a bit later on and then has it completely ignored). Moreover, Weiner doesn’t leave this approach to the tiny (and, in may case, niggling) details. The entire Dinklage/Arquette subplot never really comes with any form of significance or dramatic weight and as such feels like a means of bulking out the narrative. Indeed, it quite simply needs bulking out itself especially as it bears little connection or resemblance to everything else going on around it.
That said, in spite of – or perhaps because of – these various flaws, Tiptoes manages to scrape by courtesy of its sheer weirdness (though some may find my six out 10 rating a little overzealous). And in comparison to Bright’s earlier work this element doesn’t feel quite so forced or even intentional. Rather his film plays out like a James L. Brooks screenplay directed by someone without the same slick touch or even a complete understanding of what they’re doing. Yet even this doesn’t quite to justice as a description. Of course, it has been said that the best films are the indefinable ones, and whilst I seriously doubt Tiptoes’ claims to greatness, it may in fact be heading towards a sizeable cult following.
A major disappointment, Tiptoes manages to be underwhelming in terms of both its presentation and extras content. Though transferred anamorphically (at a ratio of 1.78:1), the clarity of image is decidedly soft and often has a disagreeable (and presumably unintentional) purple tinge. Indeed, much of the film has the look of an NTSC to PAL conversion, though the running time would suggest that this simply isn’t the case. Further disappointment is provided courtesy of the stereo soundtrack. Though technically fine for the most part – though some of the dialogue does sit uneasily with the rest of the soundtrack – the film should come with a DD5.1 offering and as such can’t help but prove an annoyance. As for extras, only the theatrical trailer is provided, though this is worth seeing owing to its entirely misleading nature.