CAPSULE: MISS MEADOWS (2014)

DIRECTED BY: Karen Leigh Hopkins

FEATURING: Katie Holmes, James Badge Dale, Callan Mulvey, Jean Smart, Ava Kolker

PLOT: A prim and proper substitute school teacher moonlights as a vigilante.

Still from Miss Meadows (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Miss Meadows has cult ambitions and tone issues, but it’s too restrained, not messy enough, and too afraid to wade into weirdness.

COMMENTS: In-movie, Miss Meadows is described, rather too ambitiously, as a “Pulp Fiction Mary Poppins.” Oh, Katie Holmes nails the “Mary Poppins” angle, alright. Dressed in flowery frocks with white gloves and ankle socks, reading books of light verse, correcting others’ grammar, and signing off with her signature phrase—“toodle-oo”—she is an anachronism that never existed, so whitebread and out-of-place in modernity that she’s uncanny. Holmes’ casting was inspired, and at times she almost steers the movie into legitimate character study mode. But, unlike Pulp Fiction, the script she’s trapped in offers no surprises, clever dialogue, or grit.

The opening, where Miss Meadows taps her way down a tree-lined boulevard greeted by CGI-wildlife of varying believability, only to find herself hit on by a scumbag whom she must blow away with her ladylike peashooter, pretty much encapsulates the entire film. The movie does venture down a few seedy alleyways, with little success. Since Miss Meadows is a sexless construct, Holmes’ flirtations with the local sheriff require her to break character and briefly act like a real human being (which she does by dancing to imaginary accordion music), but heat never develops between the two. Conversations (on a yellow rotary phone) with her equally deranged mother serve as an attempt to add another dimension, but one which only ends in obvious revelations. But it’s Meadows’ tea party with antagonist Callan Mulvey, an accused child abuser furloughed from prison in a recent budget crunch, that offers the biggest missed opportunity for the film to develop some depth. Mulvey is the only character who can stand up to Meadows and challenge her sincerity, questionable social agenda, and sanity, but the script abandons its feint towards developing this character into a true foil. That failure leaves the movie with little to rely on: it’s a toothless non-satire, an underdeveloped romance, and a black comedy with no real darkness. Miss Meadows founds itself on a coarse irony, then fails to do much with the premise you couldn’t find in a one-sentence logline.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Holmes’ performance helps Miss Meadows considerably: It’s so relentlessly upbeat and deliberately artificial that it admits no cynicism or judgment, and it makes the film daringly weird, like a less-bloody but no less savage version of Lucky McKee’s May, with less mutilation and more tea parties.”–Tasha Robinson, The Dissolve (contemporaneous)

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