A scene from 'Very Annie-Mary'
Courtesy Photo
** stars 105 minutes | Unrated
Opened: Friday, May 3, 2002
Directed by Sara Sugarman

Starring Rachel Griffiths, Jonathan Pryce, Ruth Madoc, Ioan Gruffudd, Matthew Rhys, Joanna Page


Saturday afternoon rental, but only for serious fans of English dramedy.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 03.09.2004


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Talents of Griffiths, Pryce can't pull story of a village simpleton out of sentimental quagmire

By Rob Blackwelder

Beware the quirky Brit-com -- especially the kind that take place in a quiet little village. They can and will turn on a dime from oddly humorous to tediously sentimental.

"Very Annie-Mary" is such a prime example of this phenomenon that it even makes blatant reference to similar movies on several occasions. What's with the 10-year-old kids acting out rather inappropriate scenes from "The Full Monty" in their front garden?

Those kids are only seen in passing in this film, but the title character isn't any more original. She's a slightly feeble-witted, child-like adult and wannabe singer whose dreams are always quashed by the terribly domineering single parent with whom she still lives. If this sounds familiar, you've probably seen "Little Voice," this genre's high water mark. If it doesn't sound familiar, rent "Little Voice" and save yourself the trouble of sitting through this inferior imitator.

The picture's most notable asset is the talented and grossly underappreciated Rachel Griffiths ("Blow," "The Rookie") in the title role. Submerging herself into the gentle, slow-minded personality of a 30-something woman who has grown up treated like a pet dog under her fathers thumb, she invokes the giddiness of an 8-year-old girl while making lines like "I'd be good at sex, I would!" seem somehow less deliberately cute and capricious.

Annie-Mary daydreams about buying an empty cottage in her neighborhood while visiting the village's gay couple that owns the general store (Look how gay they are! And yet we don't even mention it. Aren't we enlightened?) and practicing to sing in a talent competition with a trio of oddball village women. They're trying to raise money for a pretty, terminally ill teenage girl, whose supposed last wish to go to Disneyland has become the town's cause celebré (Cue the maudlin flute music and sentimental freeze-frames.)

The irrepressible Jonathan Pryce ("Brazil," "Evita," "Tomorrow Never Dies") plays our heroine's borderline-abusive father -- a baker by trade. He helps give the picture promise early on, opening the film driving a bread truck through the village dressed like Pavarotti, wearing a Pavarotti mask and singing in a tenor through a loudspeaker mounted on the roof. Why? Because he's a quirky Welshman, of course!

Quite familiar with ironic comedy, Pryce nails the ridiculousness of his character while playing him very, very straight, since the man takes himself terribly seriously as he clings to his simple daughter because he has nothing else of worth in his life.

But writer-director Sara Sugerman can never seem to get away from her parade of stock eccentrics to tell a real story. Everywhere Annie-Mary goes there's, say, a frisky pastor who erotically fondles spongecake and orders scratch-and-sniff Bibles for his parish. Or the trio of wannabe singers (one teenaged, one middle aged and one in her 60s) lip syncing to Tina Turner songs.

"Very Annie-Mary" is mildly entertaining until it reaches its saturation point with this stuff. That point comes around the middle of the second act when Pryce has a stroke, thereby giving Annie-Mary a certain new freedom while burdening her with caring for him at the same time. Then the quirkiness and sentimentality boil together into sticky emotional goo that saturates every remaining frame of the picture.


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