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WGUC Reviews

Keeping Mum

Keeping Mum
Summit Entertainment
Rated R
Review by: Larry Thomas

American filmmakers seem to only think of comedy in terms of bodily functions, stupid people, and cruelty. Witness films like the Jackass series, or performers like Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider. Most of the cinematic atrocities perpetrated by such filmmakers are unfunny and unbearable.

So it's nice to know that the Brits still have the knack for funny dialogue, and charming characters, which is the case with Keeping Mum, a film reminiscent of such classic gems as The Ladykillers. This small, quiet black comedy is set in a village of 57 residents. The local vicar is shy and rather ineffectual. He's so wrapped up in his flock that he shamefully neglects his wife. Mom is bored and angry, and seems to be annoyed by just about everything. She's on the verge of having an affair with the crass American golf instructor. The family's teenage daughter is notably promiscuous, while the middle-school-aged boy is wimpy and always picked on by his peers.

Into this rural, dysfunctional setting comes the new housekeeper, who seems to almost instantly have a "Mary Poppins" effect on everyone, dispensing charm, ideas and wise advice, left and right. But our Grace is no Mary Poppins. She has a secret... actually, two secrets, which our beleaguered family has yet to discover.

That the plot twists are telegraphed from the first frame as if they came straight from Western Union is irrelevant. What makes Keeping Mum so much fun is the outstanding cast. Rowan Atkinson is the clueless vicar, aptly named Mr. Goodfellow, who always seems half-a-day behind everyone else. Instead of his usual Mr. Bean schtick, Atkinson gets to grasp a real character and give a real performance. Kristin Scott-Thomas, from Four Weddings and a Funeral, plays Gloria Goodfellow, and she has never been more glowing on screen. Her pain and depression is obvious, while at the same time we are all rooting for her. The womanizing golfer is Patrick Swayze, who seems to have great fun satirizing all the macho roles he's previously had. He really needs to do more comedy.

And, of course, the star of the show has to be Maggie Smith, one of the world's acting treasures, as Grace. While others might have taken the opportunity to play this role way over the top, and for slapstick, our Maggie retains her calm and dignified demeanor, no matter what she's perpetrating.

The supporting roles are fine, especially 85-year-old Liz Smith as a dotty old busybody who is forever pestering the vicar about the flower arranging committee. She's primarily a staple of British television, and didn't start acting until she was 50. And there's a small role by James Booth, the rugged second-lead in the epic adventure film Zulu, as a cranky old coot with an irritating dog. This is Booth's final film appearance, as he died following production.

Another plus is the lilting, melodic score by Dickon Hinchcliffe, which harkens back to John Barry's work from the mid-60s. Director Niall Johnson, who co-wrote the script with author Richard Russo, keeps things at a nice pace, and gives the countryside a nice look.

Although Keeping Mum is not full of bellylaughs, it is full of chuckles, smiles, sly winks, puns, double entendrés and warmth. And the Brits are very good at that.


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