Mar 25, 2011

Bring Back Bridget Fonda: Doc Hollywood [12]

Dir: Michael Caton Jones
It's a strange film to have an attachment to, but I will always have a bit of a soft spot for Doc Hollywood, if only because it was where I first saw breasts. Thanks, Julie Warner. Memorable moments for an eleven-year-old aside, however, the film does have other things going for it.

This is a Capraesque tale of a young surgeon (Fox) who is waylaid on his way to a big plastic surgery job interview in LA when he crashes his car, demolishing the fence of a small town judge. He's sentenced to community service as the town's doctor, and immediately all the residents begin working to try to ensure that he stays there. There's a romance with the local ambulance driver (Warner) and a flirtation with the Mayor's daughter (Fonda) makes one of the locals (Harrelson) very jealous.

Doc Hollywood is gently funny and doesn't lack for charm, but it's hard to shake the feeling that it's a little empty. Michael J. Fox was never the world's best actor, but he can be magnetic, unfortunately, he's not great here, he's a little miscast as a soon to be high-flying doctor who is more than a bit of an asshole, but worse he just seems to be coasting here, and the growing relationship between him and Julie Warner - who is perfectly good as Lou the ambulance driver, but is outshone by another performance we'll come to - never really convinces.

What works better is the depiction of this bible belt town and its inhabitants. The script and direction poke gentle fun, never pretending that this depiction of Grady is of a real place as much as it is of a romantic cinematic vision of a small town. Though the characterisations are broad, outside of the rather drippy main story, everyone is having fun. David Ogden Stiers is blustery and funny as the mayor desperate to keep this new doctor in town, while Woody Harrelson does his patented 'amusingly dim, while a side of menace' thing to perfection.

Bridget Fonda reunites with director Michael Caton-Jones, who gave her a big break in Scandal two years before. Here she plays the mayor's flirty and oversexed daughter, who wants Fox to take her away from the provincial life to the bright lights of LA (and this, for me, is where the story strains credulity, because really, who could resist?) It would have been easy for this role to have been played as no more than a punchline, but as ever Fonda invests her character with a real spark, she's effortlessly likeable, and that as much as her beauty makes her a much more interesting potential match than Warner. Saddled with a thankless role, Fonda makes much more of it than was likely on the page, it's both one of the film's greater qualities and eventually one of its greater failings.

You'd be hard-pressed to dislike Doc Hollywood, it's too amiable for that, and for all its problem it is frequently funny, and its gentle charm does end up rubbing off on you, even if, at the end of the day, you know it's not especially brilliant.

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