USA, 2002. Rated R. 94 minutes.
Jordan Bridges, Marisa Coughlan, Heather Donahue, Dan Hedaya, Mark Setlock,
Benito Martinez, Charles Rocket, Paul McCrane, Dan Montgomery, Jr., James
Marsh, Danny Strong
|Grade: B-||Review by Carlo Cavagna|
Read the AboutFilm feature and interviews with Jordan Bridges and Marisa Coughlan.
Many, many years ago lived an emperor, who thought so much of new clothes that he spent all his money in order to obtain them; his only ambition was to be always well dressed. He did not care for his soldiers, and the theater did not amuse him; the only thing, in fact, he thought anything of was to drive out and show a new suit of clothes.
…The great city where he resided was very gay; every day many strangers from all parts of the globe arrived. One day two swindlers came to this city; they made people believe that they were weavers, and declared they could manufacture the finest cloth to be imagined.
--Hans Christian Andersen (1837)
ou know the rest of the fable. The swindlers declared they could make clothes of such fine material that they would be invisible to any who were unfit for their office or unpardonably stupid. Hearing of this miraculous cloth, the emperor immediately commissioned a suit. The swindlers made a show of weaving, cutting, and sewing cloth that was not actually there, but the emperor's advisors pretended to see it because they did not want to be thought unfit or stupid. They told the emperor the clothes were very fine, and he was pleased. When it came time to try on the non-existent clothes, the emperor was shocked that he himself could not see the suit, but he nonetheless pretended to appreciate the clothes' excellent fit and workmanship, while all his advisors oohed and aahed. The emperor marched out in a procession, and all who saw him exclaimed that the suit was incomparable, fearing to be thought stupid if they failed to do so. Only when a small innocent child cried out that the emperor was naked was the charade exposed.
The title of New Suit, a new indie comedy starring Jordan Bridges and Marisa Coughlan (see our featured interviews), obviously refers to the Andersen story. It's not a great leap to imagine the great city as Hollywood, the emperor as the head of a production studio, and the suit of clothes as a hot new screenplay. Every month--sometimes every week--there's a different 'It' script making the rounds of studios and production companies. Everyone absolutely must have it; bidding wars ensue. Then, a year or two later, a mediocre film comes out and you wonder what the fuss was about. Why did that script become the hot item while other, better screenplays were ignored? The reason is the pack mentality that dominates in Hollywood--if one powerful player shows interest in something, then it must be good, and so another player gets involved, and another, and another, until the buzz is out of all proportion with the quality of the screenplay in question. It's up to the moviegoers themselves--or certain enlightened film critics--to play the role of the innocent child and decide finally whether the finished product is any good. New Suit is The Emperor's New Script.
Kevin Taylor (Jordan Bridges of Dawson's Creek), a young aspiring screenwriter working as an assistant to a washed-up producer (Dan Hedaya in full buffoon mode) and his development executives (Heather Donahue of The Blair Witch Project and newcomer Mark Setlock), invents a script out of thin air on a whim after becoming disgusted with the Hollywood business culture. He talks up the screenplay to his friends (including Greg Kinnear-like Dan Montgomery), and like the old shampoo commercial, his friends tell their friends, and they tell their friends, because no one wants to admit they haven't read something. Soon Kevin's bosses are demanding to know why they aren't on top of this hot new screenplay. With the help of shrewd agent Marianne Roxbury (Marisa Coughlan of Pumpkin and Teaching Mrs. Tingle), who is initially taken in like everyone else, a conflicted Kevin continues the sham to its conclusion.
New Suit hits all the satirical targets. Everyone, except Kevin, is an instinctively smooth liar, from the producers more interested in one-upping each other than quality filmmaking to the ambitious bimbos seeking roles to the lowly assistants doing anything to get ahead. What prevents New Suit from going off the rails to become just a sour-grapes potshot at Hollywood by a disgruntled screenwriter, is the fresh appeal of stars Bridges and Coughlan and the light touch of director François Velle (Comme des Rois). Instead of the bitter satire that could have been made from the exact same script, they have chosen to make a bright, airy comedy.
Kevin and Marianne, while not exactly admirable, are likeable enough to root for as they scheme to cash in on the unforeseen consequences of Kevin's fabrication. The actors are unknowns, and therefore ideal to play Hollywood newbies (even though Bridges is far from a Hollywood newbie--being the son of Beau, nephew of Jeff, and grandson of Lloyd). Despite his genes, you don't look at Bridges and automatically think "star." He doesn't immediately draw your eye when he's on screen. A little too much is made of Kevin's moral dilemma in the context of a comedic fantasy such as this, but Bridges' sincerity amid exaggerated surroundings and more observably comic supporting performances gives the film a center, making it more about the journey of his character and less a resentful revenge exercise. Coughlan, on the other hand, is much more of a comedienne. Nevertheless, she too finds nuance in her character. Marianne is wholly willing to use people and go for broke with the screenplay scam, but she's not just a schemer. Her feelings for Kevin are genuine, but her ambitions get in the way.
There were no movies in 1837 when Andersen wrote "The Emperor's New Clothes." Its enduring popularity is evidence that New Suit touches on a universal phenomenon more than behavior endemic to Hollywood. Nobody wants to be the stupid one--the guy who doesn't get it, or the girl not in the know--and people will go to great lengths to avoid it. To call New Suit a thought-provoker would be a stretch, but it's a pleasant film, and not as full of itself and insular as some such movie biz insider satires. It's a delightful premise decently executed, and unlikely to make a filmgoer declare that its producers are naked.
© May 2003 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2003 Trillion Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.
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