By Aaron Cutler
By Amy Nicholson
By Simon Abrams
By Chris Klimek
By Nick Schager
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
The indie Let It Snow was originally titled Snow Days. Both titles are terrible -- they suggest either a schmaltzy '40s-era holiday musical or else a kiddy comedy from Nickelodeon. The movie is, rather, a derivative but likable romantic comedy, sort of a bus-and-truck When Harry Met Sally . . ..
It was directed by Adam Marcus, from a script by his brother Kipp. The latter Marcus also stars, as the hangdog hero James, a New England lad with a wacky, promiscuous '60s-refugee single mother (Bernadette Peters). On a series of high school snow days, James meets and hangs out with the love of his life, Sarah (Alice Dylan), his new next-door neighbor from Michigan. But there are obstacles -- James' grandmother (the too rarely seen Judith Malina, who also played the grandmother in the first Addams Family movie) has warned him that his family is cursed where love is concerned, and there's little in what he's seen of his mom's love life to dispute it. And Sarah has nutsy, dysfunctional parents that she, too, is terrified of emulating.
So the two of them decide to be "just friends," even though the gods have plainly ordained that they should be together. The rest of Let It Snow traces them through their college years and beyond, as they chase their dreams -- James, who cooks for his mother when she's heartbroken, wants to be a chef; Sarah wants to be a meteorologist. We see them, again and again, come right up to the brink of a love affair, then ruin it with misunderstandings and pointlessly concealed feelings.
In other words, it's boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy . . . well, let's not give away too much of such an innovative premise. Better you should discover it for yourself.
The key to this sort of comedy is in execution rather than invention anyway, and the execution here is winning. Adam Marcus, who debuted fresh out of film school with Jason Goes to Hell, the final Friday the 13th film (so far), directs in a brisk, fluid style driven by James' voice-over. Kipp's script is shaky at times -- there are ill-advised, raggedly written sequences, and patches where the strain of concocting plot complications shows. But his dialogue is bright, and he's served himself well as an actor, crafting a good role for his gangly, long-faced appeal (with proper fraternal loyalty, brother Adam also cast him in Jason Goes to Hell).
Dylan, a newcomer, has that brash-ingénue quality now so common among young American stage actresses -- you can almost see the headshot and résumé in her hand -- and this fits her warily blossoming character nicely. Henry Simmons, looking younger than he does as Detective Baldwin Jones on NYPD Blue -- this film seems to have languished unreleased for a couple of years -- does nice work as the hero's overachiever friend. Though the character is fuzzily written, Miriam Shor is strong as Sarah's dour roommate who later turns into a self-conscious sexpot. And Larry Pine and Debra Sullivan are funny as Sarah's creepy 'rents.
Yet the high point of the film, acting-wise, comes from Bernadette Peters, of all people. Late in the film, James goes home and has dinner with his mother, and they talk frankly, and with an undercurrent of deep fondness, about the psychological baggage she's passed on to him. Peters, usually employed in films either for cuddly comedy or for musical-theater zest, turns in a quiet, convincing, touching performance here. The scene shows that this professional star performer is also, at least sometimes, an actress.
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