Just as actresses of a certain age have trouble finding serious roles, so do female directors. The careers of two women once known for indie cred hit crisis point this summer with a pair of cable-ready movies. Mary Harron, director of the dryly wicked American Psycho, hit the Lifetime Channel last month with her Anna Nicole biopic. That sensationalist tell-all at least had some hints of the director’s visual flair, and it may be a better movie than her patronizing Bettie Page biopic. Director Susan Seidelman takes a steeper fall from indie grace, with a supposedly inspirational movie that may as well have been a Hallmark Channel product, but is somehow getting a theatrical release.
It has been thirty years since Seidelman made her first feature, the indie-minded Smithereens (1982). That debut starred punk icon Richard Hell and featured a soundtrack by the Feelies, neither of whom would be caught dead anywhere near Seidelman’s new movie. The Hot Flashes reads like any number of cable listings with B-list talent. In the small Texas town of Burning Bush (seriously), a pink-ribboned mammovan faces shutdown, but unhappily married Beth (Brooke Shields) (see what I mean about the casting?) tracks down the now middle-aged members of the town’s women’s high school basketball champs to raise money for a good cause.
It’s all so inspirational, but there is something degrading about all this supposed empowerment: Beth stays with her no-good husband (Eric Roberts) (see what I mean about casting?) longer than any woman should, and the filmmakers even have their charges recruit a vertically challenged veterinarian (Mark Povinelli) who lost his license to coach their team. The only thing this movie formula is missing is a round of “Axel F” to accompnay the team, called the Hot Flahses, natch, at practice.
Yet one positive takeaway from this bad movie is that despite the terrible script, Brooke Shields gives one of her most credible performances in recent memory. She may be playing a version of herself, but I’m not sure she’s acted as naturally since Pretty Baby, when she was young and exploited and a raw talent. The title aside, The Hot Flashes is unfortunately not a middle-aged coming of age movie, but it is a sober coming of age for a once edgy director.
In theatres July 12.