Thursday, May 30, 2024

Whatever Wednesdays: ‘My Chauffeur’

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David Beaird wrote and directed My Chauffeur and it’s clear he has a great love for the old Hollywood screwball classics. It is also clear that he cannot make up his mind. Beaird has attempted to make the most ‘80s movie possible, up to and including, gratuitous nudity and the characters with names like Catfight.

Thankfully we have Deborah Foreman as Casey. A young woman who’s recently been hired as a limo driver for the exclusive Witherspoon agency. As the first woman limo driver the agency has ever had she is, of course, not welcome. Casey is hired by the owner of the company Mister Witherspoon himself played by E.G. Marshall. 

That’s plot A.

Plot B comes along in the form of Witherspoon’s son Battle (Sam J. Jones).  He gets drunk and wakes up in Casey’s bed.  Sober he remembers he cannot stand Casey. The two will be lovers by the end of act two, as befitting the genre’s structure. In screwball comedies, the characters spend much of the movie hating each other while we the audience secretly delight in hoping they will see how perfect for each other they really are in the end. 

Except Beaird’s script is so ham-fisted we wind up wondering why these two don’t just flat out murder each other. So much so, that even after they have sex and wake up on good terms and Battle asks Casey to marry him, the audience is in danger of whiplash. She asks him his name and he says it doesn’t matter. Philosophically speaking Battle is right, but Casey’s question is both prudent and fair.

The main problem is Foreman; she’s amazing. Her chaotic energy is both intoxicating and almost threatens to sink the film under its impossible weight. She mutters, screams, curses, flirts, and makes dirty jokes. Which would be amazing if everyone else seemed to be in the same movie she was in.

But they’re not. And it’s not that the rest of the actors are bad either. Jones is actually quite good as the upright, if slightly, psychotic stereotypical businessman. The one chauffeur who welcomes Casey is O’Brien (Sean McClory). O’Brien is a charming guide through the world of the chauffeurs. Well, he would but Bearid bothered to allow to explore or even give us a glance at the world. Instead, we’re treated to a bunch of old fogies indulging in locker room talk and bemoaning the state of the world now that women can be chauffeurs. 

Casey seems flung from a Marx Brothers movie, while the rest of the cast seems like they’re auditioning for a Caddyshack knock-off. Foreman is like a Tasmanian Devil tearing through every scene with a zest unmatched by anyone else. Likely this is by design, Beaird attempting to show the friction of both the classes and the generations. 

Which, by the way, is plot C. Casey’s attempt to break the glass ceiling of limo drivers. Actually, more like the glass door, the glass wall, and the glass floor. The head of the organization, McBride (Howard Hessman) does everything he can to make sure Casey fails her trial period. Of course, our spunky heroine prevails over every obstacle.

Oh, and I almost forgot Plot D, in which Mr. Witherspoon is, in fact, Casey’s father, which is why he hired her for the company in the first place. Apparently, he had an affair with a housemaid, Casey’s mother. Those of you following along at home might remember Plot B where Battle the square-jawed love interest is Witherspoon’s son. Don’t worry if you forgot a couple of times I could have sworn the movie forgot too.

Battle introduced Casey to Mr. Witherspoon, who confesses he is her father. He tells them they are brother and sister putting the kibosh on their nuptials. Casey and Battle sit slack-jawed. Casey begins to giggle and says “We’ve been bad,” leaving both Witherspoon and myself wondering what wrong turn at Albuquerque has Beaird taken. 

Thankfully we find out a few seconds later that Witherspoon’s affair with the housemaid does not mean he is the father, another chauffeur is.  But all this information is kept hidden from us simply because Battle refuses to tell Casey his name for no other reason so as to reveal the end after a curveball incest joke. A joke which isn’t that funny but manages to work because of Foreman’s demented delivery.  

It’s frustrating because that’s My Chauffeur in a nutshell. Sometimes it’s kind of hysterical and weirdly charming. While at other times tedious and grating. I found myself laughing in the weirdest times. Foreman and Jones have no chemistry but that doesn’t mean they’re not talented. And for one brief moment, the couple click. 

While in the back of the limousine Battle is despondent over his recent divorce. Casey climbs back and gets him drunk. What follows is two actors essentially wailing, moaning, and screaming at each other in act of sheer primitive nonsense that somehow had me near tears cackling. I don’t know why I found it so hysterical, I just did. 

Foreman has a way of delivering her lines in a way that feels less like they are written and more as if she has divined them on the spot. In one scene Foreman has a monologue. Each line seems to come from a different dimension. It’s a thing of sheer manic beauty. 

Alas, Foreman can only do so much. The plots never really gel. While it may have fast-talking and wacky misunderstandings it has no structure. It never feels as if My Chauffeur is building to anything. Scenes follow one after the other without rhyme or reason. 

The last thirty minutes which should be a frantic free-for-all as our characters barrel toward a revelation are instead spent on one of Casey’s clients. A protracted scene that goes on for an eternity and despite the attempts of the actors comes off as tedious and forced. A shock since the clients are played by none other than Penn & Teller.  

For those who may not know, Penn & Teller are magicians. Penn is the fast-talking spokesman and Teller is the quiet and stoic assistant. Here Teller plays an Arab Sheik while Teller plays a conman named Bones, who attempts to con the Sheik out of his money while taking him out for a good time. Just about the time, I began to wonder what was the point of all this Penn cries out, “Now it’s time for the requisite nude scene.”  He then begins to buy pieces of the women’s clothing. Rarely has a scene been so protracted, forced, tortured, and yet so nakedly self-aware. 

My Chauffeur wants badly to be two things that have no business being together. Harry Mathias tries to give Beaird’s film soft lighting for the romantic scenes, but even a gifted cameraman can only do so much. Though the opening shot has wonderful promise. Mathias’ camera follows a letter from Witherspoon’s mansion, to Sunset Blvd, to the restaurant manager, to the waiter and on down to Casey at the dishwasher. The letter starts out pristine and only becomes more dirty and crumpled before being tossed into the sink of dirty dishes. 

It’s a wonderful look at the differences between the classes and the caste system of a restaurant but My Chauffeur isn’t interested in class, in any other way except as a prop. Beaird doesn’t seem that concerned with the movie proper much less any accidental social commentary he might make. 

My Chauffeur is a movie deeply of its time, 1986, but wants badly to be like the screwball comedies of the ‘30s and ’40s. The result is frenetic forced lunacy that occasionally allows for some genuine anarchic comedy but is almost suffocated by its a desire to be wacky with a capital ‘w’. The movie can never make up its mind what it wants to be. In the end, it winds up being nothing at all. 

Image courtesy of Crown International Pictures

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