A good friend of mine once wondered why we had to have bad luck scattered throughout our entire lives; why it couldn’t just happen all at once. “Like coughing up a hairball on your wedding night,” was the descriptive phrase my pal Andy used, (later incorporated into the film “Sex and the Single Guy” which was directed by another mutual friend, Jeff Stolhand. Pardon the digression, but one must give proper credit for these things.)
In any event, Claire Goldstein (Alicia Witt) provides a vivid example of why this strategy might not be the best approach for handling life’s foibles after all in Matthew Huffman’s genial and amusing romp “Playing Mona Lisa.”
In a devastating trident of bad luck that strikes nearly simultaneously, Claire, a talented and enchanting 23-year old aspiring pianist, gets rejected by a prestigious piano competition, gets dumped by her boyfriend and gets dumped in the street — or worse, to her parents’ home — by a powerful San Francisco earthquake. Neither Claire’s doting instructor Bennett (Harvey Fierstein) nor her best friends, the irrepressibly boisterous Sabrina (Brooke Langton) and the equally-irrepressibly gloomy Arthur (Johnny Galecki) can completely draw Claire out from the rubble that is her life. The chaos her shallow older sister Jenine’s (Molly Hagan)impending wedding wreaks upon Claire’s mom Sheila (a still stunning Marlo Thomas) and the mid-life crisis afflicting her father Bernie (Elliott Gould)only adds to Claire’s manic depression.
Eventually, however, Claire begins showing some signs of life after meeting and becoming infatuated with the darkly handsome Eddie (Ivan Sergei). No knight in shining armor, however, Eddie isn’t quite whom he claims to be and, at a raucously disastrous engagement party — not exactly a hairball on the wedding night, per se, but close enough — Claire’s personal meltdown echoes the one her family suffers.
Though not tremendously original and definitely not even remotely “edgy,” “Playing Mona Lisa” is nonetheless a pleasant enough film, gently amusing and filled with enough familiar and/or attractive faces and good-natured gags to make the time pass by easily. (The one unabashedly hysterical moment is watching mom and dad inadvertently tripping on acid.) Everyone from the relative newcomers to such seasoned pros as Gould, Thomas and Fierstein seemed to be enjoying themselves and the material, thus adding to the film’s friendly feel. A special nod must be give to Ms. Witt, a lithe and charismatic young lass who appears to play a mean piano on her way to winning over the audience.
For some strange reason, this mildly amusing film reminds me of a slightly more grown up version of such 80s John Hughes films as “Pretty in Pink” and “Sixteen Candles.” Not nearly the masterpiece that its enigmatic namesake is, perhaps. But not too bad either.