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By Rory L. Aronsky | June 9, 2004

Fish-out-of-water movies are so commonplace, that I think there’s probably at least two or three that are released in a given year. One recently came out, “Raising Helen”, where Kate Hudson has to raise her dead sister’s three kids and it’s not all that easy because she’s usually the high living party girl type. Fish-out-of-water movies generally take the idea that a person either has a motivation that pushes them into an unfamiliar world or something beyond their control pushes them there. The thing is, as with many of those, the person involved generally gets used to that world and comes to love it. The only one that really turned that around that I can think of in recent memory was “Kate & Leopold” where, despite it being quite a bad movie (except for Hugh Jackman’s performance), Kate comes back to Leopold’s time and the movie ends right there. Credit that to James Mangold, who’s quite good at what he does when he comes to playing with story conventions.
“Sheila Takes a Bow” takes the same stance as any fish-out-of-water movie, but in a much shorter running time. The main character, Sheila (director, writer, and star Stephanie Saxe) is motivated into an unfamiliar world and certainly one that would be frowned upon by her mother since she is Catholic, as her friend Rachel (Denise Gossett) reminds her. First working at an upscale restaurant, probably somewhere in L.A., Sheila is temporarily out of a job when she learns that the restaurant had a gas leak and a fire has put the establishment out of commission for four months.
Now, four months in L.A. without a job is not possible. Things move fast in that city and Sheila, seeing that her writing is going nowhere, has to take a job somewhere. So a friend of hers suggest that she become a production assistant to a guy named Hugh (Chet Nelson), who works in the porn industry. Would this really be the right job for Sheila, a girl with a Catholic upbringing where porn is not exactly celebrated? Obviously, she has no choice. It’s either that or face an ever-growing pile of bills, many of which are past due.
The trick with fish-out-of-water movies is to try to find a fresh angle to it. Foreigners trying to get used to the United States has been used over and over again (and it will be used again in Steven Spielberg’s “ The Terminal”, though Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) has to get used to a New York airport), and there’s other clichés littered along the grounds of this sub-genre. Stephanie Saxe has managed to keep it completely fresh. Sheila does follow the conventions of a character gradually getting used to a different world, but it’s amusing to watch her try to keep up with the actors who demand lube every now and then and soon creates a uniform that contains all the necessary tools for a successful day on the set. You can’t buy a ticket for that at your local movie theater!
The only element which unfortunately slows down what already is a good story is Sheila’s beau, George (Chad Randau) whom Sheila is constantly bugged about by her friend as to whether she’s done it with George yet. It’s not a subplot really worth getting into because the growing freedom of this character is better shown through her new line of work. However, even with this burden, “Sheila Takes a Bow” has huge amounts of humor and charm throughout, a rarity in a sub-genre that’s been choked by many bad entries.

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