By James Teitelbaum | January 18, 2009

In director Mike Meiners’ second feature “The Trouble With Dee Dee,” comedienne Lisa Ann Walter completely transforms herself into the kooky and self-absorbed middle-aged heiress Dee Dee Rutherford. Traipsing around her upper crust North Shore neighborhood (the expensive suburbs just north of Chicago) in sweat pants, flip-flops, and an unkempt mop of black hair, Dee Dee lives recklessly with little regard for anyone’s needs but her own. Or so it seems.

We later discover that she is sort of the Mister Magoo of charity, blindly helping people without really realizing how much of a difference she is making in people’s lives. At the same time, her own family are sorely neglected: she has little compassion for the needs of her gay son Chris (Mason Gamble), and she is also continually making things difficult for her wealthy father William (played by reliable character actor Kirkwood Smith). The child-like Dee Dee is so wrapped up in gratifying her own immediate frivolous needs that she absolutely fails to see how her actions impact the people around her.

When Dee Dee upsets her stuffy father for the “last time”, he cancels her credit cards and throws her out of his house. With her son Chris and housekeeper Yugo (J.P. Manoux) in tow, Dee Dee inadvertently embarks on a journey of self-actualization. She opens her eyes for the first time, finally seeing the people around her as fully formed individuals who are effected by her actions. She also sees that has let them all down.

It all sounds rather grim and heavy, but “The Trouble With Dee Dee” is actually a comedy.

What makes it all work is Walter’s portrayal of Dee Dee. Although she is trite and self-absorbed, Dee Dee also has a charming side, and Walter juggles these complexities with aplomb. Although the character is usually played for laughs, there are a few further layers here that we begin to see as the film progresses. I did not care for Dee Dee as a person. Were she a real individual, I might find her to be crass and annoying. However, Walter’s performance as Dee Dee is noteworthy.
Most of the supporting players are equally well-crafted. For example, I was relieved that Gamble didn’t portray his gay character as a lisping femmy stereotype. The exception is Manoux, who seems to be in a different film than the rest of the cast; his slapstick performance is completely different in tone from anything else in the film.

The story here is not terribly original, and the ending is certainly a bit mawkish. However, for all of its lack of originality, the script is tightly written, and the film is well-paced (exception: the entire movie grinds to a halt when William digresses into a seemingly endless story about his relationship with his own father). There are just a few plot points to quibble about. We never find out what happened to Dee Dee’s mother, or to the man who fathered Dee Dee’s son. One also has to wonder why William makes Chris and Yugo leave their home when Dee Dee gets evicted. Surely these two men were not responsible for Dee Dee’s poor behavior, but they are punished nontheless.

Ultimately, the trouble with “The Trouble with Dee Dee” is that a really well-crafted character is lost in a simply average film that will not be widely seen.

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