9 February 2016 | ronsmith-628-823334
Sweet dreams are made of this
It's easy to look forward to a new film from Chicago's Sole Productions and its producer/director/writer Robert Alaniz. The scripts he writes are always witty and intelligent, his characters are three-dimensional and come the resolution of his movies you always feel as if you've learned a little more about the human condition and invested your time in the theater wisely.
So it is with Robert's seventh feature (and third-straight comedy), "Mind Over Mindy." The movie centers around Tom, a middle-aged man engaged to be married to Tina, who's a prominent divorce attorney. As the nuptials approach, however, Tom and Tina's relationship is foundering and appears headed in the same direction as his previous three engagements. What's causing the trouble is the memory of Tom's first love, Mindy, who broke up with him at age 18 but who continues to appear regularly in his dreams. When Mindy dumped Tom he literally almost ended his life and figuratively did end it, giving up his dream of being a lawyer and settling for a successful but unrewarding life as a car salesman.
And if that isn't enough, one morning Mindy steps out of Tom's dreams and appears in his life for real, causing no small measure of chaos. Imagine having to explain to your fiancée how you happen to have a sexy but naïve 18 year-old Milli Vannili-loving anachronism living in your home with you. Your explanation would probably be as weak as Tom's.
Sound complicated? It is. And in the hands of the wrong director and cast it could become very disorienting. Robert wisely refrains from explaining too much: how does Mindy come to life? Tom doesn't know, Mindy doesn't know and Robert isn't telling-- though he does let Mindy explain that when she's not in Tom's dreams she normally appears in the dreams of others (and apparently fulfills their fantasies).
Newcomer Catherine McCafferty plays Mindy with a veteran presence that belies her years. In a tour-de-force she is actually playing three characters-- the not-so-nice Mindy from 1989 who cheated on Tom and literally says, "The devil made me do it"; the perfect Mindy of Tom's dreams who begs for his forgiveness and his intimacy; and the dream who comes to life and experiences what reality is all about both emotionally and physically (while I'm not normally a fan of flatulence jokes, Mindy's first-time experience with bean burritos was quite amusing).
Steve Parks, who was wonderful as an eccentric new age salesman in Robert's last film, "You Don't Say," gets a chance to run with the lead role of Tom and doesn't disappoint. In one especially enjoyable scene he tries to prove he's still dreaming while at work by launching into an over-the-top rendition of "She'll Be Comin' Around The Mountain," complete with snappy choreography and wild sound effects. By the end of the song he comes to realize he is indeed awake and has embarrassed himself in front of co-workers and customers alike.
Tom's fiancée, Tina, presented a difficult challenge for Ann Hagemann to portray. Tina starts out quite unlikeable. She's petulant and manipulative, forcing Tom to see her own psychiatrist to work out his problems because he's helped her so much. It's doubtful the doctor has done anything for her since the self-absorbed Tina has never even noticed the shrink's obvious schizophrenia. Note that Tom sells Fords but the independent Tina drives a Toyota.
Tina has also "settled". She set aside emotional happiness and instead settled on a career. And while, to her credit, she realizes that she loves Tom, she sabotages the relationship by trying to push him closer to her own ideal. Frankly, it's easy to root against Tom and Tina's marriage until Mindy, of all people, breaks through Tina's stoic façade and exposes her vulnerability. It's at that point that the audience becomes sympathetic towards Tina. Fortunately, Ann handles these changes with the subtle deftness of a real professional.
Oh, and that wacky psychiatrist? It's Larry Thomas, appearing in his second-straight Sole Productions comedy. I'm not sure this role is the one that will cause fans to stop calling him "The Soup Nazi," but it is a performance he can be proud of.
Another "name" actor in the film is Jim O'Heir of TV's "Parks And Recreation" as the owner of the car dealership where Tom works. Jim and Robert both started out in a south suburban Chicago improvisational troupe so it was only natural that the two would ad-lib a scene, with Robert as a hapless salesman being berated by Jim. It's to the movie's credit that Jim was allowed to add to the script with spontaneous embellishments.
(As an aside, the late film critic Roger Ebert had what he called the "First Rule of Funny Names" that stated, "No names are funny unless used by W.C. Fields or Groucho Marx." Can we add Jim O'Heir as "Dick Weiner" to the list? No. But in this case, the character is still funny even if the name is just crude.)
Financing for "Mind Over Mindy"abruptly fell through just before filming began but you'd never know it from the finished product. The cinematography, sound and lighting are all Hollywood-quality and even the music, from Tyrone Lancaster and the Aaron Williams band, evokes the feel of Mindy's '80s era. Robert continues to make outstanding independent films without Tinseltown budgets and, with the recent national distribution of an earlier movie, "Angels In Our Midst", one can only hope that other studios will take notice of his work.
"Mind Over Mindy" is a pleasant and thoughtful exploration of how the past can warp our present and future unless we have the courage to break away and make our dreams come true. And that's certainly time invested wisely at the theater.