Katie Holmes shines in oddball vigilante pic; so-so movie survives on the strength of some cute scenes, and a couple of good performances.
by Don Stradley
The opening shot of Karen Leigh Hopkins' Miss Meadows is a dandy. We see Katie Holmes as the prim and proper title character tap dancing down a suburban sidewalk, reading a book of poetry. A goon in a pickup truck says something lewd to her. She shoots him with a dainty little pistol. She weeps, not only because some of the blood from her victim has spattered her crisp white dress, but also because, I sensed, her idyllic morning was ruined. If only the rest of the movie had been so cryptic and unpredictable.
Miss Meadows, it turns out, is a vigilante of some sort. When she's not working as a substitute teacher, she's emptying the streets of perverts and molesters. She does a lot of this in broad daylight and manages to go unnoticed, even as her victims pile up. Eventually, a local sheriff (James Badge Dale) takes on the case, suspects Miss Meadows is the one he's searching for, but also happens to fall in love with her strange mannerisms and, I assume, her hot body. They do have a great bedroom scene, one of the sweetest of the past decade or so, but their chemistry is suspicious. Some of her behaviour is so oddball that I have a hard time believing anyone wouldn't think she was batty.
Miss Meadows eventually befriends one of her little students, kills some more people, finds herself impregnated by the sheriff, and reveals that an incident from her childhood is what set her off on her mission to rid the streets of bad men. It all feels like a cheap origin story culled from an old comic book.
There was a film made a few years ago where Jody Foster played a woman whose husband was killed, and she, too, became a sort of vigilante. A cop befriended her in that one, too. If I recall correctly, he lets her go at the end, feeling she'd suffered enough. That movie almost succeeded because it was gritty and mean. This one is too self-consciously quirky to have any major impact on our senses or our emotions. Holmes thinks there is enough conflict going on just in having Miss Meadows be an optimist, enduring catty comments from neighbors who call her naive for her upbeat manner. Meanwhile, she encourages her students to release balloons into heaven in honor of a recently deceased teacher. She's a sweet person, and her students grow to love her.
Some of this is especially effective because of Katie Holmes' mercurial performance. She allows us to see just enough cracks beneath her chipper facade to make us think she might be on the verge of a mental breakdown, then she bounces back, focusing on her tap shoes, or trying to keep her students from dwelling on anything negative.
When a new ex-con (Callan Mulvey) arrives in her neighborhood (many have been released due to overcrowded prisons), Miss Meadows sets about meeting him and explaining that she will end his life if he does anything bad. He's a formidable foe, though, and takes her challenge seriously.
This is when the movie loses its footing. We get all sorts of pumped up drama that doesn't seem connected to the first part of the movie, which was mildly amusing, and slightly skewed. Ultimately, Miss Meadows goes unpunished. Is it because Miss Meadows wears taps on her shoes that we're supposed to think she deserves a happy life outside of prison walls? By the end, the sheriff seems like a flat character, jammed into the story for the sole purpose of loving her, while she seems less like a human being and more like a traditional movie psycho found in projects like this one.
Much of their relationship involves him not quite keeping up with her, for she tends to answer questions in a literal fashion. Example: When she starts discussing murder after they make love, he says "Is that your idea of pillow talk?" She responds, "Pillows don't talk." He goes with the flow. She is, after all, an attractive woman. But I can't accept a hard-nosed cop being such a pushover for a pretty face. If he, too, were deranged, then I could buy it. But we see nothing in his persona to make us think they really belong together.
There is a subplot that I enjoyed, involving Miss Meadows and one of her students (a delightful Ava Kolker, who just became my favorite child actress). This is a sweetly developed little friendship, and it made me think of the potential story in a disturbed teacher and a needy eight year old. Unfortunately, it's not developed beyond a few cute scenes.
It's also cute when Miss Meadows begins tap dancing to her beau's imaginary accordion playing. They're in a park, enjoying a picnic, when he reveals that he once wanted to play the accordion, which she informs him is the world's second least appreciated instrument. As she dances, and he joins her, the movie takes on a Harold & Maude weirdness, which would have been nice had it continued. Hopkins wanted this movie to be a little bit of everything - part vigilante fairy tale, part quirky indy pic, part offbeat romance. But you can't have everything, especially when it's all squashed into 90 minutes.