So the other day I watched (on DVD) FINDING AMANDA, which stars Matthew Broderick as a TV writer who is hiding his serious gambling problem (he likes the horses) from his wife.
When he learns that his niece (played by Brittany Snow) is turning tricks in Las Vegas, Broderick volunteers to go get her and to put her into rehab, though actually it's just an excuse for him to go to Vegas and gamble more.
He finds her, but doesn't stop her as she turns more tricks, while she likes her job, which is painted here as being a pretty drama-free for a pretty young girl to make some good money (at times it's practically a recruitment ad). Indeed, even at the end there's every implication that she is going to stick with it.
This could easily have been a serious character piece, a la LEAVING LAS VEGAS, but instead the filmmakers keep trying to make it a wacky comedy, complete with strident "ha ha isn't this funny" music and Broderick pulling every comic-reaction face he has learned from his 80 years in the business.
(Okay, he isn't that old. But he's starting to look his age. Apparently the picture in the attic got accidentally sold in a garage sale. Obscure reference. Okay, moving on).
The problem with FINDING AMANDA is that there just isn't anything funny to this story at all. At all. It just feels like a train wreck, pretty much all the way through. Even when Steve Coogan shows up, he doesn't have anything funny to do.
There have been a lot of movies that have blended comedy and drama successfully. Let's take BEVERLY HILLS COP, which has a serious basic storyline -- tracking down the killer of your friend -- and layers a lot of funny scenes on top of it.
Because the humor comes from the comic conflicts. Eddie Murphy in LA, reacting with the pretentious peeople there. Eddie Murphy jiving with the bad guys. Eddie messing with the uptight LA cops.
FINDING AMANDA has no layer of funny. It's all just sort of icky, even to me, who is no blushing rose.
And the revelation in writer/director Peter Tolan's commentary that it is sort of based on a true story (he had a gambling problem, it was the daughter of a friend who was hooking) just makes it feel like he is in denial.
Trying to blend genres is fine -- but it needs to work.