Down to You (2000)
Directed by Kris Isacsson
Cast: Freddie Prinze, Jr., Julia Stiles, Zak Orth, Shawn Hatosy, Selma Blair, Henry Winkler, Rosario Dawson, Lucie Arnaz, Ashton Kutcher.
2000 95 minutes
Rated: (for profanity and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, January 21, 2000.
At first glance at the cast list, one may instantly become under the impression that "Down to You" is a "teen" movie. There's Freddie Prinze, Jr. ("She's All That"), Julia Stiles ("10 Things I Hate About You"), Selma Blair ("Cruel Intentions"), Shawn Hatosy ("Outside Providence"), Rosario Dawson ("Light It Up"), and Ashton Kutcher (TV's "That '70s Show"). Times, how they are a' changin', as all of these actors have graduated from being in high school to college, and the finale is even set after college graduation. What has remained the same, however, are the maturity levels of the characters, most of which rarely act like adults, but rather twentysomethings who are still stuck in their high school days.
Told in flashback as the two central characters annoyingly chatter away directly at the screen, discussing how their relationship blossomed, and then ultimately welted away, it is clear Al Connelly (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), an aspiring chef, and Imogen (Julia Stiles), a talented artist, are still in love with each other, so we are forced to sit around for ninety minutes until their inevitable reconciliation. Any film with such a predictable premise can, of course, still work, but it is vital that the writing be sharp, the actors appealing, and the plot developments satisfying and involving. One out of three isn't too bad, considering that it is January, the usual dumping ground for films that the studios have little confidence in, and that the other two 2000 movies I've seen ("Next Friday" and "Supernova") have been haphazard, to put it mildly.
When a film uses the vexatious gimmick of characters narrating the story as they talk squarely to the camera, the technique is usually a sign of amateurishness and desperation on the filmmaker's part. First-time feature-film director Kris Isacsson also wrote the screenplay to "Down to You," and you can easily tell it's a novice effort, as its approach to the subject matter is often shallow, uneven, or just a plain, old bad idea (Al talking to a spider in the middle of a supposed-to-be dramatic montage pops instantly to mind). The relationship between Al and Imogen, which the film centers entirely around, is one that isn't nearly developed enough to be fully engaging. After a couple charming early sequences where they "get to know each other," an overwhelming number of scenes between the two take place in bed, and since this is a PG-13 movie we're talking about, the proceedings come off as acutely tame, and rarely ever push the plot forward.
As Al and Imogen, Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Julia Stiles have winning chemistry with one another, but Stiles consistently acts Prinze, Jr. right off the screen. Clearly, a refreshingly bright talent, Stiles has been a standout in both last spring's superior "10 Things I Hate About You" and this film, and is able to inquire an added level of layers to her character of Imogen. We care for Imogen, and what happens with her, because she is an intelligent, sweet-natured young woman with ideas and goals for herself. In contrast, Prinze, Jr. is undeserving of his recent rising popularity. Frequently wooden or unable to sell the lines of dialogue he is given, his very limited thesp abilities are even more noticeable next to Stiles. Due to this, Al isn't a believable character, and next to Imogen, he seems intellectually lacking. What Imogen sees in Al outside of his cute physical appearance never is made particularly clear, and that is probably because Isacsson was unsure himself while penning the uneven script.
The supporting characters are almost unanonymously badly handled, with only Zak Orth and Shawn Hatosy, as Al's best friends, turning in something resembling more than one dimension. Orth, especially, makes quite an impression as Monk, a quirky pornography filmmaker whom Al is always going to for advice. Throughout the picture, up until his final scene, Orth is gradually able to unveil Monk's human side, and there is a very subtle development late in that is the one surprising element of the film, and actually makes perfect sense when you think back on his earlier scenes. Hatosy has less to do, but is a naturalistic actor, one that never disappoints, no matter how limiting his role is (and let's face it, it is very limited here). Meanwhile, Selma Blair, as Cyrus, a part-time student/adult film actress, is criminally wasted and only sketchily written, while Rosario Dawson, as Imogen's party-girl friend Lana, has even less to do.
"Down to You" is saved from being a total washout because of its final ten minutes, which hint at the possible depth and perceptiveness that the rest of the film is sorely lacking in its topics of true love and lasting relationships. The actors all have the ability to give strong performances, as they have in the past (except for Prinze, Jr., who hasn't proven anything to me yet), but either they are brought down by the unskillful writing, or by not even being given the chance to create flesh-and-blood characters. For example, Blair's Cyrus, we sense, is an individual hiding her insecurities just underneath the surface--a possibly intriguing subplot that the film frustratingly bypasses. For all of its attractive attributes, "Down to You" never rises above being merely skin-deep.
©2000 by Dustin Putman