Review: 'My Life So Far' is barely there
August 13, 1999
By Reviewer Paul Tatara
(CNN) -- Hugh Hudson's "My Life So Far" is a well-meaning, amiable little movie you've seen maybe 30 times before, even if you've never seen it. This is one of those "I grew up in an eccentric family" testimonials in which a man reminisces in voice-over as we watch him cavort through his idealized childhood.
"My Life So Far" is set on an estate in Scotland, but it could take place in Bora-Bora and it would contain the same string of characters and the same life-defining "wacky" situations.
Story-wise, you get a pinch of everything, from the starry-eyed vision of childhood in "Hope and Glory" to the obsession with aviation and budding sexuality of "The World According to Garp." The characters are also exactly what you're expecting. There's even a sage old grandma whose death engenders the collapse of the family.
It's likely that none of the similarities are intentional, since the narrative is based on a memoir ("Son of Adam") by British television honcho Sir Denis Forman.
But Hudson's film never manages to make an appearance. It's like he's cooking something up in the other room; it smells pretty good, but you'll just have to imagine the meal. And, for a movie that's supposed to deal with big human emotions, it's benign to a fault. There's nothing here to hate, but you'd have to work pretty hard to fall in love with it.
Nothin' says lovin' ...
Robert Norman stars as Fraser Pettigrew, the little tyke who leads us through his supposedly eventful formative years. Fraser and his family live on a beautiful estate owned by his wealthy grandmother, Gamma (Rosemary Harris). Fraser's father, Edward (Colin Firth), is viewed as a bit of a nut by Gamma and his stiff-upper-lip brother, Morris (Malcolm McDowell).
Rich-but-practical Morris would be pleased if Edward could come up with a better income-generating scheme than the one he's currently wasting his time on, namely digging up moss around the estate and selling it by the bag full. It doesn't make the family much money, plus it ruins the grounds.
Edward is always building crazy things like a paddle-driven flotation device and an underground chimney that funnels smoke away from his peat-processing plant. If that doesn't make you fall over in hysterics, you can bet nothing else in the movie will, outside of a couple of innocently sexual one-liners from the oblivious Fraser. There's also a nail-biting curling match for sports enthusiasts.
Nothing much happens for quite a while, including an unexpected visit from a barnstorming French biplane pilot (Tchécky Karyo). Don't' be concerned if you're wondering why the pilot shows up, makes eyes at Fraser's sister, then flies away without her. It's all clarified later on when he shows up again, makes eyes again, and flies away again.
It seems like half of what happens is included for its "whimsical" nature (the sight of a plane unexpectedly dropping out of the sky), rather than for any constructive purpose. Even the pivotal event of the story, when Edward falls for his brother's pretty fiancée, Heloise (Irène Jacob), plays for its entirety as if it's just getting started.
To begin with, Heloise as written is hardly enticing enough to make an apparently happy man turn his back on his loving wife (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, for some reason.) There aren't any big scenes between Firth and Mastrantonio before Jacob shows up, so you have no reason to suspect that Pop might want to stray. You can't even tell that the newcomer is affecting Edward, outside of his being happy to show a pretty woman around the estate and brag about his lame-brained inventions.
Heloise just smiles a lot and playfully throws peat at Fraser, but it's somehow enough to turn Edward into a complete ninny. He pouts and slouches around like a 6-year-old after Heloise rebuffs his attempt to kiss her.
In the end, it all amounts to very little, and that's being generous. This is the least crazy movie you could ever hope to see about people who are trumpeted as oddballs.
There's no bad language in "My Life So Far," and no actual nudity. You do get to see some erotic etchings that Fraser discovers in the attic, and he makes a few remarks about the history of prostitution at the dinner table. Look in your encyclopedia under "Who cares?" Rated PG-13. 93 minutes.
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