Diane Keaton and Tom Everett Scott star in Surrender, Dorothy, a predictable, over-the-top melodrama plagued with unsympathetic characters, clichés, and unbelievable plot developments. The plot centers on Keaton as she copes with a car accident, which claims the life of her daughter. There is a lot of venom and hostility inside her, as the rest of the world takes a back seat to her own grief. As someone, who has lost a loved one prematurely, I take offense to the behavior of this central character. She’s a sel…ish, loathsome wretch, who feels like she can walk all over her daughter’s friends, simply because she’s the grieving parent. It’s an aggravating picture of grief, and it dims the possibilities of ever feeling for your protagonist. They should have toned her down several notches, because, by the time she does start to behave like a human being, you’re already sick of her. Also, the daughter’s tragic death is made a lot less tragic, when viewers actually get to know the kind of person she was. Her greatest offense is to engage in adulterous sex with her best friend’s husband, who gets her pregnant. Then, in a glowing act of heroism, she aborts the child out of convenience as if she’s having a wart removed. This portrayal does a real disservice to the women out there, who have made this decision out of duress, and then carry it with them all the days of their life. It does a disservice to the women, who wanted to have children, but couldn’t, because doing so would endanger their lives. Within the context of the film, it’s a selfish, loathsome act, from a selfish, loathsome daughter, who was raised by her selfish, loathsome mother.
Needless to say, I hated this film, but not because it was poorly made – or even poorly acted. Keaton is competent enough. Tom Everett Scott, as the token gay best friend – and he really is a token character, in this case – does the best he can with the material and, in fact, elicits more sympathy from viewers than any other character in the film, combined. No, my disdain hinges entirely on the lack of respectability of the characters. Each one – with the exception of Scott and the wife of the adulterous husband – tramples all over the others’ feelings, and uses them to get what they want, until a nice, neat little ending, where we are supposed to believe all is right with the world. It just wasn’t a great idea making a film, which tries to sympathize with the unsympathetic – a film where the only likeable characters are the ones, who take the proverbial back seat. If this is Keaton’s idea of a “good role for female actors of a certain age,” I’d hate to see her idea of a bad one.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic presentation suffers from a few spots of grain, in particular those scenes that take place at night (especially the night of the accident at the FroZone drive-in). Also, there seems to be a certain dim quality to the film that goes throughout the 87-minute running time. It just seems to lack punch in the colors department, and contrast, again, is too grainy to go unnoticed. Overall, it’s a solid transfer, but there is too much going wrong with it, whether the problems are of production or technology, to classify it as anything above a simple “good.”
The 5.1 track steps things up a bit with deep bass and high volume on the basic sound/background noise end. Still, the dialogue levels are too low for such a new feature, and since dialogue does play an important part, it tends to hamper the overall quality of the track. A human drama, such as the one this film strives to be, should not be more dynamic on car crashes and broken glass than it is on words coming from the performances. This creates a minor annoyance with the volley of volume, but it’s still one of the best aspects of the disc.
Two feature-length audio commentaries are featured in the bonus department. By far, the most interesting is the one with Director Charles McDougall and star Keaton. They are at least passionate about the project, and this makes for some interesting moments, if for nothing more than to find out what in the heck they were thinking. The other commentary, with McDougall and the film’s cinematographer, suffers from either the incredibly old age or the apparent recording-fright of the latter. Also included: Previews for other Sony titles.
I have to wonder about the kind of viewer, who can feel the requisite sympathy for this deplorable mother-daughter duo. The film looks and plays like a theatrical release, though it was, in fact, made-for-television. I guess this is a sign that, while production quality has gone up in the Movie-of-the-Week market, film quality has not. I guess the old adage is true: You can’t make a thoroughbred out of two jack-asses. A/V presentation is not some of Sony’s best work, but they probably did their best for this train wreck of a film. If you’re going to buy it sight-unseen, do so for the bonus materials. It’s the only thing Surrender, Dorothy has going for it.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary with Diane Keaton and Director Charles MacDougall
- Audio Commentary with film’s cinematographer and Director Charles MacDougall
- Previews for other Sony titles