Sometimes a film can turn a familiar motif on its head, such as Silver Linings Playbook’s take on bipolar disorder or Her with a love story. Sadly, Barefoot, a new romance directed by veteran film/TV helmer Andrew Fleming (The Craft, Nancy Drew), isn’t one of them—it’s an amalgam of tried-and-true themes minus any originality.
The film stars Scott Speedman as Jay Wheeler, the prodigal son of a wealthy New Orleans family. During the first five minutes, screenwriter Stephen Zotnowski and Fleming show in quick succession that Jay’s life is in a shambles (and he’s kind of a jerk). He refuses to buy the woman in his bed breakfast. He’s no longer welcome at his friendly neighborhood strip club. His horse doesn’t come in at the track. His credit card’s declined at a casino, where a loan shark and henchman remind him that he’s $37,000 in debt.
It’s already heavy-handed, but the revelations don’t stop there. To ensure that viewers really, truly understand the character, a probation officer reads his rap sheet/evaluation aloud, to which Jay responds, “Whoever wrote that … really gets me.” Now we’re six minutes into the film; and while the entire setup is almost laughable, Barefoot isn’t a comedy.
As part of his probation, Jay mops the floors at a psychiatric hospital. Proving he’s not such a bad guy after all, he hangs with a couple of delusional and semi-catatonic patients, providing them with booze and porn during his breaks. He also saves new patient Daisy Kensington (Evan Rachel Wood) from being sexually assaulted by another facility worker.
Daisy’s mother has just passed away, leaving the sheltered girl to fend for herself for the first time in her life. Her naivete and ignorance of the modern world is reminiscent of Jodie Foster’s Nell (without the “Chicka, chicka, chickabee”). Daisy escapes the facility, and Jay takes pity on the barefooted, free-spirited girl. Besides, he desperately needs to bring home a “serious girlfriend” for his brother’s wedding, where he plans to ask his father for a $40,000 business investment to pay off the loan shark. It’s hard to believe that Jay’s stripper friends would turn down a New Orleans weekend, but that’s just one of many plot points the film’s audience is asked to overlook.
In New Orleans, Barefoot borrows scenes from Pretty Woman, in which Daisy charms Jay and his family with her honesty and innocence. But the clock has to strike midnight sometime, and the couple’s ruse is discovered. Although they flew to the wedding without incident, in a contrived development, they’re forced to drive back to Los Angeles because of Jay’s probation violation and the fact that she’s an escapee from a mental facility.
The two steal the only vehicle in Mr. Wheeler’s car collection with the keys in the ignition—a vintage lime-green RV—and road trip back to L.A. The film’s third act, which we won’t spoil here, features even more banalities and an ending that’s tied together too neatly.
The cast assembled for the film, which also includes J.K. Simmons as the hospital’s chief psychiatrist and Treat Williams and Kate Burton as Jay’s parents, are better than the material. There are a few genuinely tender moments between the female characters as Burton shows genuine affection for her son’s new girlfriend, despite her eccentricities.
Through this film and her last project, A Case of You, Wood proves she can portray the entire gamut on the quirky scale. Speedman, who’s best known for his days as heartthrob Ben on the TV show Felicity or as the werewolf in Underworld, plays the contradictory character—a selfish rogue one minute and a patient lover the next—as best he can. While the Barefoot leads do an admirable job, numerous cliches block any chance at an interesting angle on this love story.
Director: Andrew Fleming
Writer: Stephen Zotnowski
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Scott Speedman, J.K. Simmons, Treat Williams, Kate Burton
Release Date: Feb. 21, 2014