Comedy can be a very tough gig. As I’ve often said, there’s a certain amount of predictable shtick that goes hand-in-hand with certain comic flicks. For example, films with mature-aged women will have a handful of jokes poking fun at menopause; sports-centric films with have a fair share of guffaws aimed at the differences between the opponents; and films set in small town America will almost always have at least one scene involving the local PTA (or is it now PTO?). Despite these limitations, a talented cast can attack the subject matter with a certain gusto and still rise to the occasion, give it their best work, and deliver an end product that modestly defies expectations. Such is the case with THE HOT FLASHES, a comedy about ‘coming-of-age’ for the other variety.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Beth Humphrey (played by the increasingly appealing Brooke Shields) believes she’s somewhat past her prime: the Texas lady has settled comfortably into the reality that the fast-approaching middle age is going to rob her of her womanhood with the onset of menopause. Her daughter is on the verge of leaving the nest, and her husband (Eric Roberts) may’ve found someone else to satisfy his personal needs. However, when Beth realizes she mistakenly mismanaged the funds for her deceased friend’s last will and testament, she becomes obsessed with setting things right. Needing to raise $25,000 to keep the mobile mammography unit alive, Beth concocts a crazy scheme: a former high school basketball star, she decides to reunite her childhood team to take on the current state champs in a three-game charity match. With a little help from her friends, she just might make it happen!
Broad comedy – and by “broad” I don’t mean women – tends to traffic in the world of stereotypes, and there are plenty of stereotypes on display in THE HOT FLASHES. Shields plays the doting, aging housewife whose marital relationship has lost all spark to solid conviction. Manheim and Madsen take different looks at the town ‘slut.’ Hannah – with enhanced lips that look downright painful – does a nice turn as the local lesbian. And Sykes – despite her penchant for tackling characters with a core of subtle meanness – actually dials it back here as a somewhat ‘token’ black in a town of all white people. It’s these stereotypes that, when played with benign intention, elevate FLASHES to crowd-pleasing status. No, it ain’t gonna break any box office records, but it’s pleasant enough (and mainstream enough) to provide enough laughs for an evening’s rental.
I have to honestly admit I was surprised with FLASHES. I’m normally quite fond of Shields and Madsen’s work, but I haven’t seen anything with Hannah I’ve liked in years (maybe decades). I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything with Sykes that I liked, and I could say the same for Manheim. Here, they pull together and prove themselves a pretty nice ensemble – one befitting a sports team, of all things – and I had fun with this release mostly because they had fun with it. There are some bawdy moments, but I didn’t think any of it offensive. You could think of it as an “Apatow-lite” production, and you’re in fairly safe territory. Director Susan Seidelman has had a solid career at female-focused production – she directed DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, MAKING MR. RIGHT, and a few episodes of SEX AND THE CITY – so it’s clear that her comfort with the subject matter certainly aided the production.
And, somehow, Eric Roberts manages to play his usual scummy self in even such a family friendly picture. Go figure!
THE HOT FLASHES (2013) is produced by Vertical Entertainment and The Hot Flashes LLC. DVD distribution is being handled by Vertical Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, the movie looks and sounds solid consistently from start to finish. As is often the case with these smaller releases, there are no big league special features to speak of, but there are two very relevant additions to the picture: given the film’s subject matter, there are two shorts highlighting the American Cancer Society.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Bucking the trend of being an awful direct-to-DVD release, THE HOT FLASHES has more than enough charm to bring some audiences to their feet, and I’d have to credit Brad Hennig’s competent script, Susan Seidelman’s serviceable direction, and a winning cast of kinda/sorta theatrical has-beens for that. Brooke Shields, frankly, has never looked better as an aging soccer mom who tries to right one of her wrongs with the help of her former high school teammates; throw in the lovely Virginia Madsen and her capable cohorts, and there’s no reason this release should’ve been benched.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Vertical Entertainment provided me with a DVD copy of THE HOT FLASHES by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.