Katie Holmes, aka “America’s Sweetheart in Dawson’s Creek”, had appeared in a couple of action films before this 2014 Karen Leigh Hopkins-written and directed movie. However, she had never appeared as a protagonist and certainly hadn’t been presented as Charles Bronson in a floral dress. This probably explains why this movie has managed to slip under the radar. Well; that and it being panned by the critics for the high crime of being a bit odd but not in the way they liked.
The film lays its central premise out in the first scene, which is an extended version of the trailer and thus all 100% spoiler free. Miss Meadows (Katie Holmes) is walking along Pleasant Street, USA, replete with (occasionally dodgy CGI) Disneyesque animals, reading a book of poetry and occasionally tap dancing, when an uncouth gentleman demands, with menaces, that she get in his car so he can molest her. So, she shoots him in the head and then carries on her way.
We then discover that in between acts of vigilante justice she’s a primary school teacher, treating adults like inconsequential minors and children as real people who deserve to be taken very seriously. She lives alone in a lovely house, likes poetry and gardening, regularly talks to her mom who worries about her, and is dedicated to the nice and polite things of life. Also; executions of undesirables that you could argue are self-defence but that she seems to enjoy enough for you to know she’s getting kicks from it.
Whilst rescuing a frog from the middle of a highway bridge she meets the Sheriff (James Badge Dale), then strikes up a very proper and delightful romance. Whilst you’ve probably guessed that he’s investigating the spate of local vigilante killings, the rest was a constant stream of blindsides from the script, with every twist well set-up and thoroughly earned but unpredictable enough to keep you guessing. That you need to watch to find out, but the spoiler free version is that it’s all a heady tale of the relationship between Miss Meadows, the Sheriff, Miss Meadows’ mother, and the children she teaches.
Although the film touches on satire, and nudges up against farce, both Holmes and Dale keep things just the right side of a relationship between two charming characters who approach the world slightly out of step. They are quirky, but not to the point of distraction and, more importantly, in a fashion that you can understand makes them very good at their jobs. There is also enough real fear, love, and tension throughout to make it feel true. There is also a sex scene that is just brilliantly hilarious, loving, and sexy, making you totally believe in their situation.
It’s also worth giving a big shout to the various child actors in this film, as they do great performances of being regular kids. This further helps ground a movie that trades in almost surreal black comedy and touches on some genuinely dark issues. Admittedly the core setup isn’t explored in any great moral detail, and comes across as not far off as much of a 2nd Amendment endorsement as Deathwish did in 1974, but that felt like the director letting the audience make a judgement rather than ducking the issue at hand.
As the movie works out more as a drama and character piece, rather than a full blow action movie, people who want a Pulp Fiction version of Mary Poppins may end up a little let down. But the novelty of such an idea would wane rapidly, and remove what gives this film it’s solid grounding. Much like the titular character, this film refuses to be hurried along, uses only the words and scenes that are needed, and ensures that things are done in a civil manner. The body count is low, but each moment is memorable and it manages to avoid feeling drawn out without having to rush anywhere. The performances, combined with the unpredictability, make it a Treasure without having to be flashy or loud.