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Without a Parent Motive

Michael Hoffman's One Fine Day is a fantasy about family values with an awful case of high blood pressure. Starring Michelle Pfeiffer as a man-weary single mom and E.R. idol George Clooney as a woman-weary single dad who have kids enrolled at the same school, it spends one frantic weekday careening through a Manhattan nightmare of ringing mobile phones, missed appointments, career crises, honking horns and needy offspring. It collapses on Pfeiffer's couch in the evening when--finally, mercifully--it has nothing left to say.

The perpetrators of this comic frenzy, writers Terrel Seltzer and Ellen Simon and director Hoffman, want us to know (in case we had any doubts) that urban working-parent life in the Nineties is no bowl of cherries. Especially if a Mom's got a crucial business presentation to make and her little boy (Alex D. Linz), who's literally missed the boat for the class field trip, likes to lodge marbles in his nose. Or if Dad's daughter (Mae Whitman), who's also missed the boat, suddenly wanders off into traffic when he's got a critical press conference to cover. The moviemakers also want us to believe that a couple of strangers who don't like each other very much when they're thrown together at 7 a.m. can get through the day's hundred obstacles and still find time to fall in love by sunset. What's more, they can instantly manufacture their own Saturday Evening Post family tableau.

Those enamored of Day's intermittent fairy-tale charms may still have a hard time with the premise--and with the movie's false but relentless busyness. As Melanie Parker, an architectural artist by trade and a control freak by nature, Pfeiffer seems overcome here by some rare gas that compels her to shout detailed directions at cab drivers, sprint along sidewalks like a lunatic and yank her cute little onscreen son along for the ride as if he were a second briefcase. She's got a smashed building model to get fixed quick, ten meetings, cocktails at 5:30 and Sammy's soccer game at 6. So get out of the way, New York.

Clooney's unconvincing Jack Taylor is a piece of busy work his own self. Star columnist for the Daily News (you know: witty, sloppy, easygoing, immature and misogynistic), on this day he's nailing down--let's see here--a little story that will put the mayor out of office and the Mafia behind bars. What these moviemakers don't know about the newspaper biz could fill volumes, but they don't grasp romantic comedy, either. In the course of their harried rush through the city--home, office, boat wharf, daycare, doctor's office, shrink's couch, 21 Club, City Hall, Elizabeth Arden, Central Park, police station, Grand Central Station, Carnegie Deli, antique shop, ice cream parlor and more--Melanie and Jack start to look an awful lot like caricatures. By mid-afternoon, we get the awful, sinking feeling that they also have to carry a 500-pound gorilla of meaning on their backs.

For in the end, One Fine Day (with title song sung, out of tune, by Natalie Merchant) is more than a valentine to second love at first sight. It also insists that the nuclear family itself, in shreds only this morning, has been magically reconstituted in a single day. "Mom and Dad," a pairing that didn't exist at dawn, now sit slumbering and entwined on the couch; "the kids," distant classmates only yesterday, are now giggling together on the bed, watching The Wizard of Oz.

Nice collective fantasy, isn't it? In an age when competing political parties and assorted interest groups fight tooth and nail to corner the market on "family values," One Fine Day presumes to clear the air and set everything straight in one overheated flash of feel-good comedy. That's a grand conceit--and wish though we might, no load of frenzied charm can support it.

--Gallo

One Fine Day. Screenplay by Terrel Seltzer and Ellen Simon. Directed by Michael Hoffman. With Michelle Pfeiffer, George Clooney, Mae Whitman and Alex D. Linz.

 
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