Antiheroes, of course, are nothing new, not in the slightest. We don’t always know whether to root for them or against them. We also don’t usually see them in fluffy dresses and tap shoes, either, like the title character in 2014’s Miss Meadows.
The movie lays out everything right at the get-go. We see Miss Meadows (Katie Holmes) walking down the street in a floaty floral dress looking like a Stepford Wife, and calling her perky is an understatement. She’s reading poetry. She communes with birds and squirrels by pointing at them and smiling. She smiles at deer bounding across neighborhood lawns. She even tap dances a la an adult Carmelita Spats, only way less bratty. Instead of goodbye, she always says, “Toodle-oo.”
Then a creepy middle-aged guy drives up and tries to make a pass at her (read: abduct her), but Miss Meadows rebuffs him. He points a gun at her because that’s what creepers always do when women blow them off (heh), but to his surprise, Miss Meadows pulls a gun out of her purse and shoots him in the neck, after which she whips out her poetry book and goes on her merry way.
Yeah, that’s how this movie rolls. Pretty much.
Miss Meadows is a substitute for a first grade class whose teacher is dying from cancer. Her students are confused and saddened by Mrs. Dodd’s illness, and Miss Meadows has them draw Get Well Soon cards for her. The principal refuses to send them to Mrs. Dodd, so Miss Meadows takes them to the hospital herself. It’s a fruitless endeavor, though, because by the time she gets there Mrs. Dodd has died.
To help her students feel better, Miss Meadows has them tie their cards onto balloons, which they release as a class, and because everyone’s feeling down, she buys ice cream. There’s a random guy, Skylar (Callan Mulvey) standing next to the ice cream truck with a dog, and he’s undeniably sinister. Not only is he a sidler, but the dude never blinks. Miss Meadows takes his leeriness in stride, though, and warns her students away from petting the guy’s dog.
As for her home life, Miss Meadows lives in a lower-income neighborhood. She’s pretty mysterious and moves around a lot, although she’s very friendly with the neighbors. Mostly. She calls her mother (Jean Smart) whenever she gets a free moment and isn’t interested in dating. Her neighbor, Mrs. Davenport (Mary Kay Place) tries to set her up with a young dentist, only to be perkily rebuffed.
Miss Meadows is dead gone (no pun intended) when she meets the sheriff (James Badge Dale), and vice versa. Sheriff. That’s the only name this guy gets. Anyway, Sheriff and Miss Meadows have a great time driving and going on picnics. They get pretty close, so much so that Miss Meadows winds up pregnant. Of course, Sheriff proposes, and of course Miss Meadows accepts.
In the midst of this, though, Sheriff discovers a sketch of a woman who moves from town to town killing criminals in the name of justice. Yep, it’s supposed to be Miss Meadows, although it sort of looks like a cross between Wednesday Addams and something a darker, grittier Napoleon Dynamite would draw. So now Sheriff has a decision to make.
When he finds out Miss Meadows killed a priest after catching him sexually abusing a young boy, Sheriff has to decide whether to put her in jail or protect her. Miss Meadows’ motives were honorable, after all. And he just might need her to catch that Skylar dude, a sexual predator who’s violating his parole by stalking Miss Meadows and her first graders.
Miss Meadows is an unexpected film, that’s for sure. I was torn between shock and gladness that the title character was so handy with a semi-automatic pistol, and found myself wondering who would get knocked off next. The mean school principal, for instance, came pretty close to crossing the line, but she makes it out unscathed. On the other hand, Miss Meadows waits a long time to kill people who really deserve it, namely the Skylar guy. It’s the old fish-in-a-barrel scenario (argh, another unintended pun) and yet the gun stays in the purse.
Does anyone find it disturbing to wish for a character to shoot someone, even if they’re a baddie? It makes me feel a little icky, probably because some of the people Miss Meadows shoots aren’t directly threatening anyone’s life and limb. These are the mind games this film plays with the viewer.
I definitely have reservations about Katie Holmes as Miss Meadows, although I like her as an actress and a person. She can do a babykins voice with the best of ’em, but her character needed to be a tad perkier. Like Elle Woods with a gun. Then the fact that she shoots bad guys is a bigger shock. Holmes seems more comfortable with smouldering broodiness (see Teaching Mrs. Tingle, Disturbing Behavior, and, of course, Dawson’s Creek), so perkiness probably isn’t her thing. I did, however, like her character’s steeliness and that she brought some depth to Miss Meadows’s solitary moments, because it shows she isn’t quite as cheerful and together as she seems.
It also would have been nice if the filmmakers had made the movie a winsome, twisted fairytale. Instead of Miss Meadows staring and pointing at birds and deer, maybe have some of them follow her. They’re CGI, so it wouldn’t have been much for them to tail her and then hang around Miss Meadows’ house or classroom or something. Maybe they could all sing some trilly little melody together just to emphasize their friendship.
The other reason I had trouble getting into the film was because it’s not very personal. Most of the main characters didn’t have first names. Miss Meadows doesn’t have one. The poor Sheriff doesn’t have one. One would think that since these characters are in a relationship there would be some first names dropped somewhere, but nope. It holds the viewer at arm’s length, especially since the story isn’t compelling enough on its own merits.
I really wanted to like Miss Meadows, but it doesn’t nearly live up to its potential, and the negative reviews it garnered from both audiences and critics have swept it under the proverbial rug in the years since its release. Still, the filmmakers deserve kudos for thinking big, and there’s something satisfying about irony and just desserts.
The Van Johnson Blogathon is coming up on Thursday. Thanks for reading, all…
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