This tale of a teenage girl overlooked by her marriage-prone parents never escapes its sitcom premise and finally gives in to an ending so hackneyed it practically defines the term. There are a few worthwhile moments in between, but not enough to keep “Big Girls” from looking small and frail at the box office, where getting even–in dollars and cents terms–should be a real challenge. Even with the reasonably deft guidance of director Joan Micklin Silver the film struggles under its heavy-handed screenplay, featuring a stilted narration by teen protagonist Laura (Hillary Wolf) that’s a mix of bad one-liners and romance-novel angst.
Laura resides with her uncaring mother (Margaret Whitton), rich stepfather (David Strathairn) and three step-siblings, while her biological father (Griffin Dunne) is estranged from his kind second wife (Patricia Kalember) and shacked up with his pregnant, much-younger New Age girlfriend (Adrienne Shelly).
If it all sounds confusing it’s meant to be, and the muddle gets worse when Laura flees to the woods with her stepbrother (Dan Futterman) to escape a family trip to Hawaii, with the rest of her extended family in hot pursuit.
Unwittingly, Laura’s flight provides the vehicle by which the rest of the brood, uncomfortably assembled in a rustic setting, work out their respective problems, though not necessarily in a fashion that makes any sense.
In fact, nearly every character flaw is dispatched with ridiculous ease.
In one scene, for example, a snubbing wises up Laura’s snotty stepsister (Jenny Lewis), while Dunne’s desire to jettison his pregnant live-in and return home is dealt with via a convenient turn bordering on the absurd.
Laura, meanwhile, encounters a seemingly perfect nuclear family that croons “The Brady Bunch” theme, plus other more nefarious characters who involve her in a liquor-store holdup.
Sorely lacking, however, is a moment when she appears to come to any understanding of what made her run off in the first place, aside from an emotional outburst that contradicts the title.
Basically, when all the cliches have been exhausted, the movie ends.
Silver has directed some fine films–most notably “Chilly Scenes of Winter,” which also employed wry direct-to-camera narration by its protagonist–but labors to make sense of Frank Mugavero’s script, which tries to extract bittersweet elements from what plays like an episode of “Full House” with nicer exteriors.
Most of the kids prove annoyingly precocious, and even the generally appealing Wolf gets stuck with dialogue that clearly sounds written for her by a third party and not like the ruminations of a teenage girl.
The film’s strongest asset resides in its well-assembled song score, which instills a certain vitality in the movie even during moments when the action fails to provide it.
Other tech credits are adequate but, like the picture, nothing either to shout or cry about.