Lock up the baby sitter, papa’s comin’ home. While Fox Family Channel doesn’t quite take this seedy approach with “Au Pair,” the cable net’s original telepic is definitely a male fantasy dressed up as an innocent nod to “Mary Poppins.” Mother, father and the kids will surely be satisfied with its simple narrative, charming sentiment and love-conquers-all ending, but there is something very trashy about the story, which focuses on a rich tycoon who wants to boink the help. Reviewed copy recently went back to the editing bay after network brass revisited two scenes involving peeping toms and simulated sex. Now that’s entertainment for the entire household.
Titillating elements aside, “Au Pair” is buoyed by a good perf from Heidi Noelle Lenhart, a likable thesp who portrays a confident woman with tact and grace. She’s matched by an understated turn from Gregory Harrison as the mogul-with-a-heart who spends more time in the boardroom than with his spoiled son and daughter.
In many respects, “Au Pair” is better than most of the young-demo fare on TV because it requires some degree of emotional investment. But that doesn’t hide the fact that director Mark Griffiths and scenarists Jeffrey C. Sherman and Cheryl Saban have created one big daydream in which every caretaker looks like a goddess and every life is oh-so-charmed.
Bookish MBA grad Jenny Morgan (Lenhart) has just been fired from her cubicle-bound job and ventures off in search of a new one. After answering an ambiguous ad for employment at an IBM-like company, she interviews directly with hunky CEO Oliver Caldwell (Harrison). Impressed with her enthusiasm, he hires her, and she accepts without knowing the exact details.
Only after Caldwell sends her a ticket to Paris does she learn that the position is as an au pair for his two brats, Alex (Jake Dinwiddie) and Kate (Katie Volding).
Traveling with them throughout Europe — mom died years ago — Jenny learns these are not normal tykes: They have all the toys they want, they shop at the best stores, and they’ll do nasty things to make her quit. On top of this, Jenny must deal with Oliver’s girlfriend Vivian (Jane Sibbett), a pampered gold digger who suspects Jenny has other motives while fostering some of her own.
The one person on Jenny’s side is Nigel (John Rhys-Davies), a wise chauffeur who always lends a sympathetic ear.
Alex and Kate eventually warm up to Jenny after she exerts maternal muscle and, in the process, turns Oliver’s head. When Vivian plans a surprise wedding and Oliver learns of her scheming ways, Jenny looks even more attractive.
Filmed in Budapest, “Au Pair” benefits greatly from a treatment that isn’t usually afforded such light programming; beautiful castles, cobblestone streets and a European flavor go far. That allure is balanced nicely with a well-paced, breezy construction that befits the plot’s uncomplicated structure. Genuine romantic comedies with a (mostly) wholesome appeal aren’t that plentiful, so “Au Pair” hits its mark squarely.
Lenhart is delightful as the smart, savvy professional who wins hearts and admiration. She’s a great role model for the target audience, even if she does have to fit into tight clothes in order to transform herself from underdog to heroine. Harrison and Davies are also solid. As for the children? Like too many made-fors and movies, they say things that pre-teens really wouldn’t say.
Visually, the package is impressive, with wonderful production design by Istvan Ocztos, Blake T. Evans’ glossy cinematography and a classy, all-around feel.