A ladleful of sugar doesn't make the medicine go down in "Yes Nurse! No Nurse!," a candy-colored, sitcommy musical centered on the battle between the feisty owner of a rest home and her ornery, litigious neighbor.

A ladleful of sugar doesn’t make the medicine go down in “Yes Nurse! No Nurse!,” a candy-colored, sitcommy musical centered on the battle between the feisty owner of a rest home and her ornery, litigious neighbor. Part retro tribute to a popular ’60s Dutch TV series, part campy pastiche of classic film tuners, pic maintains a likable, breezy tone throughout but looks increasingly threadbare of real inspiration or originality as it proceeds. On home turf last fall, pic drew a bonnie 500,000 admissions as a national nostalgia trip; offshore, its healthiest future looks to be as light filler at fests (especially gay-themed events), with some marginal theatrical action as an exotic curio.

Apart from the problem (for non-Dutch speakers) of trying to be a euphonious entertainment in one of the world’s most uneuphonious languages, the film rarely transcends its local roots to become a musical entertainment per se. Choreography by Suzy Blok is largely standard, music-hall fare; direction by Pieter Kramer (from TV and legit) shows no special flair or feel for the musical comedy form; and the song score by Harry Bannink is jaunty rather than melodically memorable.

Original TV series (1967-68), written as 20 self-contained episodes starring megastar Hetty Blok as the sunny but embattled Sister Klivia, was a huge hit in the Netherlands. A 1999 stage version, directed by Kramer and largely set in Klivia’s living room, hung the choicest bits and best songs on a fabricated through-story, in which Klivia’s killjoy neighbor, Boordevol, ends up in jail. Pic version opens up the action considerably (including a large street set built in a studio), as well as adding a love story between the two younger principals and ending on a redemptive note.

Following the bright main title, with white-garbed nurses in a Busby Berkeley homage, the movie’s opening is promising, as pretty young thing Jet (Tjitske Reidinga) is courted on her way home in the rain by handsome Gerrit (Waldemar Torenstra). Sequence plays as a cross between “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “Singin’ in the Rain” in inspiration and poster-color look, and there’s a lightness to the number and a cheerful cheesiness to the lyrics (“Together with a fella/Under one umbrella”) that’s just right.

However, as soon as the action settles on Klivia’s Rest Home, a tiny residence in a street of terraced houses, the sitcommy construction weighs in with a vengeance. Aside from Klivia’s virginal daughter Jet, the other inhabitants are fully drawn eccentrics, including a crazed inventor (Beppe Costa), fat Bertus (Edo Brunner) and nerdy Bobby (Lennart Vader). Sister Klivia (Loes Luca) rules the house with a kindly rod of iron, between persistent complaints about the noise from balding bachelor Boordevol (Paul R. Kooij).

Back-of-a-coaster plot revolves round Gerrit, who turns out to be a professional burglar, romancing Jet (pronounced “Yet”) and being blamed for the theft of a valuable clock from Boordevol’s adjacent home. As Boordevol attempts to bring Klivia to court yet again, various other colorful characters are woven in, including Gerrit’s grandfather (Frits Lambrechts) and a queeny hairdresser, Wouter (played at full tilt by popular TV host Paul de Leeuw), who turns out to be a long-ago lover of, uh, Boordevol.

With almost continual underscoring and no fewer than 10 musical numbers, pic keeps moving despite the threadbare plot. But its initial welcome wears increasingly thin as the characters fail to develop and the songs plough the same furrow of light, cabaret-style pastiche.

Most perfs are OK, but Kooij, playing Boordevol like a deranged Steptoe with a perpetual fog-horn sneer, quickly becomes grating. Luca, in theatrical grande-dame style, provides a kind of focus for all the coming and goings; Reidinga is mostly girlishly hysterical and as the juve lead Torenstra is barely semi-dimensional.

Vincent de Pater’s sets, mixing realistic design with a broad palette of soft pastels, is brightly lit and cleanly lensed by Piotr Kukla. Period look and costumes are spot on.

Yes Nurse! No Nurse!

Netherlands

Production

A Bos Bros. Prods. production. (International sales: Fortissimo Film Sales, Amsterdam.) Produced by Burny Bros, Michiel de Rooij, Sabine Veenendaal. Directed by Pieter Kramer. Screenplay, Frank Houtappels, Kramer, based on the TV series written by Annie M.G. Schmidt and Harry Bannink.

Crew

Camera (color), Piotr Kukla; editor, Elja de Lange; music, Raymund van Santen, Ferdinand Boland; lyrics, Schmidt; art director, Vincent de Pater; costume designers, Monica Petit, Maartje Wevers; sound (Dolby SRD), Eddy de Cloe; sound designer, Paul Bijpost; choreography, Suzy Blok; assistant director, Willem Quarles van Ufford; casting, Ina Veen. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 11, 2003. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Loes Luca, Paul R. Kooij, Paul de Leeuw, Tjitske Reidinga, Waldemar Torenstra, Lennart Vader, Edo Brunner, Beppe Costa, Frits Lambrechts, Raymonde de Kuyper, Trudy de Jong, Trudie Lute, Olga Zuiderhoek.
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