A correction was made to this review on Nov. 23, 2003.
A low-budget musical so steeped in nostalgia that accusing it of being too old-fashioned is like accusing “Gone With the Wind” of being too Southern, “Anything But Love (aka Standard Time)” wears its heart, intentions and limitations on its sleeve. A chanteuse (screenwriter/star Isabel Rose) croons her beloved “standards” in a crummy joint in Queens while fantasizing about more glamorous surroundings. Unfortunately, first-time helmer/co-scripter Robert Cary has trouble contrasting the heroine’s fantasies to any realities that don’t stem from equally bygone eras. Rose exudes a wistful sincerity that’s appealing, though her singing talent seems more a matter of belief than of execution. Pic may flourish in nostalgia-oriented cable venues.
Rose’s two boyfriends represent contrasting lifestyles: domestic security with a high school heart-throb turned corporate lawyer vs. a shot at a marginal cabaret career with piano player who’s also musical soul mate. Since the straight-arrow company man is played by a barely competent unknown and the bohemian ivory-tickler incarnated by a disheveled Andrew McCarthy at his most diffidently charming, there’s little question who she’ll choose, though Rose makes it all the way down the aisle with Mr. Wrong before bolting.
Bulk of film takes place in some out-of-time Gotham, in evergreen patches of Central Park or elegant windowed vistas on Fifth Avenue. Scenes between Rose and her alcoholic mother play like, say, the exchanges between Linda Darnell and Thelma Ritter in “Letter to Three Wives,” even if no El rattles the set. Musical numbers mainly consist of Rose’s cabaret gigs, real or imagined, and a sweeping ballroom pas de deux with her rediscovered teen crush.
The one time pic ventures into a fully staged, honest-to-goodness ’50s-style showstopper, it pays off. In well-choreographed symmetry, two corporate wives, who have earlier taken upon themselves to make Rose feel at home in the suburbs, aggressively strut in to bookend her, strip her of her funky vintage glitz and remake her into a sleek version of themselves. In this one instance, concept, staging and musical direction demonstrate enough proficiency to suggest that filmmakers’ intentions would have been better served if pic had been allowed to move more adventurously beyond derivatively daydreamy romantic comedy. Rose discovers her true voice about two-thirds of the way through the picture, which means most of the early numbers are meant to be sung badly. In case anyone wonders what a superlative cabaret singer should sound like, guest star Eartha Kitt is on hand to do the honors, and it’s quickly apparent Rose is no Eartha Kitt. By the fourth time Rose launches into “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” the absence of the leopard who loved being serenaded by the song in Hawks’ “Bringing Up Baby” begins to make itself strongly felt. Sometimes clumsy, pic’s sincerity and desire to emulate classic Hollywood musicals only sporadically translate into solid craftsmanship. Horacio Martinez’s lensing and Cecil Gentry’s production design successfully fudge the oblique time-frame while still making the temporal limbo look vaguely inhabited, while Sarah Beers’ costumes capture “vintage” without screaming Camp.