To see Sharon Stone in a movie these days is to be reminded of how much you’ve missed her since the last one. Her star quality is particular: a cool, crackling, slightly ribald confidence in her own charisma that hasn’t been especially well-tended, much less replicated, by Hollywood in the last 20-odd years. There’s no missing Stone in the course of “All I Wish,” at least, as she jacks up and soups up every last scene of Susan Walter’s devoted but beigely anodyne star vehicle, playing a feckless fashionista whose lifelong aversion to commitment hits a handsome stumbling block as she approaches the big five-oh. Skipping between the character’s variously shambolic birthday celebrations over the course of six years, this agreeable exercise in romancing the Stone hasn’t quite the teeth or the twinkle to match its inexhaustibly game leading lady.
Originally, and somewhat less generically, titled “A Little Something For Your Birthday,” “All I Wish” marks Walter’s writing-directing debut after a lengthy career as an assistant director and talent manager. The film wears its influences heavily on its well-tanned sleeve, and they’re sound ones — though they mainly lead us to wonder wistfully what might have been had Stone and Nora Ephron worked together while they had the chance, or whether Nancy Meyers might chance upon this on an in-flight menu someday (as many will) and give the actress a call. “All I Wish” may not itself be a great romantic comedy, but it proves the industry missed a trick by not finding one for her amid the bevy of flinty heroines and femmes fatales she so foxily played in her 1990s heyday.
Better late than never, then — and that also happens to be the sunny underlying message of the overall film, which begins with scatty, sexy Los Angeles fashion buyer Senna (Stone) waking up beside a dimly pretty young thing on the morning of her 46th birthday. Checking in on Senna on this one day year after year, “All I Wish” gradually fills in the backdrop of a life that’s been lived at once carefree and cautiously wary of challenges — be they professional or romantic. (“I’m just enjoying my body until it craps out,” she brightly says of her preference for no-strings sex.) Yet she’s spurred into a fresh outlook when, on the same unhappy birthday, her excessively kooky style sense gets her fired by her sleek retail boss (a wasted Famke Janssen), and she suffers a mortifying meet-cute with Adam (Tony Goldwyn), a straitlaced lawyer newly relocated from Boston, who might just be the gray-suited rock she needs.
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If the film’s view of the stabilizing influence of a good man on an unmoored woman is disappointingly conservative, it at least grants Senna a busy life outside the on-off relationship with Adam that ensues. As we visit her on an annual basis, we track the gradual, late-blooming success of her own fashion label, and observe the subtle shift in relations with her best friend Darla (Liza Lapira, endearing) and lovingly disapproving mother (Ellen Burstyn, whose very presence prompts comparisons to the similarly structured romance “Same Time, Next Year”).
There’s promising material here, but Walter’s glib, quippy writing style — reliant on such hackneyed expository set pieces as the karaoke confessional and the falsely expected proposal — hinders our emotional engagement with these characters, while the compressed one-day-a-year conceit necessitates some implausibly hasty conflicts to keep the romcom wheels spinning. A connecting device of direct-to-camera confessionals by an alternating roster of characters brings little to proceedings, save for flashbacks to “When Harry Met Sally…” that don’t exact flatter Walter’s film — though they’re less distracting in the grand scheme of things than a stray Ryan Lochte cameo.
It’s left to Stone to prop up the whole scented-tissue affair, and that she cheerfully does, with a calm, centered force of personality that lends credibility even to the most raggedly developed aspects of her character. (Darla may kindly dub Senna “the Picasso of design,” but the film’s quaint vision of the fashion industry is barely more up-to-date than that reference.) Sashaying about the place in Cyndi Lauper castoffs, she brings zing to one-liners that don’t always merit it, rustles up some sweet opposites-attract chemistry with Goldwyn, and evokes a wicked sensual inner life with mere eyebrow-flicking powers of expression. With its blandly overlit lensing and plinkety-plonk score (complete with recurring, wince-inducing interpolations of “Happy Birthday”), “All I Wish” may be primarily suited to SVOD — but you can practically hear its leading lady insisting, in more chilled-out tones than Norma Desmond, that it’s the pictures, not her, that got small.