Mystery DVD Club No 18: No Small Affair

The Mystery DVD Club arrives at Janey's door: but is No Small Affair an unfairly overlooked 80s classic in waiting?

You know the rules. Simon gets his jollies on by testing the mettle of various good-natured writers – with hilarious consequences. The film invariably sucks, the writer’s soul is corrupted, and the review is consigned to clutter up the Dusty Bin of the Den of Geek archives for all eternity. The phrase ‘shooting fish’ is redefined. We don’t need a barrel. We don’t even need a gun. The fish offers himself up voluntarily and says, ‘It’s a fair cop, guv’.

But there is no crack of thunder as Simon decides my fate. He doesn’t stroke a white cat as his chair swivels round. He doesn’t even laugh demonically. All very disappointing. He just says ‘oh dear’, so I’m hopeful. The film sounds like cheese, but I consider myself the queen of fromage. And the plot is promising: unlikely friendship between photography geek and tortured rock singer, and a fledgling romance tested by such issues as age difference and basic music appreciation. Sound quality aside, this DVD has so many interesting things going on at once that it is difficult to assimilate them. Indeed, there are times when it is impossible to see them for all the nipple tactics being used to distract the viewer.

It’s the performances around the edges of this film that initially make it so compelling. Some of these criminally underused actors would go on to bigger and better things, and some have so little to prove that their presence is more a palliative than a performance. Incredibly, Tim Robbins, Jeffrey Tambor Jennifer Tilly and George Wendt (the lovely Norm from Cheers, and downright miserable in this baffling mis-casting) share a combined screen time of eleven minutes, only to be ignored for the rest of the film. What a waste of so many decent actors. There has to be some special award for that.

Tim Robbins, especially, takes one reckless swing into the long grass here. Fresh from an episode of Moonlighting, and years before he raised his game with Bull Durham and Miss Firecracker, I guess he wasn’t being choosy. But still: memo to Tim Robbin’s agent: v poor, must see me. I can only imagine that after too many jobs in The Love Boat and Santa Barbara, he was getting bored by the time his modest movie break came along. Tim was in danger of becoming That Guy, the guy making a career out of not having much of one. These were his wilderness years, and this is his Joshua Tree. I can only hope this was his cry for help, because he isn’t so much chewing the scenery as dry-humping it. Still, he doesn’t take his clothes off, which is more than can be said for others in this well-intentioned boob fest.

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Within four minutes I’ve already been introduced to Jeffrey Tambor’s moobs and seen Charles’ mother sitting in a bra. But anyway. Jon Cryer’s earnest Charles Cummings is a passionate photographer who is saving up $8,642 for a very important trip to Milan. One day he inadvertently captures Demi Moore’s Laura Victor in shot, develops an obsession and sets out to find her like some latter-day Prince Charming. When his charmless brother Leonard and his brother’s latest fiancee Susan (Elizabeth Daily, aka Buttercup in Powerpuff Girls) drag him to the requisite dingy nightclub, he finds his delectable princess singing like a strangled cat on stage and determines to get close to her and help make her a star, ostensibly by assisting with her ‘portfolio’. I’m just grateful he chooses not to spend too much time with Leonard, whose idea of an engagement present for his fiancee is to take her to a titty bar. This character has no soul. Having said that, his fiancee spends an inordinate amount of time jiggling around in tight sweaters and no bra, and the nipple count is getting desperate.

Luckily, Demi Moore (fresh from Blame It On Rio) is showing early signs of eating the lens, which makes this performance as The Next Big Thing as prescient as it is preposterous. Moore was about to be catapulted into the big leagues with St Elmo’s Fire and About Last Night, so the hunger of her character does have the ring of truth to it, and her striking looks are beyond question. Sad to say the vocal stylings are not so convincing, even given her obscenely husky speaking voice. Even weirder, the terrible singing is not even her own. Moore’s combination of sass and innocence is entrancing, and she makes a good case here for walking the streets wearing the contents of Christina Aguilera’s laundry basket circa Dirrty — but the singing. Dear God, the singing.

Laura treats us to a strange monologue about how female sex organs are valuable commodities, during which Charles shuffles uncomfortably. By the end of the scene we are presented with two improbable pieces of information: 1) Laura just threw herself at Norm from Cheers in order to keep her crappy nightclub job (which she hates), and b) Norm from Cheers rejected her because he had too much respect for her. But Charles can’t help himself, even if he is a Ken doll. It’s unfair, but I don’t want to think about Jon Cryer having a sexual thought. Just to rub it in, we are then presented with a stag party and a hooker who decides to give Charles a freebie because he’s cute. As plot developments go, it’s treading the same dead water as Weekend at Bernie’s II. It won’t be the last offer of a mercy fuck he receives in this film, either, but it is the most interesting display of breasts.

Sadly, my ears are still working as our young starlet finds herself jobless and hapless with the ever-hopeful Cummings. They decide to gatecrash a wedding for food, but when the bride’s father threatens to bill them for all the champagne they’ve quaffed, Laura ends up singing for her supper – and we are presented with the epiphany of the rock singer who can – gasp! – sing a slow song with emotion. To be fair, there is the suggestion of a nice voice lurking beneath the vomit green gloves and big hair – until she hits a high note. As Niles Crane put it, sometimes the note sees the attack coming and retreats. At this point, I Google for the actual singer, because I can’t believe my terrified ears. Turns out the voice belongs to Grammy-nominated Chrissy Faith. Well, that told me.

Of course, Charles isn’t going to let her actual talent stand in the way of her happiness and his, and decides to put her phone number and picture on the back of 150 cabs. She is understandably put out by all the obscene phone calls from randy Arabs and the like, and has it out with her dear idiot friend. It’s a little hard to appreciate her desire to be taken seriously as a true artist — and not a street walker — when she’s only wearing a red corset. Still, he could have saved himself $6,000 (that’s right) and used a phone box (or a cubicle) if he was just going to write, ‘Laura Victor: She’s the best.’ There’s no word for ‘reduntanter’ to describe this plot device, so let’s move on.

Incredibly, Cummings’ dumb stunt pays off and Laura is asked to return to her old nightclub job where people are queueing up to get a glimpse – oh, and an A&R guy has flown in from Atlantic Records just to see her perform. And what a performance it is. As she Heimlich-manoevres her way through My Funny Valentine, there are so many bum notes the DVD should have come with a free loo roll. But of course, everyone thinks she is awesome, the A&R guy drops his shit, and even George Wendt is happy. Meanwhile, Cummings is wandering the streets feeling rejected, believing he has screwed up Laura’s chances, or screwed up his chances with Laura, and gets drunk. Happily, the girl who doesn’t wear a bra and the guy who doesn’t have a soul carry Jon Cryer’s dying career out of the gutter before it gets a pounding with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Oh, younger Jon. Please reconsider. Then the girl with no bra gets married. Even in a wedding dress, she doesn’t wear a bra. In case you were wondering.

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Charles collapses into Laura’s arms and tells her how important her career is to both of them — only he needs her to be a world famous rock singer from the dingy (but not really) warehouse apartment in San Francisco so he can take pictures of her for all time, or until her teeth fall out. True love, you see. Oh, that’s right, he’s just the foil to the chick with the ‘issues’ (Mr Cryer, can you say ‘typecast?’). As they cling to each other, trying not to think about the phrase ‘straight to video’, Demi Moore suddenly isn’t wearing a bra, either, and I feel a bit sad as Jon Cryer gets naked. It’s like watching a unicorn pulling off his horn and becoming a really sad horse. Some people should never be seen naked. Like family members, or Macaulay Culkin. 

At least everyone keeps their clothes on for the airport scene. The long goodbye is played out with sincerity and there is a sweet line about wanting to make a memory into a photograph. Only this would be one of those photos that comes back with a quality control sticker that tells you off for overexposure. Jennifer Tilly appears in another montage that seems to last longer than her actual screen time, and the audience is presented with the heart-warming spectacle of the replacement girlfriend who was there all the time just waiting for him to relinquish the beautiful, sexy fantasy woman destined to flog her valuable commodities elsewhere the minute a better offer came along. This gives me the sads on so many levels. Still, he seems happy enough. Presumably he will get to go to Milan one day so he can buy himself another unicorn horn.

For all that, I’m almost convinced this film is worth seeing, if only for the innocence and affection that pervades the lead performances. It will pass two hours in a more entertaining fashion than, say, unbunging the sink. It is only three of your earth pounds. And there are subtitles for the hard of hearing. (Hey, why did nobody tell me sooner?) Just one sobering thought for the four lovely people likely to read this review: you’ll never be the same once you’ve seen Jon Cryer’s naked body. Believe.