Aren't Sarah Michelle Gellar's fifteen minutes of fame up yet? Sorry 'Buffy' fans, but as outwardly appealing and photogenic as she may be, the girl really can't act. Add to that a string of post-'Buffy' missteps, including such major studio drivel as the 'Scooby-Doo' movies and barely-released disasters like 'The Return,' and it looks as if Gellar's last chance at salvaging a mediocre career would be calling up fellow 'I Know What You Did Last Summer' alum Jennifer Love Hewitt and asking for a guest spot on TV’s "Ghost Whisperer."
Gellar's latest cinematic crime is 'Suburban Girl,' which bypassed an intended theatrical release and is now hitting Blu-ray direct-to-video (day-and-date with the DVD). Loosely based a couple of stories in Melissa Banks' popular book "The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing" (a far better title than the bland 'Suburban Girl'), Gellar plays Brett Eisenberg, a young woman working her way up New York’s publishing ladder. Eager to get ahead, Brett attends a book signing in hopes of meeting influential publishing giant Alex "Archie" Knox (Alec Baldwin). No sooner do they trade glances, than Archie is wooing Brett with extravagant dates, expensive gifts, and career assistance. The initial relationship is a storybook romance, but it slowly gets more complicated due to the age difference and Archie’s alcoholism.
'Suburban Girl' had me rolling my eyes in the first ten minutes. Brett occupies a fantasy New York that bears no resemblance to reality (there appear to be no subways, and everyone lives in big, beautiful apartments that even Donald Trump would envy). Brett is also so utterly dimwitted that it appears she's never read a book, let alone that she could last a day in the cutthroat world of publishing. How are we supposed to root for a girl this insipid? Had the script by first-time director Marc Klein strained less for effect, or had Gellar been able to deliver his stylized dialogue with even a hint of sophistication, the characters might not have felt so jaded and artificial.
The film becomes utterly preposterous with Archie's arrival on the scene. It's impossible to believe that he would woo Brett so incessantly, let alone eventually move in with her and begin a May-December romance. Had Baldwin and Gellar generated some real chemistry, I could have overlooked the unlikelihood of their pairing, but there is not a spark of eroticism on-screen. In fact, their intimate scenes together get downright icky as Klein inserts some false melodrama involving daddy issues that move the film into uncomfortable emotional incest territory. Such a tonal minefield would be tough for even a master filmmaker to navigate, but Klein is in way over his head -- and he’s hardly helped by the inadequate performance by his lead actress.
By the time 'Suburban Girl' lurches towards its awkwardly sentimental conclusion, it's hard to understand who the film was meant to appeal to. While the 'Devil Wears Prada'-esque beginnings (with some good-looking photography by lensman Steven Fierberg) suggest a frothy concoction meant to attract the teen girl market who snapped up Banks' original book, the unpleasant father-daughter dynamics of the Brett-Archie relationship ultimately betray the film’s early breeziness. 'Suburban Girl' falls between two styles, and does neither of them well. Top that off with the unappealing characters and an utterly vapid performance by Gellar, and you have a movie that doesn't connect on any of the intended levels.
'Suburban Girl' is the first high-def release from Image Entertainment that I've gotten to review, and as introductions go, it's very promising. Despite having the "direct-to-video" stigma, 'Suburban Girl' benefits from a sharp 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that's bright and appealing.
Although the movie's low budget is evidenced by the sometimes cheap-looking sets, and cinematography that borders on the bland, overall, this is a slick presentation. The source is in perky shape, with only some grain apparent. Blacks are solid, contrast is prominent but not excessive, and colors are well saturated. I do wish hues had been a tad bolder, but they are consistent, with no noticeable smearing. Fleshtones are also generally accurate. The image exhibits nice dimensionality, and often has the crisp, sharp look of high-def. There is a fair amount of noise, however, at least enough that I was distracted. I also detected some posterization in smooth gradients, but overall, the quality of this transfer makes me look forward to future Image releases.
Image has produced a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track for 'Suburban Girl,' though it's encoded at only 768kbps (not the usual 1.5mbps one usually expects on a DTS-MA track). Despite the decreased bitrate, the film's sound design is so bland it hardly matters.
There are few, if any, discrete effects, and little apparent atmosphere. Even the score and music don't pop -- your average broadcast episode of “Ugly Betty” is more sonically adventurous. Dynamic range is fine, with fairly low bass extension and clean (if unexceptional) high-end. There is little real impact to the mix, however, with nothing standing out and flat dialogue. I didn't have any volume balance issues, so that's a plus. While there is nothing particularly wrong with the soundtrack to 'Suburban Girl,' it's about as unmemorable as you can get.
Given the lack of a theatrical release for 'Suburban Girl,' it's no surprise that there is not a notable supplement package included here. However, kudos to Image for at least producing a commentary track for the film, which is probably more than most other studios would bother to offer.
'Suburban Girl' is an unremarkable attempt to combine 'Sex and the City' with 'The Devil Wears Prada,' all swirled together with a splash of 'Ugly Betty' for good measure. Unfortunately, it just doesn't mesh, and the grating performance by Sarah Michelle Gellar hardly helps matters. This is however a nice Blu-ray release from Image Entertainment, who have delivered a solid transfer and soundtrack, and there's even a pleasant director's commentary to go along with it. Unfortunately, I can't imagine anyone but the most devoted Gellar fans wanting to add 'Suburban Girl' to their high-def collection, so this is true case of "Bad Flick, Good Disc."