Published Sep 01, 2000Peter McGowen (Kenneth Branagh) is a famous Los Angeles playwright with a lot of problems. He is struggling to overcome a series of flops with a new play, his wife Melanie's serious urges of motherhood (Robin Wright Penn), her live-in Alzheimer-stricken mother (Lynn Redgrave), insomnia and his very own stalker. His new play, due to open shortly, is still in need of a believable child character and Peter is realising he knows nothing at all about children. When a single mother moves in next door, Melanie tries to kick-start Peter's paternal instincts by inviting the young daughter Amy (Suzy Hofrichter) over. While Peter initially uses his budding relationship with Amy as a tool to develop the character in the play, their lives become increasingly intertwined and complex. Amy suffers from a physical disability and from an overprotective, emotionally crippling mother, which the outspoken and cynical Peter erupts against, with disastrous consequences. The film's strength lies in the range and depth of the characters, especially Peter. Branagh's portrayal of the grumpy, frustrated playwright living in a city full of celluloid zombies is entirely believable. He is deliberately but not overly flawed, farts in bed, and invents excuses not to have kids. He is, however, generally good and honest, sometimes to a fault. The rest of the characters also escape cookie-cutter predictability. Robin Wright Penn's Melanie brings a genuine exuberance and warmth to the film that doesn't seem forced in the least. The film's one weakness is the saccharine flavour that tugs fairly obviously at the heartstrings. But the Los Angeles satire and industry cynicism make up for a few hankie-heavy scenes.