Last Holiday

Time, or the lack of it, can cause people to react in different ways. People late for work or an appointment can stress out, making the journey even more difficult. Others simply take their time, shrugging off the demands. Throw death into the equation, and the outcome becomes amplified. When given the bad news they only have a limited amount of time to live, some people freak out, others retreat.

Then there’s Georgia Bird, an aspiring New Orleans chef who works in a thankless job for a thankless department store chain demonstrating meal preparation. Georgia deserves better than her after hours lonely existence of creating gourmet meals for one, only to pop a Lean Cuisine in the microwave in order to maintain her weight. Then Georgia gets some bad news. She only has weeks to live, and her new HMO won’t guarantee treatment. Instead of crawling into bed and throwing a pity party, Georgia decides to grab life by the horns and take it for a ride.

If Last Holiday sounds familiar, it is. Originally a 1950 Alec Guinness comedy, the premise has been around the block and back. Mistaken, switched or botched medical tests propel a meek and mild individual to spread their wings and fly. Rock Hudson and Doris Day revived the chestnut with 1964’s Send Me No Flowers, while Dabney Coleman (9 to 5) played a timid cop who summons courage when he believes he’s dying in 1990’s Short Time.

Now it’s the Queen’s turn, and the gender swap makes everything old new again. In the right vehicle (don’t blame her for Taxi) Queen Latifah commands the road, and Last Holiday is her own personal Autobahn. This marriage of familiar material with an actress capable of making it her own transforms Last Holiday from run-of-the-mill into a sparkling romantic comedy filled with enormous goodwill and cheer.

Without the Queen, Last Holiday would be nothing but one missed opportunity after another. The premise is like a souffle. In the right hands, it grows and blossoms and becomes something delicious. In the wrong hands, it falls flat, becoming a muddled mess. Director Wayne Wang and writers Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman never overcook the premise. They treat the film like an episode of a popular cooking show. Just stand back and allow the star to work her magic.

The Queen is magical as Georgia, a woman with a big spirit who keeps it and herself all bottled up like cheap perfume. She has a crush on coworker Sean (LL Cool J), but rarely speaks to him. I especially love the moments where Georgia creates gourmet masterpieces at home, showing extreme care and passion in every step she takes, knowing when all is said and done Georgia will settle for less.

Then she gets the bad news. Of course it’s a mistake, the sort of misunderstanding which cold and would be rectified with just one inquiry. Contrivance keeps the plot alive, but it’s the Queen who breathes life into it. We= re with Georgia all the way as she cashes in her 401K and life savings and heads off to a swanky Prague spa to enjoy the good life and to feast on the cuisine of her hero, Chef Didier (Gerard Depardieu in full scale hero mode).

The arrival of the reinvented Georgia causes tongues to wag, a mysterious, beautiful woman, full of life, willing to try anything. Georgia’s thirst becomes contagious, transforming both guest and staff into better people. Even though they carry the weight of a bag of feathers, films like Last Holiday are important and necessary. They help us learn through the characters that we are all capable of becoming better people, of accepting others for who they are.

The beauty of the script is that Georgia never once lies about her situation. There may be omissions, but for all intents and purposes what you see is what you get. That makes Georgia’s adventures, both in the kitchen and around the spa, such a pleasure. She’s not in it to impress anyone, but ends up impressing everyone, especially herself. The plot adds further complications when the owner of her former store arrives at the spa with his mistress. Will Georgia’s new found freedom and courage give her the strength to stand up and be counted? You can bet on it.

Equally familiar yet still fulfilling is Glory Road, the latest inspirational Disney underdog sports movie based on true events. Like The Rookie, Remember The Titans, and Miracle before it, Glory Road comes prepackaged, a divine, uplifting tale of one man willing to make a difference in the lives of his players, his family, and himself.

There are no surprises in Glory Road, and perhaps that’s part of its charm. It is what it is, a feel good movie guaranteed to punch all the right buttons. Director James Gartner, making his debut, takes this tale of prejudice and hoops and turns it into a film that’s easy to rally behind.

Josh Lucas. sweet as honey in Sweet Home Alabama, stars as Don Haskins, who reluctantly accepts the basketball coaching position at Texas Western University in El Paso. With space tight, Haskins and his family, wife Mary (Emily Deschanel) and their three kids, are forced to move into the men= s dormitory. Once settled, Haskins begins the task of recruiting players, none who want to play for Texas Western.

That leaves Haskins free to scour the country for the best team, settling on seven black players who know street ball but lack discipline on the court. Given the current makeup of most basketball teams, seven blacks players doesn’t seem like a big deal. It is, because Glory Road takes place in 1966, when most of the country was still coming to grips with their racial prejudices.

How Haskins recruited, trained and helped his team to become not only the best possible players but the best possible students and citizens makes Glory Road a film worth rooting for. It may look and sound familiar, but there’s just something about films like Glory Road that still manage to strike a chord in most audiences looking for something satisfying and worth the price of admission.

Tried and True

Formulaic Comedy, Drama Get Face Lifts

Last Holiday

Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, Timothy Hutton, Gerard Depardieu, Alicia Witt. Directed by Wayne Wang. Rated PG-13. 108 Minutes.

Glory Road

Josh Lucas, Derek Luke, Austin Nichols, Jon Voight, Evan Jones. Directed by James Gartner. Rated PG. 114 Minutes.

Larsen Ratings: $7.00

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