A New York Nanny to an Eastern European dictator’s three children, what’s so fearsome about that?
A sassy New York beautician takes a job as a governess to a President’s three children to educate them in Western ideas.
The Beautician And The Beast – Trailer, Paramount Movies Digital
The Beautician and the Beast (1997) stars the always versatile, one time James Bond, RADA trained thespian of the stage and The Lion in Winter (1968) and the dashing and comic actor who with a villainous moustache stole the show in Hot Fuzz (2007), Timothy Dalton.
Here this debonair Welsh-born actor is paired with a surprising leading lady, New York comedienne, Fran Drescher. This pairing is not so shocking if you remember him in Sextette (1977) as Mae West’s singing and much younger sixth on-screen husband in his first American movie, but I digress…
The Beautician and the Beast, a romantic comedy film
is an update homage parody that has plot elements snatched from those much-loved movie musicals. You will spot references to The King and I (1956) and many other favourites including The Sound of Music (1965) and Evita (1981). But this film sadly has no singing, but it does have a wee bit of dancing and an animated dream sequence.
The film starts quite creatively, with a Disney-inspired animation with the ending of the fairytale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1938). A woman is woken up by the kiss of a handsome prince. Immediately on hearing Drescher’s distinctive voice, you know this ain’t Snow White. After the prince tells her of his hopes to whisk her away to a princess type of life. She is more than a wee bit cynical about the life he offers her and tells him she has “dreams and ambitions”. She turns him down, as we discover this animated sequence turns out to be a dream.
Then it’s live-action scenes as Joy Miller (Drescher), a New York beautician is unsuccessful in getting a job as a TV makeup artist. Feisty, independent and garrulous Joy lives with her mother, Judy (Phyllis Newman) – who wants her daughter to settle down asap – and her father, Jerry (Michael Lerner) is a dreamer. Joy works teaching beauty at a night school and wants to settle down with a man, but only if he is her true love. She believes that she will know instinctively when she meets him, and this means he will have the oomph factor ie he’s the one.
One day, things change. After an unsuccessful job interview to work on TV. Joy saves her beauty school class and some caged animals from a fire that has engulfed the classroom. This incident happens after a stereotypical gay student learns after lighting a cigarette that hairspray is flammable. Joy’s bravery and kindness make front-page news, and she’s hailed as a teacher who is “brave, selfless and willing to die.”
This inspiring teacher is then headhunted by the well-meaning Grushinsky (Ian McNeice), the Slovetzian President’s aide. Joy is offered a job in Slovetzia, a small (fictional) East European landlocked country. Grushinsky tells her that President Boris Pochenko (Timothy Dalton) wants a governess for his four children to learn more about Western culture, thoughts and democracy.
Joy is finally convinced to take the job, after hearing her salary will be 40 thousand dollars for six months. But it seems there are mutual misunderstandings… Grushinsky thinks she’s a science teacher and she thinks she’s teaching beauty.
So after packing her bags, it’s off to Slovetzia she goes. Slovetzia looks like a Hammer film movie set, with everyone and anyone – including Pochenko’s four kids – in either grey pinafores or military costumes and a foreboding grey castle on a hill. Joy and Grushinsky then realise the truth about their misunderstandings. He’s worried about his life, but she still wants to take the job.
Like The King and I – almost immediately, Joy meets the curt and imposing, Prime Minister, Leonid Kleist (Patrick Malahide). Then she prepares to meet the President and she’s given an hour to do it. After taking way too much time doing her makeup and hair, she misses his Presidential military parade and welcome. Pochenko is not a happy man and after storming into her room, finds out she’s still not ready, and it’s an immediate clash of personalities and ideas…
Pochenko wears grey military uniforms, is uptight, pompous and a formidable father to his children. He has a Thor haircut – from his Thor Ragnorok (2017) days – and a twirly tache. He also gets riled if he doesn’t have the last word, as our spunky overtalkative heroine finds out. He spends little time with his children who he doesn’t understand and he’s frightening and unapproachable to them too. If you think of the initial scenes with Georg Von Trapp (minus the whistle) crossed with the ideals of the King of Siam.
Meanwhile, the more bright and rainbow colourfully clothed Joy is a hit with the kids who she meets after they wake her up. Later, eldest son Karl (Adam LaVorgna) makes sexual advances toward her. This is after she finds this teenager ready to be naked in her room… This kid is creepier than Miles in The Innocents (1961). Then he tells Joy of his secret dream to be an artist and that he hates politics but hasn’t told his father about these dreams.
The eldest daughter, Katrina (Lisa Jakub) is destined for a prearranged marriage as her ancestors have done before her and her children will continue this tradition. But she is secretly seeing a rebel, Alek who wants democracy in the country. Alek is the leader of the youth rebellion (reminding me of The Sound of Music’s Liesl and her Hitler youth boyfriend, Rolfe). But her father is insistent she shouldn’t date him… His youngest son Yuri (Tyler and Kyle Wilkerson) bites his nails and both he and the unconfident Masha (Heather DeLoach) want to be loved.
Then you will be reminded of this film even more after Joy has an outburst and tells Pochenko to spend time with his kids. She about her observations of him as a father in relation to those kids, who she understands more than him. Joy’s persistent personality means the kids have breakfast with him for apparently the first time and later she spies him cuddling Yuri. Pochenko then begins to open up and trust Joy – as he makes a mayo and turkey sandwich – and he tells her wants to change his then image as “The Beast of Slovetzia”.
Joy encourages him to be kinder to the Slovetzian people after she learns they don’t have unions and it’s a case of “work hard today, happiness tomorrow”. She learns this as she attends a factory visit with Pochenko. She also gives Pochenko a makeover and so it’s ditch the tache and the military gear in favour of expensive designer suits. Following her advice and in combination with her cultural influence makes him more liked by the Slovetzian citizens. However, the Slovetzians are now keen to learn more about Western working rights and unions.
Things go full tilt King and I, after Joy indirectly helps Katrina to meet her rebel boyfriend, Alek. Then the Prime Minister and his men arrest him and jail Alek for treason. She’s told off for interfering by Pocenko. Later, Joy helps Pochenko with the preparations for some foreign dignitaries visiting Slovetzia.
She attends this gathering wearing an amazing frock and as she and as Pochenko dance, he seems captivated by her… However, Pochenko doesn’t realise that Joy’s been helping his daughter, Katrina visit Alek in jail – despite their talk about this – and this is considered treason. But the Prime Minister does know and he threatens her that he will tell Pochenko…
This character was an intentional progression for Fran Drescher after her more successful The Nanny TV series (1993-99), and this role was written for her in mind. She was nominated for a Razzie Award for best actress and this film bombed at the box office. To be fair to Drescher, I think another completely different role that proved her acting talents in a wildly different genre, might have been a better choice to debut her in a leading role.
Her comic talent was on the whole swamped by a sometimes unfunny and inappropriate script. I did like those more unique touches such as the Pochenko inspired banner and the “Slovetzian” accent created specifically for the film. And I did like recognising those musical references but it made me pine for those film musicals.
The role of Pochenko was initially destined for Kevin Kline, and I can see him playing this role. However, Dalton shines with his random “Slovetzian” accent and his versatility as an actor with this more complex man. Weighing it up, I believe Dalton would be more of a credible choice.
I felt the Dalton thespian came out in his animated discussion about Romeo and his eldest daughter. The Dalton as a comedian came out as he mischievously told his ministers to “talk to the hand” – a phrase he learned from Joy and his romantic side as a more convincing passionate, enigmatic and flawed romantic lead after Jane Eyre (1983).
The film also has been seen as a wonderful tribute to those musicals with the ones mentioned just a few of the subtle references and more obvious references. These could make it the ideal drinking game with your musical loving buddy as you play spot the updated/ revamped / homaged The Sound of Music or King and I moment.
These references also include Joy as the main female protagonist who has a career change to a governess in a “landlocked country”, plays with the kids, makes a dress for Mascha with the castle’s flowery linen, speaks her mind about Katrina’s forbidden love, treats Karl like a man and is even a mother figure to wee Yuri. Joy is also a woman who discovers she’s in love with the tyrant of a father who she learns has a soft side. And this is also seen as she sees him spend time with his kids and learns that he has fallen in love with her.
Like those musical inspirations, Joy is a real tour de force who changes this family’s lives with her outspoken, honest and caring personality. Similar to Maria in The Sound of Music, she literally and figuratively brings colour into their grey lives. And like Anna in The King and I, she finds the humanity and true paternal character traits in a dictatorial ruler.
Finally in an answer to my initial question of a New York Nanny to an Eastern European Dictator’s three children, what’s so fearsome about that? Nothing it seems if you are a New York beauty expert who discovers the familial bond of her dreams…
Weeper Rating: 0 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 0 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
Eye Candy Rating: (check out definition HERE): 😍 😍 😍 😍 😍 😍/10 from me and from my co-host, Gabriela, 😍 😍 😍 😍 😍 😍😍 😍 😍 😍/10
My You Knew My Name: The Bond Not Bond Blogathon 2021
This film was added to Pale Writer‘s and my You Knew My Name: The Bond Not Bond Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Timothy Dalton in Sextette, Hot Fuzz, Doctor Who, Tales from the Crypt and Charlie’s Angels. Fran Drescher starred in Fame and The Simpsons. Ian McNeice in Top Secret, Doctor Who, The Russia House and Lovejoy. Michael Lerner in Hart to Hart, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Rhoda. Patrick Malahide in Lovejoy. Vincent Schiavelli in Knots Landing, Moonlighting, The Fall Guy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The X Files. Phyllis Newman in Mannequin, Murder She Wrote and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.