A Simple Wish
1997, PG, 90 min. Directed by Michael Ritchie. Starring Martin Short, Kathleen Turner, Mara Wilson, Robert Pastorelli, Amanda Plummer, Francis Capra, Ruby Dee, Teri Garr, Alan Campbell, Jonathan Hadary.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 18, 1997
The concept's good. So's the cast. But this family film about an incompetent fairy godmother named Murray (Short), is shy several handfuls of fairy dust. Instead of magic and make-believe, A Simple Wish follows a more earthbound course, which is a shame because the movie appears to have all the right elements in place, it just neglects to do much of anything with them. Murray is the world's first male fairy godmother, but it seems he's never heard that conventional wisdom about how minority candidates need to be twice as competent as the competition in order to be regarded as equals. As played by Short, Murray is a foppish clod with a broken wand (and, I must say, more than a touch of the old Ed Grimley). He aims to please but perpetually encounters technical foul-ups, like when he summons a giant rabbi instead of a rabbit. That's how he accidentally managed to turn young Anabel's father into a statue while granting her wish to have him become a successful stage actor. Although Short tirelessly, yet aimlessly, hams for the camera, his mugging may be for the lack of having anything more focused to do. Mara Wilson (Matilda, Mrs. Doubtfire) is a talented young actress, pleasantly up to the task of appearing in virtually every scene. In a disjointed plot development, Kathleen Turner plays an excommunicated fairy godmother who steals all the magic wands from the ladies at the Manhattan NAFGA soiree (North American Fairy Godmother Association -- an intriguing assembly full of humorous potential which, in typical fashion, the film provides a mere glimpse of and then thoroughly abandons). Turner and her sidekick (Amanda Plummer, brilliantly playing a human being who is only one hair removed from the canine she used to be) are great fun, but here too, these characters have way too little to do. Pastorelli is charmingly un-Eldon-like, as he auditions for a role in a new Broadway play A Tale of Two Cities. (Yet the film's satire of this Lloyd-Weber-ish play is probably too accurate to be widely recognized as a spoof, and the belting out of “A Far, Far Better Thing” as he plants his head in the guillotine is certain to extend beyond the humor references of the younger audience members.) Director Michael Ritchie (Bad News Bears, Fletch) does little to perk up this high-concept/low-delivery script by Jeff Rothberg, and he lets way too many rich opportunities go to waste. By the time this tepid comedy is through, you'll want an alchemist instead of a fairy godmother of any gender.