|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 21 December 1999|
The movie opens with a wake for the wife of Manny Singer; we never know what killed her, and the wake is presented in a mannered, semi-comic manner that almost suggests Manny (Ray Liotta) is better off for her having died, since no one seems very broken up about her loss. No one, that is, except her seven-year-old daughter Molly (Tina Majorino) who, on the day of her mother's funeral, simply stops talking.
We gradually learn that Manny is emotionally devastated, but tries to hold it back to keep from falling apart; this makes Molly think he just doesn't remember his wife. He interviews a series of nanny/housekeepers, every single one of which is painfully caricatured and "funny." Even though he does eventually hire Jonesy (Joan Cusack), she's really no more realistic than the rest of them: clinging, silly, and after Manny as a husband (she's a widow). Nelson continues this kind of deck-stacking throughout the movie (and throughout all her other screenplays): everyone we're supposed to like is down-to-earth and realistic; everyone we're not supposed to like is an overdrawn clown.
Finally, Corrina Washington (Whoopi Goldberg), wearing stylish clothes and smoking cigarettes (as does Manny), sashays into the lives of Manny and Molly. We never get a clue as to why intelligent, personable, college-educated Corrina can't get a job anywhere else, other than that she's black. Manny is so enlightened (he's a Jewish atheist) that he doesn't remark about Corrina's race, although at first he declines to hire her, but comes back to her when Jonesy proves a disaster.
Corrina's attitude is witty and slightly confrontational, and she immediately makes friends with the awed Molly. The story thereafter follows predictable paths: after a while, Molly talks to Corrina and then her father. Manny has been having trouble at work -- he's in advertising where his ingratiating but wildly unsupportive pal Sid (Larry Miller) has been of little help. (Watch closely and you'll see that one of those on the company's board is Brent Spiner.) Well-meaning friends try to get Manny together with single mother Jenny (Wendy Crewson), who has two cute kids of her own. Jenny is treated almost realistically, but Nelson cannot refrain from making her a little too obviously the wrong choice.
Corrina, of course, is the right choice, though it takes a long time for everyone other than Molly to realize this. Even at the very end, Nelson avoids making clear whether Manny and Corrina will marry.
In 1959, a white man marrying a black woman was much more shocking to society than it is today, but the racial issue is rarely raised. When it is, however, it comes on like a herd of rhinoceroses. Suddenly it's the only thing on the movie's mind, only to be dropped with a thud later on.
Because of a reference to the 1958 movie HOUSEBOAT, the time period of CORRINA, CORRINA would have to be 1958 or 1959, but the cars we see, the clothing styles and the TV shows establish it as taking place earlier in the 50s. The attitudes of the characters, on the other hand, seem floating in limbo, of no conceivable period in US social history. The movie probably goes down a lot smoother with those who aren't old enough to remember what the 50s were really like.
Nonetheless, despite its failings, CORRINA, CORRINA is a likable, entertaining movie, largely thanks to Goldberg and Majorino. They work together as well as a mother and daughter might, and all their scenes together are suffused with a warmth and charm that's not really present in the script. Trying to boost the unhappy Molly's spirits about returning to school, Corrina tells the child that she has "the most likable face in America." Nope. When she smiles, Whoopi Goldberg herself has the most likable face in America -- Majorino, at the time the movie was made, came in second. They're such a funny, ingratiating pair that it's a shame they didn't do another movie together right away.
With his pockmarked face and icy eyes, Liotta is usually cast as cold-blooded killers, or sometimes cold-blooded heroes. He's surprisingly compassionate, unexpectedly believable as a grieving father. The supporting cast is equally good, though it's too bad someone decided Don Ameche's character should be mute. Larry Miller has a few good moments as Manny's weak-willed pal; Jenifer Lewis, as Corrina's sister, is acerbic and affectionate, while little Curtis Williams, as Corrina's nephew (the same age as Molly), is a bubbly, irrepressible delight. It often looks as though Nelson just pointed the camera at him, and let him do whatever he wanted.
Much of the movie is contrived -- perhaps unavoidably. But really, did Manny and Corrina have to bond over a fondness for Erik Satie? The scene in which she helps him write a jingle for instant pudding is far more interesting and believable.
The movie, however, sneaks up on you; at first, resisting its charms seems easy, even necessary, but gradually, thanks to Goldberg's powerful but understated screen presence and the intensely involving chemistry between her and Majorino (the best child actor of the 1990s), and finally the warmth that grows between Manny and Corrina, the movie wins you over. The ending is somewhat flat and evasive, but by that time, you're regularly forgiving its lapses. This is a great movie to watch with kids.
The DVD is standard: the sound, in Dolby 5.1, is exceptionally good, but that's become state of the art today. The golden-oldies soundtrack (which skimps on "Corrina Corrina") is not as well-chosen as it might have been. As usual with New Line, both a widescreen and a pan & scan print are offered on the same side of the disc. There are filmographies for the main names involved, and a trailer.