Friday, October 21, 2016

An Enchantéd 100th Episode Tribute to Olivia De Laurentis.

Diane Franklin, Savage Steve Holland, Olivia DeLaurentis

Enchantéd: A Retrospective Tribute to Diane Franklin
X. The Future of Enchantéd: Olivia DeLaurentis

When I first began this project, Diane Franklin simply served as the muse for my writing abilities. The dream of Monique Junet was renewed, and it was her warmth and wisdom which has kept me steadily evaluating Diane's "1980s babe" stature as a whole. Such reverence has been incredibly beneficial to me, but I haven't been so successful at leaping over hurdles in my endeavors. One of the biggest problems was that I wanted to be as comprehensive as possible, but realizing I had to enforce strict rules upon myself, particularly the decision to focus on feature films alone, be they theatrical or made-for-television. It hasn't turned out as well as I hoped, and a real reason is one Diane herself makes plain in the last chapter of her book:

Diane Franklin was finding it harder to advance her acting career.

One of the most unfortunate stigmas young actors encounter is that industrial predilection for typecasting. From The Last American Virgin to Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Diane was constrained to a certain archetype, namely that of the "ingénue," even with the mid-1980s likes of Better Off Dead... and TerrorVision demonstrating an incredible yen for comedy. And while I have watched enough of her to know that she had the chops to make for a brilliant adult star, Diane's legacy is tied down to a series of movies which only see her as merely "That Girl." Once you realize the inequality of countless performers reflected in someone whom you honestly wanted to succeed, that muse starts to slip away.

Diane Franklin's transition to Diane DeLaurentis began after How I Got into College, and the stunning young performer with the curly brunette hair began a respectable domestic life as a dyed-blonde acting coach, full-time family woman and suburban expatriate. In short: she disappeared, bowing out of the public eye to an audience of seemingly few of great faith. And yet somehow, this undervalued movie star never really left the minds of an her generation, and the result has been Diane's recent blitzkrieg of autobiographies, radio programs and convention appearances. What's even more promising was the knowledge that she was getting back her acting groove, that her second wind as a legitimate, mature performer could actually arrive through the efforts of one amazingly passionate and powerful person: her teenaged daughter, Olivia DeLaurentis.

Thanks to Stuart Morris of Misty Moon Film Society/Gallery.

Olivia was born on April 23, 1996, and much like in Diane's own life story, there was a natural talent just waiting to emerge and be nurtured. In her youth, Diane navigated multiple avenues as a model, commercials star and high school drama student. And Olivia's development appears to just as all-encompassing, with one of her earliest roles being The Cat That Looked at a King, an combination live action/animated short produced exclusively for the 40th anniversary home video release of Disney's Mary Poppins. This was based on the original P.L. Travers novel Mary Poppins Opens the Door from 1943, the third in said series, and featured Julie Andrews reprising her famous role alongside such talents as Tracey Ullman, Sarah Ferguson and...David Ogden Stiers, Mr. Al Meyer, himself.

"Right off!"

Olivia looks stunning in a junior Marlo Thomas fashion, so the genetic and professional similarities between mother and daughter are further delighting. However, at the age of 12, Olivia DeLaurentis had precociously developed a drive as an honest-to-goodness, jack-of-all-trades filmmaker. Not just an actor, but also director, writer and editor, thus making her the California suburban equivalent of Robert Rodriguez. In 2008, Olivia made The Adventures of Lass with the help of family, friends and pets. In two subsequent years, she spun that off into sequels, Sweet Potato Rush and Going to America. According to the IMDb, the Lass trilogy is a satire of dysfunctional foreign families migrating to United States. You can see a clip for yourself in Diane Franklin's recent acting reel:

The promise of Diane's daughter is very much worth taking into consideration, as she has already notched several festival nominations in Los Angeles and the United Kingdom. This year alone (it is 2014 as I begin writing this), both she and Agoura High schoolmate Jeremy Elder were awarded the Dominique Dunne Film Festival award for Best Documentary for Cinco, a profile of Despicable Me creator Cinco Paul and a supporting star in one of Olivia's films. And she was also awarded the Jim McKay & Mike Wallace Memorial Scholarship, news which I need to dearly thank Diane Franklin herself for relaying to me in person before the ceremony took place:

Diane's enthusiasm for her daughter has been nothing short of endearing, yet as much as I dream of sharing that glow with her, the fact remains that Olivia's work remained hesitantly unavailable for me to really process. I never asked Diane, who has produced Olivia's short films with her husband Ray, for screener copies and I haven't had the chance to trek out to see them in their many exhibitions. Even a fellow fan I met in San Francisco proved to be somewhat stingy in letting me know these were available to watch online. A vital part of Diane's story which I never thought I would ever see for myself remained out of my reach, and I felt like I've exhausted all I can say about Diane based on her 1980s resume.

Olivia DeLaurentis

Thankfully, Olivia DeLaurentis has uploaded her post-Lass oeuvre to the hosting site Vimeo. The opportunity to pay honest and heartfelt tribute to two generations of incredible beauty and talent has presented itself. Thus my impulse is to dive right in and give each of Olivia's short films their due, hopefully doing right by her and Diane in completing one's exposure (although Diane has a couple of movies in development to keep the series running a little longer) and charting another's beginnings (please read to the end for more information). It's all so stereotypically Semisonic, this fateful development.

Without further delay, and with the blessings of both Mrs. and Ms. DeLaurentis, I present to you my latest entry in the Enchantéd retrospective: Five Long Shorts (And Five Matching Briefs) from Diane & Olivia DeLaurentis.


Our semi-complete origin story of Olivia DeLaurentis begins in the future, 2035 to be exact. A war has been waging against rebel androids and man for three years, so the latter team decides to send one of their own back through time to retrieve the access code to a valuable disintegrator. The code was once the high school locker combination of resistance leader Alexis Winters(!), and because her memory has been erased, a cyborg called the X-1 has been dispatched with a "primitive emotional program" in order to gain her trust.

The fifteen-year-old Alexis, alienated from her family and her school, is pursued by the X-1 under the guise of Mac (Drew Cullinan), a laser-shooting postal worker whose software doesn't extend to social graces, thus a most reluctant friendship is formed when the X-1 starts to incapacitate her foes, be they the mean girls who push her around or Alexis' wannabe stepmother Bree, a bar-hopping plastic surgery disaster. But Mac's slow process of humanization clashes with his mission, and as days pass, chances are the vulnerable Alexis is going to be betrayed for the extinction of the human race unless Mac learns from the true meaning of failure.

Basically, Humanized is a young girl's equivalent of the Terminator 2 buddy dynamic. With his perpetually wide eyes and piercing voice which resembles the speech pattern of Beldar Conehead, Mac is less adept at fitting in than the Schwarzenegger prototype, blending mostly though sheer belittlement. But they do get along, although not without some friction. Mac bluffs his way into spending the night at Alexis' house, gets confined to the guest room and utters the deathless line "I am enjoying our restraining order slumber party complete with boundaries."

Olivia's blend of energy and empathy does set the tone for her future short films, and as a teen actor she appears to have picked up a few welcome lessons from John Cusack. The writing itself is where Olivia really comes into her own. Mac's cybernetic database allows him to deduce how to impress teenage girls through such advice as "purchasing nutrients," "do not contact mothership" and "eliminate the cyborg that lives with her." Putting the plan into action, though, his insufficient knowledge causes him to miscalculate even the simplest acts of chivalry. Picking her up from school in a red Honda SUV similar to another student's ride, Mac assures Alexis that he is of "minimal guilt," can guess what that means.

Also worth commending are the montage scenes of Mac shadowing and bonding with Alexis, where Mac's further idiosyncrasies play out and there's even a pretty cool cameo from a woman only heard in voiceover, Mrs. DeLaurentis herself (nearly getting in a car wreck due to reckless Mac). She's even given a hometown legend salute in the pizzeria.

In short, this is a focused and fun starting point into the young filmmaker's catalog and proof that Olivia DeLaurentis is not a talent to be missed. Another touch to look out for is the soundtrack, which ends with a tune from Olivia's favorite comedy duo. Next to Diane, the other recurring adult player in the repertoire, Steven Houska, has a brief part as the neglectful father with the Bluetooth headset, a perfect transition into the first of the interstitial segments... 

a. Dad
This Mad Libs-indebted goof on a sins-of-the-father melodrama is also known as the "Llama Movie." See for yourself, as it may be your regular Satyr-day night thing. Sarah Crosthwaite co-writes and co-directs with Olivia, playing the straight-laced younger sister alongside Olivia, Diane and Max Kennedy as the impressionable youngest child. My close friend Dana Saravia ought to get as much of a kick out of the inclusion of Neil & Tim Finn's "Nothing Wrong with You" as I did. Filmed for the 2012 Agoura High student film festival.

Violet Young (Olivia DeLaurentis) dancing with Claude Rains.


A fugue state is defined as a type of psychogenic amnesia stemming from one's loss of identity, often associated with spontaneous travel which is blacked out of mind. Violet Young (Olivia), a straight-A+ student who has denied herself a social life for the perks of higher education, is warned of this disorder by her counselor (Bill Wise), a transvestite surfer dude whose desk is cluttered with Darth Vader figurines and a Billy Bass perched on a mini-Hulk pinball machine. However, his definition is more aligned with average, everyday schizophrenia, or to invent a new clinical term for it, Fredophilia.

That's because Violet's repressive super-ego has caused her to imagine a subconscious prankster named U2 (Cullinan), and like Phoebe Cates' Lizzie before her, Violet is exhibiting indecent, demented behavior she frantically, futilely attributes to an invisible manchild. Diane Franklin gets the Marsha Mason role as Violet's hyper-masculine mom, such a relentless scold that her husband (Houska) is reduced to being Mr. June Cleaver. "He's wearing an apron," snarks Mrs. Young in a hush, "You don't want to end up like that!"

U2, a neon-dyed Peter Pan in Goodwill glam, only wants what's best for Violet, who is forbidden from school dances, on the cusp of driver's ed and diverted from her talents as a fashion designer. If that means wrestling her with a boa (which onlookers can only see as her doing frustrated pirouettes), habitually stealing cars or calling her through a banana, then this cuckoo life coach surely will help Violet realize her own personal fulfillment is hardly as nutty. 

My Better Half plays as a more confident variation on the fractured fairy tale of Humanized, and Olivia's generosity with character quirks and unique comic portrayals is reminiscent of Savage Steve Holland's amiable absurdity. The understatement she displayed as Alexis Winters has given way to a broader but equally precise show of rampant, robotic neurosis. Olivia has upped her game in terms of physical comedy to match the lunacy, the highlight being when she knocks herself out with a frying pan and lumbers puppet-like down the stairs of her mansion, her Stepford Father looking on with mortification.

Drew Cullinan also feels more natural in front of the camera here, and makes a case that he could improve upon the late Rik Mayall's Rotten routine. Playing the roles of Violet's misfit friends are Sydney Heller (Olivia's co-conspirator at Barely Legal Comedy) as the academically jealous Cindy ("I write poetry about your body being found in a ditch") and Sarah Crosthwaite as OCD-addled Christian athlete Annie, each making an excellent impression. As for Diane...well, I get the feeling she is a spiritual godmother to all of the young actresses. Her sourpuss streak is luminously spot-on, and Steven Houska also makes the most of his expanded screen time as the emasculated hubby.

Olivia the filmmaker has also markedly improved, exhibiting a deft touch with the montage at the very start by giving us a compact knowledge at Violet's study-centric all-nighters. The temp soundtrack backing her up is also the best of her films, especially if you're an art rock nerd like me who fancies Sparks, Brian "Baby's on Fire" Eno and The Modern Lovers. The homecoming ball is set to the tune of Billy Idol's "Dancing with Myself," natch, as the Violet triggers independent-minded revolt amongst her peers and does the one-girl rhumba in a sexy costume she literally stitched together in her sleep.

Fuguing hilarious. 

b. Agouraphobia

A comedy trailer in which Olivia teases her own Agoura Hills environment, caught in a rat trap of sealed fates, multiple iPads, "long shorts," and heated debate over semi-fast Mexican restaurants. "No one escapes from Stalag 16," her peers and the prophecies warn her, but can she defy the Big Pig in the Sky and, once and for all, break away?! Tune in next life for the thrilling conclusion.

Sarah Crosthwaite, Diane Franklin, Sydney Heller, Steven Houska


The Adventures of Lass trilogy was an indication that Olivia had a yen for crackpot revisions of historical developments, although sadly it is not available to watch. Instead, her next mini-movie, Royal Effups, is a Monty Python-style burlesque of the Enlightenment in 17th century Europe, an "Idiocracy: The Early Years," if you will. Set a half-century before the Intellectual Revolution, the first thing you'll notice is that even medieval babes like the fine, faire Princess Joanna were peasants once.

In a time of free amputations and children selling potato-shaped stones as food (it's a shame they didn't serve moss on the side to garnish them), a poor girl from Lemmingsville named Jane Iver (Olivia) dreams of being a Feudalist Tart. Upon inventing a heretofore unknown taste sensation called "candy," she is summoned by the royal cardinal (Evan Laffer) to be the arranged bride for King Ferdinand VIII.V. Alas, she has just been married into the royally insane, as Ferdinand's surname is an indication of his age.

Now officially betrothed to a child (Kyle Lewis) only interested in her candy, Jane is run further ragged by the rest of the monarchy, including a declaratorily conniving close heir in pirate wear (Cullinan's Duke of Transvestia) and Elizabeth the Cursed (Sydney Heller), the smeared-lipstick simpleton whose mental deficiencies stem from being the daughter of the Earl and Earless of Incestia (Houska and Diane).

Running about ten minutes less than My Better Half, the more loosely-structured Royal Effups embraces its dumbed-down premise with gusto. Ferdinand's chalice is a sippy cup and he rubs hard candy all over his chest after getting a huge bowl from Jane in exchange for a necklace. Jane herself binges on sweets for supper, although the cross-dressing Tranvestian would sooner she wash them down with vitriol. Sadly, we never quite see the Earless of Incestia pull back her hair or exaggerate her deafness enough to justify her position, but the celibate Cardinal does stick his fingers in his ear when Jane threatens to explain coitus and flicks about holy water to suppress any erotic tension. This time around, Evan Laffer is the film's MVP (although Sydney Heller and Drew Cullinan are incredible foes) and will return in a future paragraph.

There's an early visual gag which suggests the Imbecilic Revolution made ripples across the Atlantic, but we never do get to see any satisfying satire from this connection. I hope for a deleted scene of the pint-sized emperor holding a ridiculous public assembly or palace monologue. Royal Effups is a time-traveling variation on Olivia's subversive adolescent angst, this time putting Cinderella in a kingdom of pumpkinheads and watching her squirm and bluff her way into affirming her own grasp of power. The wit and the triumph which paid off splendidly in My Better Half is there, especially when the Cardinal confesses his crush on Jane at the least possibly requiting time.

Also, pip pip and Golden Crisps for the soundtrack, which is duly orchestral but contains many familiar modern melodies from the stables of Jimmy Eat World, Jason Mraz, Eric Clapton, and, of course, Queen.

I'd rank it only slightly behind My Better Half, but it's still goofily, gallantly imaginative and Olivia's personal artistic voice still registers above the royal ruckus.

 c. Recruiting Violations

Olivia's Gwyneth Diaz goes scouting for colleges, but learns that it's better to call them than vice versa, especially when they phone you up after midnight on a studying bender. The admissions reps who phone her each represent a passive aggressive form of unsavory interest, concluding in a failed romantic misunderstanding/rejection from Bay Area University. It's scarier than the remake of When a Stranger Calls, to be sure.

Olivia DeLaurentis, Evan Laffer

The fourth of the "long shorts" takes us to the 46-minute mark, thus making Lovechild feel like the alpha of the bunch by virtue of its plotting and length. Once again, Olivia has fashioned a farce based on personality crisis, only this time her character is more in control and demonstrates more agency. As an actress, Lovechild may be her single most substantial vehicle, although My Better Half is still determinedly on the Honor Roll. It's an amalgam of both Charles Dickens and Harold Gray in terms of story ideas, but an influence which I hinted at in the earlier reviews finally swims on deck. And that influence is, blessed be, Better Off Dead.

Olivia's character is named Layna Meyers, whilst Diane Franklin herself plays Jenny Meyers, which is a pluralized direct tribute to the role Kim Darby played in that 1985 favorite, which was as Christmas-related as Lovechild. The dynamic between real-life and onscreen parent and child is also more pronounced than before, so there is a added layer of poignancy in this film which I cannot be a Scrooge about. As someone who came into this project holding firmly onto the elder DeLaurentis' festive spirit, it's a little hard to be objective because the chemistry is profoundly authentic and their hearts in the absolute right places. Forgive me for saying this, but one viewing will make you want to go out and hug the both of them.

Especially Diane, whose Jenny Meyers has been injured on the job at a factory run by crooked millionaire Gregory Rhodes (Houska), who has unjustly fired his entire staff after a disastrous crane accident. Because of this miserly misdeed, Jenny can't claim worker's comp and owes $10,000 in back rent summed up in an eviction notice. But she doesn't know that latter fact, only her thespian daughter Layna is keen to it, thus sparing her any more indignity.

Irate and vengeful, Layna hits upon an ingenious scheme to milk Rhodes for damages, pointing to a 17-year-old tryst as research for the role of her lifetime: Rhodes' illicit, long-orphaned teen daughter. With the help of her best friend Reagan (Tyler Matylewicz), the gay son of a right wing pigeon, she pulls all the right strings to land at the callous CEO's doorstep. Layna learns that she's not his lone black sheep, as Rhodes has a son named Plato, or Plates (Evan Laffer) who has been repeatedly expelled from boarding schools and is caught up in his own brooding, Machavellian angst. But with her own weekly allowance of $3,500, Layna only needs to keep up the charade for a month to clear her mom's debts. But as she is confronted with her own transgressions whilst bonding with her sexually confused, arch-martyr half-brother, can Layna improv her way back out of the ruse in time?

Fittingly enough for a movie which opens with an on-the-fly rendition of A Christmas Carol, Lovechild is its own improvisational Christmas pageant. And yet it comes together a lot better than its loose beginnings imply, another token of Olivia's single-handed skills on the order of her last three films. The character moments continue to find just the right mix of embarrassment and sweetness, and Olivia's writing has many effective dynamics besides the aforementioned mother/daughter bond. Layna's liaison with Plates is especially ripe for schadenfreude. Her machination drives the boy so mad, he raids the kitchen sink for anything that will hinder his love-damaged dementia.

Steven Houska's Rhodes also allows for the recurring star to open himself up more in terms of dramatic material, striking a note of convincing vulnerability when he recounts the real love he felt for Layna's pretend mother and the shame of his fatherly confidence gone sour. His money-throwing notion of defective responsibility is, in a way, humanized.

The clever black comedy as much as the conflicts are as universal as they are individual, and are relaxed enough so that it doesn't leave a ham-fisted bruise. There's an intelligence behind Olivia's talents which makes the silliness stem from authentic surroundings. Sure, she can aim at easy targets (we'll get to that in a few) and make as juvenile of humor as the "big boys" in comedy, but if the teen flicks of her mother's past are any yardstick, then Olivia is a preternatural heir to the primo youth movies of John Hughes and Rob Reiner.
d. Dealbreaker

A confessional board game bought at an indie Chinatown voodoo shop worries Olivia-as-Jamie. Rightfully so, if you've seen Gremlins, but instead the twist of this five-minute filmlet is basically the opening skit from Movie 43 about the perfect bachelor with the physical malady filtered through a Freaky Friday/Big-style shot of supernatural fantasy. Drew Cullinan returns as the dashing mystery date, who loves Bowie but has inherited the butt of Barf from Spaceballs.

Jeremy Elder, Adam Fisher, Diane, Olivia, Steven Houska


Ladies and gentlemen, live from the Epicene Theater (may as well be), comes the newest, truest and bluest romantics ever assembled. Meet Devon Bright and the Sensitive Boys, too chaste to chase just any young girl, but one whose purity comes from Nicholas Sparks stories and can cry just a little to make them demonstrate the proper use of Kleenex.

Fawns, Cougars and even caged tigers from all correctional facilities hear the hyper-compassionate cry of this latest breed of teenage wildlife: cherubic tube-top victim Kendall Bae (Adam Fisher), tough-talking softie Ashley (Jeremy Elder) and the central low-thario, the most valiant knight in shining capris to come to your emotional rescue, Devon Bright (Drew Cullinan). They are at the height of their fame, thanks to canny marketing agent Rick Martini (Houska), deceptive mothering on behalf of estrogen pill dealer Mrs. Bright (Diane) and an audience who capriciously get full body tattoos and scream their fanaticism to Ed Gein degrees. And that makes Kendall Bae sad.

Devon Bright is also broken up when he fails to avert his eyes during a detour through the ghetto and, omigod, a bum! This harsh reality presses Devon to abandon the incubatory safety of his family mansion and group bed to investigate further, first by engaging with a delusional hobo psycho (David Neale) whose oracle is Cap'n Crunch and then coming tear-to-tear with his disgraced progenitor and hero, Jesse Holiday (Christopher Mathieu). The green-eyed golden boy whose career stalled thanks to green soda, Jesse now rules his own street-smart trio of down-and-out child celebrities and initiates Devon into the X-Faction.

I am old enough to remember that made-for-MTV mockudrama 2gether, way back when Justin Timbaland was a distant dream of the future. You know, the one that had such dead-on style parodies as "Rub One Out," "U + Me = Us (Calculus)" and "The Hardest Part of Breaking Up (Is Getting Back Your Stuff)." Devon Bright and the Sensitive Boys takes that conceit fourteen years later in a present day universe of Directioners and Beliebers, and Olivia fashions it into another skewed but relatable journey for independence.

Backing her up is brother Nick DeLaurentis on the composing side, and the two original songs they have come up with are more purposefully bad than you would expect a satire of banal teenybopper pop to be. It's a moderately successful joke to hear neutered Iron Johnny Angel catchphrases ("I won't eat red meat/No, it's all about soy"), but not so over-the-edge as to make for genuine novelty.

Having now grown up enough to employ liberal profanities and a fondness for punk rock (Dead Kennedys poster, seedy scenery, Television and Marilyn Manson cues), 18-year-old Olivia seems ready to rumble in the comedy ring. But off-hand references to the choosey pitfalls of fame and the gullibility of pop crack addicts don't land with the blows they ought to pack, even when voiced by mincing caricature-com-conscience Kevin (Sean McSweeney), a reformed crack baby who evinces a genuine love for Devon's positive pabulum.

Devon Bright's guppy-out-of-pond sojourn results in a literal poor man's victory at the end, busted down to strutting in the park with his codependent siblings to shallow tweens who shrug off their social awareness. The satire runs through a series of tenuously-grasped poses towards a fitting but limp dead end.

There are some hearty laughs to be had, though, like the benign inner city pressure Devon encounters set to a thrash cover of "A Whole New World" from the Aladdin soundtrack as well as the proposed concession to ethnic diversity which is met with a defensive shriek by the homogenized Brights. The funny foreigner character at the end, though, is more hackneyed than I expected. The performances also strike me more as a serviceable collection of improv troupe tics in need of a human touch, especially in the central trio of stars. This is not Spinal Tap, to put it lightly.

Strangely, this is the first of Olivia's movies where I found myself willingly wanting more of her mother, who proves the most sustainable resource in the film. Diane's mixture of natural buoyancy and instinctive wryness gives her an advantage as the sidelined Svengali. Mrs. Bright's introduction is simultaneously sexy and sardonic. 

Devon Bright and the Sensitive Boys is a minor diversion by comparison to her last four efforts, and whilst she still demonstrates chops with non-sequiturs, sharp one-liners and good-hearted rebellion, I can only anticipate Olivia's growth in the college circle and cheer on her great crowd leap forward. The evidence I've gathered here is enough to ensure her promise rings.

 e. Chapman Application Movie
Olivia's parents play their own worrying selves as their daughter suffers an amnesia-inducing mule kick to the head. A concise formal parody of handheld identity crisis and frenetically-edited B&W flashback stock footage that ends with an even more satisfying near-hit than Devon Bright. Sarah and Cinco co-star. Music via Weezer and The Buzzcocks. Length at two minutes long, so here's to the lost 30 seconds of footage gone the way of The Magnificent Ambersons. Vaya con dios.

I highly recommend checking out Olivia's most recent sketch comedy with Sydney Heller at Barely Legal Comedy as well as After Dark with Julian Clark, plus I'll leave you with one more bonus sketch, in which Diane Franklin compliments her own daughter's breasts:

1 comment:

  1. Thoughtful and well-written overview of Olivia DeLaurentis' films to date. Already being a fan of Olivia's work--as well as being very much appreciative her use of excellent music in it--I not only dug reading this, but it made me want to revisit her films over again.
    Very well done, John :D