Really, how was I supposed to resist Wishing Well, a made-for-TV movie about a hardened New York entertainment journalist (uh oh!) who gets demoted from Celeb magazine to the slow poke human interest beat of Great Housekeeping (!)? Her crummy new assignment—what is with that once-magical wishing well in Slow Creek, Illinois?—lands her in one of those cute small towns with picket fences and handsome wooden benches that aren’t chained to immovable objects. Jordan Ladd, she of Maxim‘s top 100 Babes of Horror, plays the city girl and she’s in Slow Creek mere minutes before she bumps into a London brother (the one from the Man in the Moon, not Party of Five). We all know how this is going to end. We knew it from the opening scene when Ladd and her brittle buddy gab in their shiny, immaculate high-rise apartment about how enviable their lives are. “We have exciting careers, live in great apartments, go to great parties, make a lot of money,” brags her friend. Cue our heroine’s slow awakening to the fact that her so-called successful life in the city is in fact tragically empty. Prescription: One small town with a sassy older waitress at the diner and a cute fella in adorably rumpled khakis!
I always find it so amusing when Hollywood gets ripped one in the culture wars for devaluing lives not lived on a coast. Who are we kidding? The entertainment biz loves shipping urban women characters off to their caricatured versions of one-stoplight towns! (Usually Harry Connick, Jr. is waiting for them, and let’s all agree that that man makes a fine welcome wagon.) Reese Witherspoon in Sweet Home Alabama, Renee Zellweger in New in Town, Diane Keaton in the delightful Baby Boom, Sandra Bullock in the ubiquitous Hope Floats—they all got their heads right once they bid adieu to their fancy shoes and demanding careers. In Wishing Well, Jordan Ladd—after a goofy time travel twist—finds her closet of suits replaced by Rory Gilmore’s wardrobe. Only in peasant blouses and ponytails can a woman finally relax!
This whole notion that a woman inevitably calcifies in the big city reminds me of when I went home to Maryland to visit my Grandmother after I first got the gig at EW. I was 26 years old. I wanted to brag a bit on my new adventures but my Grandmother—I choose to believe she had the best intentions at heart—shushed me. “The job is too competitive for you, isn’t it?” she worried. Oh for the love of… Why don’t dudes in movies ever get sent off to small towns to find their best selves? I can only think of Doc Hollywood‘s Michael J. Fox as an example of a man forced to endure such a fish-out-of-water role.
Say what you want about the Proposal. (And if you’re me, you say that it is terrific!) But I just loved the fact that Sandra Bullock, however love-shy and consumed by her demanding, bad-ass job, knew that she at heart belonged in the city. She didn’t end up opening up a little bookstore in Alaska. She ended up back home where she comfortably belonged.*
Who’s with me? Why are men in the movies allowed to love the city while women so often have to leave it to find themselves true love? What movies am I forgetting where a man finds himself (and the gal of his dreams) in a small town?
*This is probably where I should admit that I left New York City two years ago for Austin, Texas. It’s nice here! Mmm, barbecue.