Having successfully established herself as a comedic actress in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Kristen Bell is next set to star in the indie ballet black comedy Dance of the Mirlitons, from young screenwriter and director Evan Greenberg. The story, which Greenberg conceptualized in middle school and finalized while attending NYU, centers on "an ambitious, slightly overweight ballerina with an overbearing mother (Bell) who will stop at nothing to become a star. The girl enters a "Mean Girls"-type environment when she has to prove her worth in class."
The project was picked up by Warner Independent after landing on the 2005 Blacklist (Hollywood's unofficial list of the top ten unproduced screenplays) alongside Juno and Lars and the Real Girl, but lost traction when the studio division closed down in 2008. It took Greenberg "a few years" to reacquire the rights to the script, but "once I got the rights back, it was about [finding] the right partner."
For that, Greenberg reached out to producers Daniel Dubiecki (who worked on the Oscar-nominated Up in the Air) and Joel Michaely, who got the project back on track by focusing on signing a well-known lead for the role of the mother before attempting to secure financial support. And Dubiecki believes Bell's is just the kind of name that will help the project move forward. "Kristen's combination of comedic timing and authenticity will bring this character to the next level, and give this crossover appeal," he said.
Now, Greenberg just needs an actress to play the film's "precocious 10 to 12-year-old" protagonist. "We're looking to discover an unknown," said Greenberg, just as 2000's Billy Elliot surfaced previously unrecognized talent in then 14-year-old Jamie Bell.
While progress on Dance of the Mirlitons has proceeded in fits and starts since Greenberg first shopped his script in 2005, he hopes that with the presence of Kristen Bell, production will begin this winter. "I hope that one day people will talk about how it was one of those movies that came together, fell apart, came together again," he said. "The best projects are the ones that take the most elbow grease to get made."
Brace yourself Dr. Laura. This clueless teen queen (Natasha Lyonne) has it all: good looks a football captain boyfriend and a popular pair of pom-poms. But her candy-colored world crumbles when her panicked parents stage an intervention after finding a Melissa Etheridge poster that leads them to conclude she's a friend of Ellen. After being carted off to an anti-gay rehab camp for teens the perky princess must choose between the straight and narrow-minded or the love that dare not speak its name.
The quirky ensemble casting is half this film's fun. Lyonne is charming as the pepster tempted by T&A and she sparks onscreen with swanky and sexy co-star Clea DuVall who plays the butch femme fatale suitor (alarmingly reminiscent of Nancy McKeon's Jo from "The Facts of Life.") Drag queen supreme RuPaul is unrecognizable out of his high heels and even higher blond wig wearing a "Straight is Great" T-shirt as a macho militant ex-gay counselor. Cathy Moriaty is sweetly sinister as the homophobic headmistress and Mink Stole steals scenes as the uptight upright meddling mom.
Kudos to Jamie Babbit for tackling this hot-potato topic but this well-intentioned film too often misses its mark turning potentially comical scenes into unbearably awkward moments. Babbit fouls when tugging at the heartstrings but hits home runs when the humor is at its broadest.