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    Why the long face?

    Tony Shalhoub's directorial debut "Made-Up," about the obsession with facelifts, makeup and other weapons against female aging, is a scattered confusion of thinly stretched plot points.


    Tony Shalhoub bites off much more than he can comfortably chew in his family-film directing debut.

    Shalhoub has done wonderful work as an actor, whether on "Wings" or "Monk" or in his tour-de-farce performance as "Big Night's" touchy star chef, Primo. So we might hope for his film directorial debut to be a rousing success despite its late January release date — smack in the middle of filmdom's traditional dump month.

    Directed by: Tony Shalhoub.
    Written by: Lynne Adams.
    Cast: Brooke Adams, Lynne Adams, Eva Amurri, Kalen Conover, Light Eternity, Jim Issa, Lance Krall, Tony Shalhoub, Gary Sinise.
    Cinematography: Gary Henoch.

    Related links: Official site
    Getting right to the good news/bad news on Shalhoub's little mockumentary cum home movie — he co-stars with wife Brooke Adams and sister-in-law Lynne Adams, who also wrote the script — it's not as bad as a January release might imply. But it has a long way to go to meet the standards set by the mocku-masters, Chris Guest and his "Spinal Tap"/"Mighty Wind" crowd.

    That distinction may well be a function of Shalhoub's personal style. In "Made-Up" he shambles lightly in a "boob with a heart of gold" role that one can only assume is what he was going for. "Made-Up" is a sweet but vague musing on the vicissitudes of aging for women (not men). One sister (Kate/Lynne) is making a documentary about her sister (Elizabeth/Brooke), who lost her husband to a younger blond artist. Elizabeth's daughter (Eva Amurri) blames the breakup on her mother's gray hair, extra poundage and sagging skin. Since said daughter wants to become a cosmetologist, she offers to make mom over. Hence the title, saddled with far too many echoes and entendres — to make up with cosmetics, to make up with people emotionally, to make up a movie within a movie, whatever.

    This tendency of overdoing cute starts with the film's opening credits — it's "A Vanity Production" by way of "Sister Films." "A Mighty Wind" may contain multiple subplots, but everything leads to the big folk reunion at Town Hall. "Made-Up" keeps losing focus, the same way mom loses her face-lift clips. Is it about making the documentary, or mom meeting the new guy, Max (Shalhoub), or the new guy's insecurity about his acting ability, or mom's snobbish disapproval of daughter's career choice, or ... there's lots more, but you get the point.

    The film keeps changing course, perhaps Shalhoub's way of trying to show that life is messy, but the film itself shouldn't seem messy and it does. The production notes state, "What starts out as a mother-daughter documentary turns into a Sister Film about beauty and aging, passion and creativity, seeing and being seen." Way too much path-changing for the fragile framework of this slight, if occasionally amusing film, filled with multiple epiphanies and unintentionally ironic values.

    When Mom finally realizes that there is value to daughter's choice, it's because said daughter gives makeovers to the homeless. Puh-leese, they're wearing lipstick, but they're still homeless!!! Gary Sinise as the ex-husband seems embarrassed to be in the film at all, perhaps because he looks so much younger than Adams to begin with. And the unknown chosen to play the blonde bombshell, is a non-entity, with a weird — possibly made-up name (Light Eternity!), who doesn't begin to have the qualities ascribed to her home-wrecker character.

    Brooke Adams, a good actress, disappeared a few years ago, but this isn't a great comeback vehicle for her. It would be lovely to see the husband and wife team of Adams and Shalhoub make a film together — comedy or drama — with a strong story as well as kooky characters. Sadly, "Made-Up" isn't that film.

    JANUARY 24, 2004

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