When Curtiz and talented others put together Casablanca in 1942, it was just a job. The studio rushed it out in nine weeks; it went slightly over budget and had last minute screenplay issues. However in the end just the right combination of elements amazingly came together surprising and surpassing expectations. (Like Captain America’s shield, but we digress.)
We do not know what Au Pair series fathers Sherman and Griffiths were anticipating when Au Pair was being filmed, but we doubt they thought it would be one of the most popular films ever made for the Family Channel (be repeated constantly, and spawn two sequels). But like Casablanca, it was just the right combination of elements at just the right time.
Our patented synopsis in a sentence: Jenny is a smart girl with a business degree and no job prospects so she takes on a nanny gig for rich widower Oliver who is kindhearted but a little dense, has two spoiled children, and is being manipulated into marriage by uber shrew Vivian until Jenny teaches the children the value of a dollar and renews Oliver’s spirit with a pure heart… and a couple hawt dresses.
The timing was just right in 1999. The Family Channel was riding high, people were getting rich with dot coms, and every average Joe saw a chance to become a millionaire. Jenny resonated trying to find her way with earnestness and good ideas. So many out there look for a chance. A hope that along the way they will be recognized, find success and true love. (Not us in the Fortress of course, but we digress.)
The movie was not a big-budget extravaganza nor some experimentally shot tour de force. Still (or perhaps because) it commands attention with classic cinematography, and beloved, well done character stereotypes. We are not against them here in the Fortress. They can be quite entertaining. Vivian was the (stereotypical and perhaps typecast) role Jane Sibbett was born to play. Such delicious patrician, gold digging attitude.
Gregory Harrison may be a made-for-TV staple, but the likeable and slightly absent minded businessman is right up his alley. Forget all those Lifetime channel appearances where 97% of the time someone is pushed down stairs. Au Pair was an upbeat tale that leaves you feeling better. A novelty we know!
Heidi Lenhart has great “girl next door” good looks. You believed her as Jenny the frumpy business major, and as Jenny the girl rocking the hawt dresses. Her wardrobe transformation scene was what we in the Fortress called “a minute and a half of pure movie making”. However time (or lawyers) were not kind to these 90 seconds. In one of those “stupid licensing things” the “Pretty Woman” song to which the scene was so nicely edited was replaced by something far inferior. (Why our favorite scene? Why?!) So see if you can get an earlier version (and spare yourself this cinematic tragedy).
The youths did a good job portraying bratty rich kids who learn important life lessons and overcome the loss of their mother. Good ol’ John Rhys Davies plays a supporting role as (mega-stereotypical) butler Nigel. He adds gravitas to the production.
We do not know what to say to you if you still have no desire to try this charming film. Is your heart made of silicon? Was it broken in 8th grade? Perhaps a dirtied down depressing travesty like the Syfy Channel’s version of Battlestar Galactica is your kind of TV fare. If so, this movie where the mean get comeuppance and love triumphs in the end is not for you.