In regards to “sophomore slumps,” Elvis Costello famously said, “you have 20 years to write your first album and you have six months to write your second one.” The same can be applied to any number of artists, be them musicians, filmmakers, or authors, who strike gold with their first project only to see their follow-up fall short.
Edward Burns’ She’s the One saw a release almost exactly a year after his thoughtful debut The Brothers McMullen. In the process of acquiring a far bigger budget — $3 million compared to $28,000 — an A-list cast, and a Tom Petty soundtrack, Burns comes away reworking the formula for his directorial debut, right down to the same actors playing virtually the same characters as they previously did. The major difference is their likability has been drained significantly and the element of surprise is no longer present. Now, we come with expectations.
Burns follows the Fitzpatrick brothers, a tight-knit Irish-American family living in New York City. Sound familiar? Burns plays Mickey, a feckless twentysomething who drives a cab after splitting with his ex-fiancée Heather (Cameron Diaz). One day, a young, attractive woman named Hope (Maxine Bahns) finds herself in the back of Mickey’s cab, and in 24 hours, they get married. Right off the bat, it’s apparent that somewhere between Film #1 and Film #2, Burns felt the realism he used to great strengths previously would be better substituted for a dose of incredulity.
Let’s talk about Francis (Mike McGlone), Mickey’s brother. He’s a Wall Street executive privy to all the usual behavior: drinking, smoking, wearing fancy suits, and cheating on his sweet wife Renee (Jennifer Aniston) with… Heather, of course. He’s disgusted by the notion that Renee has a vibrator despite the fact the two haven’t had sex in months. Francis has fallen out of love with his wife in no time and is excited by Heather, who also works on Wall Street. Unlike Mickey, however, Francis isn’t aware that she used to be a hooker, and judging by her unexplained role on Wall Street — and the fact that she keeps an unseen, elderly client close to her chest — we can believe that she’s the epicenter of the financial world’s best stress reliever this side of certain massage parlors.
So, Francis decides to divorce Renee and pursue Heather around the same time Mickey starts to think he… get this… rushed into things with Hope. Hope stuns him by saying she intends to move to Paris for school, which leaves him uneasy about his own future. The same man who can marry a woman he just met suddenly has reservations about making big life decisions when his two closest companions in life are his cocksure brother and judgmental father (John Mahoney). Mr. Fitzpatrick’s purpose in the story is to provide the brothers with amusing but ultimately unhelpful fatherly advice while anchoring the boys’ semi-frequent fishing trips where the unspoken motto is “no girls allowed.”
While Burns, McGlone, and Bahns play characters very similar to those they played in The Brothers McMullen, it’s Cameron Diaz who shines in an early career performance. She doesn’t let Heather become too easily defined. Her appearance and demeanor suggest an aura of mystery we’re not used to seeing from supporting characters billed as “hookers.” It’s no coincidence that she appears to be the most put-together soul on-screen at any given time. She’s made mistakes, but she doesn’t wallow in self-doubt, and when something falls apart, she quickly moves on. Aniston has the occasionally amusing line, but she’s reduced to a woman whose only characteristic is fretting over her husband and their sexless marriage. When Francis comes clean to Renee about his infidelity, he has to spell it out for her.
Again, compare that to the great scene in McMullen when Molly reveals to Jack that she knows he’s cheating before he can even say it. Molly was too intelligent of a person not to realize it. Burns illustrates Renee with a lot less nuance and it makes for an obligatory revelation for her and her only.
Comparison is the thief of joy, and I tend to agree. But after being impressed by The Brothers McMullen, it’s difficult to look at She’s the One and not feel like Burns didn’t have enough time to find something new to say. In his first feature, he was careful to paint dimensional characters with a value system in place despite them not always making the best decisions. There was meat on that bone that was pretty well picked over the course of a film that, had it not been for Robert Redford, might not be canonized as one of the foundational works for independent cinema of the 1990s. She’s the One is more in-line with the forgettable dramadies we see each and every year. Ones that inoffensively pass the time on rainy Sundays and are forgotten by the time the sun shows itself again.
I will say, however, that I admire Burns’ commitment to assuring his character ended up with his (then-wife) Maxine Bahns in the first two films he wrote. Because frankly (shamelessly?) I would’ve done the same.
Starring: Edward Burns, Mike McGlone, Maxine Bahns, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston, John Mahoney, Leslie Mann, Amanda Peet, and Robert Weil. Directed by: Edward Burns.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality in North Central Illinois. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!