*** (out of 5)
January 9, 2004
Mandy Moore as ANNA FOSTER
Matthew Goode as BEN CALDER
Jeremy Piven as ALAN WEISS
Annabella Sciorra as CYNTHIA MORALES
Caroline Goodall as MICHELLE FOSTER
Mark Harmon as JAMES FOSTER
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Andy Cadiff
BY KEVIN CARR
“Chasing Liberty” is one of those films that independent, anti-Hollywood types complain about. It was made strictly for a demographic in mind with very little focus put on artistic originality and creativity. While a lot of people will take digs at this movie for this, my response is a simple, “So what?”
What’s wrong with playing to an audience? What’s wrong with identifying a demographic that will pay money to see a film? What’s wrong with making a Hollywood cliche?
In the case of “Chasing Liberty,” the demographic is teenage girls. Let’s face it, we’re not going to see too many members of Hell’s Angels racing out to see this flick. So, when I saw this film, I tried to keep that in mind. And the audience filled with teenage girls at the theater where I saw this loved the movie.
Anna (Mandy Moore) is a typical 18 year old trying to find love in a big city. Her only problem is that her big city is Washington D.C. and her father (Mark Harmon) happens to be the President of the United States. She’s fed up with being followed by the secret service on her dates, so she makes a deal with her dad to let her have a night alone with a friend in Prague.
Her father sends agents along to protect her anyway, and when Anna figures this out, she makes a break for it. Anna manages to give the agents the slip with the help of a good looking photographer named Ben Calder (Matthew Goode). However, it turns out Ben is with the U.S. government as well, unbeknownst to Anna. Figuring he’d give her a taste of freedom, the President allows Anna to run around Europe with Ben on the condition that she is never told he is an agent. The only problem is that Ben never figured he’d actually start to have feelings for Anna.
The quintessential romantic comedy of the modern age in my opinion is “Pretty Woman.” To me, this is the benchmark to which all other romantic comedies can be compared. In this respect, “Chasing Liberty” is a bit sub-standard. What made a film like “Pretty Woman” top the list is the simple chemistry between the actors and the internal struggles they went through.
Mandy Moore is a cute girl, but she’s not quite reaching the level she needs to as an actor. She doesn’t have the elegance of Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock, and she doesn’t have the cuteness of Hilary Duff or Amanda Bynes. While Matthew Goode is easy on the eyes for the ladies, he’s a bit understated as an actor – kind of a Hugh Grant without the charming stammer.
One sinkhole this film tended to fall into now and then was pulling its punches. I’m not sure quite the reason for this, but I would imagine it had to do with where the executives saw the exact age of the target demographic landing. Several scenes had a sexual undertone that was actually suppressed, I would imagine to make the film more appealing along the PG/PG-13 fence.
For example, in a scene where Anna and Ben admit they have feelings for each other, they disappear into a tent. The next morning, they wake up to find Ben in nothing but his undershorts and Anna pulling the covers discreetly over her chest. Did they have sex? Or did they not? In today’s movie, the assumption is that they did. But when Anna is confronted by Gabrielle (Beatrice Rosen), she’s asked, “Was it sex?” Anna’s response is, “No. Love.” So there’s an implication there wasn’t sex – just heavy petting apparently.
Additionally, as much as I appreciate a nude scene with Mandy Moore, the not-so-subtle cinematic trick of her taking off her top and just showing her back (or more likely the back of a body double) was overused. It really wasn’t necessary to the plot and could have been dealt with a different way.
As far as this kind of movie goes, “Chasing Liberty” didn’t quite live up to last year’s “What a Girl Wants” and “The Lizzie McGuire Movie,” the most recent stories about girls coming of age while tooling around Europe. Still, “Chasing Liberty” had some overly familiar elements to these two films, mainly the now-cliche story of a girl riding around a foreign city on the back of a motorbike.
The story of a president’s wayward daughter is also nothing new. Disney did a TV movie several years ago called “My Date with the President’s Daughter,” and not too long ago the show “Seven Days” had a similar storyline. Moore’s portrayal of Anna was fairly route, considering the real character of a spoiled president’s daughter who had been protected since she was four years old would probably result in a real brat.
And although this was meant to be a light-hearted romantic comedy for teens, there could have been a little more threat to Anna than just a pickpocket on a train and some harassing juveniles in Berlin. After all, tooling around Europe isn’t all that safe for any 18 year old girl alone, regardless of who her father is.