Tony Shalhoub has recently found renewed success on television with his comic detective show “Monk,” and that’s probably fortunate, because his feature directing debut, while a harmless enough diversion, proves to be a relatively feeble–and rather precious–little comedy-drama about aging and parenthood. “Made-Up” centers on Elizabeth (Brooke Adams), an erstwhile actress who gave up her career for husband Duncan (Gary Sinise) years ago and settled into a life of unremarkable domesticity. Unhappily Duncan’s now left her for a younger woman, a perky, New Agey artist named Molly (Light Eternity). At the same time Elizabeth is feeling the absence of daughter Sara (Eva Amurri), who’s left home to study cosmetology. Enter Elizabeth’s sister Kate (Lynne Adams), an aspiring filmmaker, who persuades her to become the real-life star of a documentary video in which Sara will make her look younger and she’ll start dating again; Kate will even record Elizabeth’s first outing with sweetly accommodating restaurateur Max Hires (Shalhoub). The experience brings to the surface Elizabeth’s insecurities and resentments, but ultimately teaches her to count her blessings.
Parts of “Made-Up” are amusing enough. The date sequence, for instance, is quite humorous, with Shalhoub doing a nice turn as the eager-to-please Max. Some of the potshots taken at documentary filmmaking are fun, too, especially those involving Kate’s volunteer crew. It’s also an agreeable change of pace that nobody turns out to be a stock villain; the pictures goes for a good-natured, upbeat conclusion instead, in which even Molly comes off well. And the cast is mostly good, with the secondary roles particularly well taken. The Adams sisters, to be sure, have a tendency to overdo things from time to time, but they generally keep within reasonable bounds.
But overall the picture simply tries to be too many things–light comedy, sharp satire, mockumentary, probing drama–and doesn’t manage the transitions very smoothly. Things go especially bad in a scene toward the close, when Kate, to save her project, actually persuades her alcoholic sister, who’s been on the wagon for years, to take a drink to bolster her courage. This leads to a horrible drunk scene in which Adams embarrasses herself, and it’s only with difficulty that the movie regains its footing for a nice finish.
“Made-Up” isn’t disreputable: it has a good heart and quite a few strengths. The lack of narrative focus and a consistent tone, however, leave it seeming a rather rickety conceit.