Really, there’s not much that’s original about Barefoot. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of several tried-and-true chick flick / romantic comedy formulas: 1) the meeting the family movie, 2) the falling in love with a mental patient movie, and of course, 3) the falling in love while on a cross-country road trip movie. Barefoot snatched plays from all those scenarios like Bill Belichick and mashed them up into this movie before you. Even so, it’s not without its appeal, particularly Evan Rachel Wood as a flighty escapee from a mental ward.
The premise is that Jay (Scott Speedman, trying very hard to ditch the pretty boy look but failing ’cause, abs) is the black sheep of his wealthy New Orleans family. He’s a selfish, perennial loser on probation in LA and who owes a large debt to a local loan shark. His impending leg breaking prompts him to inform his parents that he’s returning home for his brother’s wedding, in the hopes of wrangling $40,000 from his estranged old man (the always welcome Treat Williams) to settle his bill. He of course flaps his gums a bit too much and tells them that he’ll be bringing his non-existent girlfriend, who is a nurse.
Jay ekes out a living mopping floors in the county psyche ward, where the newest patient is a confused and flighty young woman named Daisy (Wood) who is suspected of both killing her mother and being mentally disturbed, according to Jay’s boss, Dr. Bertleman (the also always welcome J.K. Simmons). Jay ends up saving Daisy from a sleazy janitor trying to take advantage of her, and she tags along with him like a puppy right out the back door. Despite the huge lapse in logic, Jay takes her with him to the wedding (somehow getting her on a plane without any form of ID…but hey it’s a movie and shouldn’t be taken literally or anything like that).
Once there, Daisy charms his family with her literal take on things and space cadet reactions to people and situations around her. Of course though, the true nature of Jay’s and Daisy’s relationship and his reasons for coming home come out. So Jay and Daisy head back to LA on the road, snatching the old man’s vintage camper, running afoul of the law a couple of times and oh, yeah, falling in love along the way. As they do, Jay comes to realize the true nature of Daisy’s background concerning her mental illness and her mother’s death.
Barefoot is a very middle-of-the-road love story, safely directed by Andrew Fleming, who’s coming in from the cold of directing TV movies and episodic TV for the last five years. Fleming is capable of doing solid movies (Dick, Hamlet 2) and lends a grounded sensibility to the proceedings, despite just some flat out lapses in thinking in the script. It’s just difficult to believe that a loser in trouble not only with the law but also a loan shark would lift a mental patient from his place of employment, a job which the film itself says is the only thing keeping him within the terms of his probation and out of prison. Even if that mental patient looks like Evan Rachel Wood. There’s also the whole plane-no-ID thing for Daisy, and then when on his way back to LA, running from the cops in a stolen RV. And also being able to avoid the law in said distinctive RV for hundreds of miles. In the ’70s, sure; today, I’m kind of thinking it’s harder. It’s just the dumb things that Jay only does because the script demands it, rather than common sense. Fleming somehow makes it palatable though.
But what really saves the film is Evan Rachel Wood. Her Daisy is a ditsy, innocent charmer, sweet and instantly likable. I’ve lost track of Scott Speedman since the Underworld flicks, until last year’s short-lived Last Resort on TV, in which I generally liked him. He was fine here, despite his character’s huge deficits in better judgment.. But he and Wood have a good chemistry and their relationship evolves naturally and believably. Unfortunately, Treat Williams for the most part has to play it straight rather than being Treat Williams, and J.K. Simmons is likewise non-crooked but solid as usual.
Barefoot is from Roadside Attractions and opens in theatres on February 21.