To say I’m an Oingo Boingo fan is a bit of an understatement. I worshiped these guys throughout the ‘80s and long after they were even remotely relevant. So I have a bit of a soft spot for anyone who has ever been in the band, including the period before 1980 when they were the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo and bore no resemblance to the orchestral new wave outfit that was part of the LA scene for fifteen years. Director Matthew Bright, a childhood friend of Boingo frontman Danny Elfman, used to be with the group back in the ‘70s. These days, he makes Tiptoes, exhausting the last dregs of his Boingo-related good will.
Tagline: It’s the Little Things in Life that Matter
More Accurate Tagline: Midgets, Midgets Everywhere!
Guilty Party: The aforementioned Boingo veteran Matthew Bright, a writer/director whose career is spotty at best. His best film by a wide margin is the Red Riding Hood riff Freeway, although cult movie aficionados probably know him best for the low budget mind fuck Forbidden Zone. Even these two movies are marred by bizarre racist flourishes, undermining what would otherwise be at least interesting forays into the hinterlands of strange cinema. Tiptoes is pretty far from being interesting, but at least it’s weird.
Synopsis: Gary Oldman and Matthew McConaughey play twins. Digest that for a second. These two guys don’t even look like they belong to the same species, let alone once shared a womb. They don’t even bother to do the same accent. Oh yeah, and Oldman is over a decade older, and there’s no attempt to explain how this is possible. Maybe he was born in a DeLorean.
Rolfe (Oldman) is a dwarf. Steve (McConaughey), his twin, is not. Their parents? Both little people. Steve, though active in the little people community, keeps this hidden from his fiancee Carol (Kate Beckinsale). One night, she tells him she’s pregnant, and he acts like a total asshole about it, but refuses to say why. When Rolfe shows up at their place and introduces himself to Carol, things begin to fall into place. Steve is terrified that his kid will turn out to be a dwarf. Basically, everyone spends the film being upset at each other for poorly defined reasons. It’s like Thanksgiving with a family of alcoholic amnesiacs.
That’s… that’s pretty much it. Okay! Time for everyone to go home!
Oh, right. There’s still over an hour of film to deal with. You know, you’d think a film about dwarves would at least have the decency to be short.
Anyway, Carol accepts the family and she and Steve get married. When their son is born, he does indeed turn out to be a dwarf, and Steve totally loses his shit. Steve and Carol split up, sending Carol into the malformed and stunted arms of Rolfe. Oh, yeah, they’re in love now or something. Although her big come on line is, “You can kiss me if you want.” Which is the last thing you say to a trick on his birthday.
Life-Changing Subtext: Little people can do anything big people can do! You know, except star in a film about how little people can do anything big people can do.
Defining Quote: Lucy: “The asshole is the strongest muscle in the human body.” Imagine this line set to Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill,” in that moment in the trailer when a character tells you what the whole movie is going to be about.
Standout Performance: Ed Gale as Bobby Barry. Gale previously appeared in Howard the Duck in the title role, O Brother, Where Art Thou? as the Little Man, and many other projects as a variety of diminutive characters. He’s not really a bad actor, but in Tiptoes… hoo boy. He’s saddled with the clumsiest lines in a film entirely consisting of clumsy lines. He’s there to explain how little people can do anything big people can! And he often says it in those exact words, with the convincing delivery of a masked serial killer telling you you’ll make it out of the basement intact.
What’s Wrong: Okay, so you’re making a painfully earnest piece about the dignity of dwarves. Who do you put in the lead little person role? I know what you’re thinking. Peter Dinkl- fucking Gary Oldman? Tiptoes was never going to be a good movie, but casting a full sized actor undermines literally everything about the film. It’s the equivalent of releasing a Martin Luther King biopic starring George Clooney in blackface.
Compounding the insult is that Rolfe’s best friend Maurice is played by Peter Dinklage, one of the finest actors of his generation at any size. The solution to the film’s biggest problem is right there, basically playing Tyrion Lannister with a different shaky accent. So in our MLK biopic, now imagine if King’s best pal is Don Cheadle. Makes it that much worse, doesn’t it?
Flash of Competence: Roughly half of my notes are me sexually harassing Kate Beckinsale. So I’m giving this to her.
Best Scenes: Oldman and McConaughey play brothers, yet in their first scene together (outside a dwarf convention, which is either hilarious or terrifying, depending on what sort of person you are), they have such awkward chemistry, it feels like this is their first time seeing one another since McConaughey drunkenly threw Oldman into a row of bowling pins.
I love Dinklage. I’d be tempted to name my first son Tyrion, if I wasn’t sure it would get the kid’s ass kicked every day of computer camp. If the Great Dink has one weakness as an actor, it’s accents. We give him a pass on Game of Thrones because otherwise he’s perfect, and that show is the greatest thing to happen to TV since Cinemax invented boobs. In Tiptoes, he’s rocking a French accent. Or trying. And here’s the thing, his character is seriously, seriously French. During one scene where he’s getting drunk with Lucy (Patricia Arquette), he spits out “I wish I had a fucking crepe!” The only way to make that dialogue more stupid and insulting would be to have him be like, “I wish I could not take a bath and be rude to American tourists!” or “I wish I could surrender to the fucking Germans!”
David Alan Grier has a small role as the guy from Coming to America who says, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Sexual Chocolate!” He’s some kind of little person philanthropist or something. I was unclear and the film barely explains his presence, except that he’s famous enough so that someone wants his autograph, but not so famous he can’t be roped into hosting a dwarf convention. Anyway, Rolfe has this on-again off-again girlfriend Sally, and at this party, he walks in on David Alan Grier fucking her on a table in a room with glass walls. Yet Rolfe has to walk through the door to catch them at it, and is shocked when he does. What, can he not see through glass?
In the most stilted, unearned, artificial moment in a movie filled with them, Steven and Carol introduce their folks to one another. Mom is horrified by being surrounded by dwarves! She’s rude! She’s brittle! At any moment, she is going to say something awful about how she can’t have her beautiful daughter marrying into a clan of freaks. So when she finally opens her mouth it’s for a request for a traditional Jewish wedding and everyone starts their relieved cry-laughing. This moment is so forced it had to call a rape hotline.
Transcendent Moment: Early on, Steven explains to Carol that being a little person is painful, complications from having normal sized organs in a smaller body, which frankly sounds horrifying. So when their baby Vincent is born, the poor bugger cries constantly. During one of these crying jags, Steven loses his shit, and demands that Carol call the baby what he is. So basically, you have Matthew McConaughey yelling at a sobbing Kate Beckinsale (holding an unconvincing doll while baby squealing is ADRed), “CALL HIM A DWARF! HE’S A DWARF! I’M A DWARF!”
Tiptoes is a shaggy dog of a Lifetime film, padding out its slight story with go-nowhere scenes of dialogue in which every character shrilly expresses exactly what’s going on in their selfish little minds. At the center of it all is the hilariously miscast Gary Oldman, whose awkwardness seems to imply he’s aware of just how misguided the whole enterprise is.