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Barefoot | Review

Sterile Cuckoo: Fleming’s Latest a Series of Rotund Clichés

Andrew Fleming BarefootDirector Andrew Fleming returns with his first film since 2008’s neglected Hamlet 2, a road trip/mental illness comedy romance called Barefoot, which happens to be a remake of a 2005 German film directed by and starring Til Schweiger. Odd, cumbersome, and chock full of awkward moments that will have you cringing in embarrassment for certain cast members, Fleming seems to be aiming to hit too many marks, tethering a painfully earnest look at vague mental illness tropes with romantic quirk.

Jay Wheeler (Scott Speedman), is a playboy on the skids. He’s about $40,000 in gambling debt and has just been arrested once again, this time for aggravated assault. A janitor in a Los Angeles mental hospital, Jay is seemingly on his last leg and is forced to reconcile with his rich and estranged parents (Treat Williams and Kate Burton) in New Orleans. His younger brother is scheduled to be married the same week he’s due to pay some nasty criminals the money he owes, so he gets roped into a verbal RSVP, but his penchant for lying suddenly has his parents think that he’s bringing his new girlfriend along for the ride. Fate seems to have Jay’s back as Daisy Kensington (Evan Rachel Wood), a new patient on the ward, follows him out of the hospital one night after he saves her from molestation by a fellow janitor. Against his better judgment, Jay decides to abscond with Daisy to New Orleans where she will pose as a nurse (wearing borrowed wardrobe from a gaggle of strippers). However, Jay seems unprepared for just how serious Daisy’s problems are, a young woman raised entirely in isolation by an abusive mother that Daisy may have been responsible for killing.

Barefoot recalls something that may have starred Liza Minnelli if it had been made sometime in the early 70’s, with Evan Rachel Wood’s performance recalling the salvageable minds of young Minnelli heroines, like Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970). But if Preminger seemed out of touch with young female protagonists, Fleming feels entirely absent as Wood’s Daisy Kensington is merely a lightly tarnished version of that pixie dream girl, even after being presented as a victim abused by a mother that sounds an awful lot like Margaret White, the mom in Carrie. Wood is certainly an able performer, but her performance as a cutesy simpleton is grating, her romance with the lazily written playboy Speedman taking on nightmarish dimension. She may be of age, but she talks and speaks like a girl too green for her deb ball, so when talk inevitably turns to love and sex, discomfort is at fever pitch.

A supporting cast that consists of the likes of Williams and Burton playing Speedman’s rich, safety net parents, and an unrealistic doctor played by Simmons, only add to the unfathomable convenience stacked to the heavens in Barefoot, yet another film that flatly contends that being bitten by the love bug is a cure all to transcend all of life’s ails. Fleming, who has directed well done comedies (Dick; Hamlet 2), seems to have a strong knack with self-aware material. But with its straightforward trajectory, Barefoot, (like his slapstick remake of The In Laws) suffers from a suffocating, inescapable earnestness that results in a nonsensical fairy tale that is neither magical nor likeable.

★½ / ☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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