THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Monday, August 29, 1994 TAG: 9408300614 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E1 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Movie Review SOURCE: BY MAL VINCENT, MOVIE CRITIC LENGTH: Medium: 82 lines
``CORRINA, CORRINA'' is so sweet, , but perky, that they had to name her twice.
This is ``The Sound of Music'' without music and without nuns. Otherwise, it, too, is a schmaltzy bit that yearns mightily to be ``heartwarming.''
Corrina Washington is an overly qualified domestic worker who enters comes into the home of a jingle writer named Manny Singer after his wife has died of cancer. Her assignment is to care for his troubled little daughter, Molly, who is so traumatized by her mother's death that she doesn't speak.
It is always fun to watch Whoopi Goldberg because she usually cuts through all the bull to get right at the down-to-earth, no-nonsense qualities of a character. With ``Corrina, Corrina,'' though, there is quite a lot to cut through. Whoopi is her usual sassy, quirky self - the kind of woman who immediately appeals to the honesty of a child. Ray Liotta, who has often been cast as a misunderstood gangster or pock-marked action hero macho, has the passive, ultra-nice role of the Jewish father who struggles with the creative requirements of his job.
Corrina helps him write a song. She quotes Gertrude Stein, loves Louis Armstrong, and plays Erik Satie music. She also likes Dinah Washington and Billie Holliday, who show up on the soundtrack.
The neighbors have set up a date for the widower but, in movies as predictable as this one, she turns out to be the snooty character played by Wendy Crewson - a buck-toothed amazon who sees a joint bank account in her future. (Eleanor Parker, poor thing, had to play the same part in ``The Sound of Music.'')
Corrina is the perfect mom for this family even if it does take 114 minutes of screen time for the slow Liotta to realize it. Screenwriter Jessie Nelson, who also makes her directorial debut here, based the title character on a 70-year-old housekeeper who helped to raise her after her mother died. The over-familiarity is further emphasized by the fact that Goldberg played such a similar role in ``Clara's Heart,'' with the help of a Jamaican accent.
The film is timid when it comes to romance and even more timid when it comes to commenting on interracial tensions in the 1950s. Liotta and Goldberg have so little chemistry that they often look as if they're playing potential pals rather than potential lovers. The first two-thirds of the movie is devoid of any kind of racial tension. Only in the last reel is Corrina mistaken for a waitress in a restaurant, and we're shown a gossipy neighbor whispering.
The film keeps the two worlds, the Jewish family of Liotta, and the African-American family of Goldberg, largely separate. Director Nelson has little talent for keeping the rhythm of the film moving during these cross-cuts. Jennifer Lewis is Corrina's sister, who keeps reminding her that she is going to be betrayed by this white family. Whenever a naysaying forecaster of doom is required, the hapless Lewis has another scene.
Most of the time, though, ``Corrina, Corrina'' is sweetness and light. Don Ameche, as Liotta's grandfather, makes his last screen appearance. It lends a poignant quality. Joan Cusack, in a funny but pointless cameo, is representative of the women who apply for the job as the nanny.
The film is almost stolen by the simplicity of child actress Tina Majorino, who was so good in suggesting the pain of ``When a Man Loves a Woman'' but not as good at trying to get teary-eyed over a seal in ``Andre.'' She is quite natural in a way that is less cute than the film itself.
For the most part, though, the actors are asked to play social types rather than real characters.
Others have called ``Corrina, Corrina'' a ``feel good'' movie. If this is so, it is mainly because the film avoids obvious social and personal dramas that would likely be a part of this familial relationship in the 1950s. Along the way, Whoopi is fun to watch and emerges as a real character in spite of it all. ILLUSTRATION: MOVIE REVIEW
Cast: Whoopi Goldberg, Ray Liotta, Tina Majorino, Joan Cusack,
Jennifer Lewis, Don Ameche
Director and Writer: Jessie Nelson
Music: Rick Cox
MPAA rating: PG (some hints at language, but nothing offensive)
Mal's rating: 2 and 1/2 stars