Although it was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, the directorial debut of A Good Year and Serendipity screenwriter Marc Klein failed to garner a wide theatrical release, quietly appearing on video store shelves last week. Klein, adapting the stories “My Old Man,” and “The Worst Thing a Suburban Girl Could Imagine,” from Melissa Bank’s inventive and funny chick lit novel The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing and weaving them into a cohesive structure managed to craft a romantic comedy that’s fresh, fun and admirably intelligent which, despite its generic title of Suburban Girl, deserved a much bigger audience than it received. At first glance, it seems like a hybrid of Shopgirl and The Devil Wears Prada but whereas Prada focused mostly on work dynamics and there was an uneven match of opposites in Shopgirl, this clever May/December tale benefits from a terrific lead character brought to life by the woefully under-utilized Sarah Michelle Gellar. Playing what has become the standard female role in most works of chick lit and films such as How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and several others, Gellar plays Brett Eisenberg who rises from her humble beginnings in middle class suburbia with her brains, taste and flair with a pen to a position as an associate editor in a Manhattan publishing house. Named for the memorable siren in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, writing seemed to be in the family genes as her brother was given an equally literary name of Ethan (from Wharton’s doomed Ethan Frome) and Brett’s residence in New York is in the family apartment that was owned by her late aunt, a successful wordsmith and publisher in her day.
Eager to climb the ranks in the publishing world and help bring out the best in her authors, workaholic Brett idolizes the legends that came before her and drags a friend along to meet successful, highly respected editor and writer Archie Knox (Alec Baldwin) who finds himself charmed initially by the beauty of his young admirer and later by her sophisticated sense of humor and intellect as they proceed to engage in the first of several scenes of irresistible brainy banter sure to delight fans of screwball comedy. Although she’s been in a relationship for a year, half of the time her slacker boyfriend Jed (Chris Carmack) has been overseas "finding himself" in Europe and after sending her one postcard in the six months he’s been away, Brett begins to appreciate the attention given to her by a man more than double her age whose quick and clever mind has become an aphrodisiac.
Admittedly the “ick” factor does sink in relatively quickly as we realize that perhaps Baldwin’s Archie had been involved in a relationship with her aunt and there’s such a visible difference in ages that it makes one do a double take. However, intriguingly I actually found myself more willing to forgive this coupling than the one in Shopgirl as Gellar’s mature Brett seems to be a woman fully of her own mind and less as easily manipulated as the more insecure clinically depressed younger woman played in the other film by Claire Danes. Plus, Baldwin jumps into the role headfirst, charming audiences with his wit and swagger similar to the way he dominates Tina Fey’s excellent 30 Rock and neither Gellar nor Baldwin ever sidestep the real emotions that may be at play in Klein’s intuitive script which doesn’t shy away from father and daughter issues plaguing the film’s main characters. Bright and energetic, try to overlook some of the contrived, sunny chick flick montage shots and girl power clichéd soundtrack because Suburban Girl is one romantic comedy that manages to do something unique with the tired genre mold.