Monday, 20 February 2012

Mayor Cupcake (2011)

Dir. Alex Pires
Starring: Lea Thompson, Judd Nelson, Dorian Harewood, Frankie Faison

Mary Maroni (Lea Thompson – best known as Marty McFly’s mum-to-be in Back to the Future) is a cupcake baker in a diner in the quiet little town of Bridgeville, Delaware. And she is quite happy just baking her cupcakes and looking after her family. However, she ends up as mayor due to a set of hilarious circumstances. (Well, the filmmakers seem to think it’s hilarious; I’m not entirely sure someone choking to death on a cupcake deserves the comedy music soundtrack treatment they gave it here…)

With her hands on the town’s accounts she discovers the shocking truth – Bridgeville is not just skint but heavily in debt. This is largely due to the former mayor and his two appointed councilmen skimming money out of the budgets for their own gain. She has to introduce some radical home economics to settle the budget – turning off every other street light, selling the police force’s cruisers and mounting the cops on bikes instead, and suspending garbage collections. She boards up the town hall and relocates the civic employees to booths at Jimmy’s Grille, where she works. But as she tries to sort out the pickle the town is in she polarises opinion among her constituents, has less time for her family, and – worst of all – the quality of her cupcakes starts to suffer!

It’s not a bad film. It has a nice plot arc, even if it is a bit predictable. Bridgeville’s townsfolk have their own individual characters, from Peter Patrikios’s sleazy car-salesman Greg Grundle, through Michael Petted’s Quail, the antique store owner who can’t bear to sell any of his antiques, up to the stand-out character of the film for me, Peter Schmitz’s Black Bart, the local bicycle-riding, trilby-wearing cynic. Mary’s family have their idiosyncrasies too. Her husband Donald is a moustachioed policeman with a secret harmonica habit, played by The Breakfast Club’s Judd Nelson. Of her three daughters (two of which are played by Leoni’s own daughters) one wants to be an American footballer, one is concerned with politics, and one sings in a band (their signature tune is a cover of Simple Minds’s Don’t You Forget About Me, which was of course the theme from The Breakfast Club. One wonders if it is written into Nelson’s contract that this song must play at all times he is onscreen?)

The ‘sensible small-town values’ expressed do sometimes veer to the right of the spectrum at times – there is no mention of environmental costs attached to the citizens having to drive their own garbage out to the landfill and no mention of recycling. Nor is there any mention of the possibility of taxes in the town being raised. Or what the consequences of the debt might be; it is a simple ‘we’re in debt, we must get out of it’ formula proposed. The failure of the local bank is blamed upon excessive regulation, and the silver bullet to cure the town’s woes is for Black Bart to stand ahead of speed traps and warn passing motorists to slow down. (The theory is that instead of collecting fines from passing motorists the fact that they warn the motorists about the speed traps will encourage them to stop and spend money in the town). Hell, Mayor Maroni even becomes the idol of Fox News. Despite this, I think it is wrong to try to superimpose some national political viewpoint on the film. And anyway, her opponents are campaigning under the slogan "Change We Don't Need" and the President himself (with a voice that sounds very like that of President Obama) tries to appoint her to a national position. The plot isn’t that complicated: those running the town are corrupt and have been defrauding the townsfolk, and they get their comeuppance from a woman thrust into a situation she didn’t ask for but determined to do the right thing.

Fox News: Daring to tackle the big stories

First time writer / director / producer Alex Pires has whipped up an impressive debut movie here which stands him in good stead for the future. In many ways the film is like a cupcake. It is sweet, fluffy and inoffensive. As President Obama himself comments at the end: “everybody likes cupcakes!”

What have I learnt about Delaware?
The state may be small, but it has enough small towns where individual close-knit communities exist and small town values rule. They are proud of their own individual heritage of entrepreneurs and immigrants building the town up (as shown in the opening montage of historic photos of Bridgeville) and their own individual customs (such as the Punkin Chunkin championships and RAPA Scrapple). But Delaware does have attractions, namely the beaches of Delaware Bay. The only reason people come to towns like Bridgeville is to pass through between D.C. and the beaches – if anything these towns are just irritants on their journey.

The folks like small government and minimal interference in their lives; if anything there is an apathy about politics that lets those who chose to get involved dominate the town. As Greg comments, the townsfolk are stupid, and if you see something you want, you can take it. And like many places in America it has been hit by economic problems like unemployment and bank collapses.

Can we go there?
Bridgeville really exists, and a lot of its features can be seen in the movie, such as the town hall, the cemetery and the water tower. And it does indeed host the World Championship Punkin Chunkin competition (a contest to hurl a pumpkin the furthest distance possible with a machine) the first weekend after Halloween – in 2010 over one hundred teams took part. It also hosts an Apple Scrapple Festival a bit earlier in the year in October, so autumn definitely seems to be the time to visit. RAPA Scrapple was founded and is still based in the town and is the world’s largest producer of scrapple (a ‘semi-solid congealed loaf’ made from ‘a mush of pork scraps and trimmings’ according to Wikipedia. Yummy! And if you do get hungry, Jimmy's Grille really exists too, on Main Street, and is a local favourite so you can maybe look to find the booths where Mayor Mary held office. They don’t seem to sell cupcakes however!

Overall Rating: 3/5

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