Finding Amanda, with its depiction of a desperate, middle-aged male loser (played by Matthew Broderick, natch) trying to find himself in all of the strangest and worst ways, hardly has what you would call an "original concept" these days. Every 40-something white male undergoing a mid-life crisis has written their own Finding Amanda and, more often than not, they are often the same whiny, mopey film (only Woody Allen has really done this well...and repeatedly, I must add). This film, I must say, falls prey to this on occasion; the beginning, especially, is rather flat due to the fact that we have seen this (a fallen-from-grace TV writer/creator who is a recovering alcoholic with a gambling problem in danger of losing what little he has left) before. Once he gets to Las Vegas, hoping to drag his wayward niece Amanda (Brittany Snow) away from her destructive life as a hooker and drug addict and into a rehab facility in Malibu, Finding Amanda finds its stride and actually turns into a surprisingly funny and ultimately touching film.
The film's saving grace is, however, one Miss Brittany Snow, whom you will all probably recognize from Hairspray as Amber von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer's delightfully awful daughter). I know I've mentioned before how talented I think she is and how much potential she has, but after the atrocity that was Prom Night (which she did her damndest to save, even if it was all in vain) I thought that I may have been too quick to assess her talent. But here comes Finding Amanda and not only have my expectations about her potential been met but Snow also delivers one of the best performances of the year so far.
Playing a hooker with a heart of gold is one of the oldest tricks in the history of cinema, winning Oscars as far back 1931/32 (for Helen Hayes in The Sin of Madelon Claudet) and propelling others into international superstardom (Julia Roberts anyone?), so you can't fault Snow for wanting to take on one of her own, obviously hoping for similar acclaim. You may find it suprising, however, to see that Snow ignores the usual crutches of this archetype and crafts a visibly unique spin on it. From the moment that we meet Amanda, enticing dirty old men by the elevators at a seedy motel with a sweet, bubbly demeanor, we can tell that something just isn't right. She's too happy, too obsessed with keeping her apartment pristine and free from anything that will soil it (she tells her uncle to take off his shoes as soon as he enters the doorway). Snow is smart enough to only hint at the darkness of her past and the unhappiness in her present- she doesn't lay all of the cards on table right away and allow you to read her so easily. When she confesses to her uncle about being sexually abused by a member of the family, she tosses the information out there like it was nothing extraordinary, much to her uncle's incredulation. Snow's Amanda thinks she has moved on from this experience, even if her actions say otherwise.
When Snow's Amanda does reveal a crack in the facade, it's quite a fascinating sight to behold. There's a scene where she runs into an old client of hers while with her uncle and the client tries to get Amanda to admit that she remembers him. After getting a little agressive with her, Amanda tells him that she remembers his dick which was the size of a roll of dimes. He spits in her face and Snow's Amanda, out of nowhere, unleashes an untapped swell of rage and hatred. The surprised look that Matthew Broderick gives her when he sees this scene transpiring is the exact same look we're giving out in the audience- where did all of this rage come from? After the incident, she has a crying jag in the bathroom and it's really the only time we see her completely lose control of her emotions. We realize here that maybe Snow's Amanda isn't as strong as she thinks she is and maybe her life could stand a little improvement.
This realization, however, doesn't last long, because the next time we see Amanda, eating a meal she prepared herself with her uncle and her loser boyfriend Greg, she's right back to her usual, cheery self, with no hint of the troubles she endured the last time we saw her. The topic of some random girl Greg brought in the house and Snow goes through a real test of her skills. She gets mildly upset at first, agreeing with Greg that it is okay for him to sleep with other women, but letting him now that it's not okay that she was in her home- "This place is sacred!" she tells him. When the emotions get too complex though, we see Snow's Amanda literally swallowing the unpleasant feelings and returning to the situation with a smile, refusing to think about it anymore. The facade slowly fades away again when, a few seconds later, Matthew Broderick's character tells Amanda that the girl wore her shoes in the house. Snow's Amanda loses control- she yells, "God damnit, Greg!"- and is more visibly upset at this revelation than the previous one; the fact that some stranger brought in the dirt of the outside world to her clean and cozy little haven from the dirtiness of her job and life really sets her off. The fact that Snow is able to handle all of these complex emotions without over selling the fact that she's "performing" or that she doesn't just ignore them completely is an extraordinary feat and makes this potentially throw-away scene pop with energy. The film as a whole benefits from Snow's performance immensely. Without her, Finding Amanda would have been aimless and Broderick's journey and eventual redemption probably wouldn't have held much weight; with her, Finding Amanda smolders with complexity and doesn't answer the questions it brings up with easy answers.
Finding Amanda: B-
Brittany Snow: A