Shelley Winters is an actress that I was familiar with before joining The Shelley Winters Blogathon. I’ve seen The Diary of Anne Frank, What’s the Matter with Helen?, and Lolita. But out of those three movies, her most memorable role is Helen from What’s the Matter with Helen?. Shelley was able to bring a very haunting element to that character, giving the audience a reason to feel uneasy toward her. As I searched through her IMDB filmography, I came across a film called Stepping Out. When I read the synopsis, it sounded like a very sweet story. Because of this, I choose the 1991 picture for my entry in the blogathon. When it comes to blogathons, I rarely have an opportunity to review musical films. In fact, the last movie musical I reviewed was Summer Magic for A Month Without the Code back in August. I also learned that Stepping Out was based on a pre-existing play. If I hadn’t watched a Youtube video where Gene Siskel and Robert Ebert talk about their least favorite films of 1991, I wouldn’t have discovered this valuable piece of information.
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: As I said in my I Remember Mama review, every actor and actress is expected to bring the best of their acting talents in an ensemble cast. With confidence, I can say that all of the actors and actresses in Stepping Out did a fantastic job in their roles! The chemistry between all of the characters was strong, making their relationships feel believable. Andi, portrayed by Sheila McCarthy, and Geoffrey, portrayed by Bill Irwin, are a perfect example of this. During the duration of the film, Andi and Bill develop a friendship that survives outside of the studio setting. Their interactions give the audience the impression that they truly care about one another. Though her role in this movie was smaller than in other movies, Shelley Winters had a memorable on-screen appearance! Her performance was consistent and her sense of humor was subtle yet effective. I also liked hearing her singing performance when she shared, in one scene, that it was Irving Berlin’s birthday. Despite her limited amount of screen-time, Shelley still found a way to make a big impact in this story!
The film’s sweeter moments: Throughout the film, there were sweet, light-hearted moments that I enjoyed seeing. Anytime Mavis encouraged her students and tried to help them become the best dancers they could be, it was very refreshing to see a teacher figure with realistic goals. Even when there were obstacles within the dancing lessons, the students were able to find moments of positivity and humor. One example is when there was a mix-up with their costume hats. It was also nice to see the students trying to help each other outside of the studio environment. When Maxine offers Rose’s son a job, it shows the team dynamic that Mavis strives for during the movie. It also displays how the characters are able to put the needs of others before their own.
The dance numbers: Seeing the dance numbers in Stepping Out was a highlight! Since the story revolves around Mavis and her students, all of the dance numbers are performed by them. Despite this, they are all entertaining! Whether it was Mavis’ solo or the group numbers that appeared toward the end of the film, these dance numbers were well choregraphed. It also helps that a good percentage of this cast had Broadway experience prior to appearing in Stepping Out. Their experience and performance related knowledge worked in their favor, as it brought a sense of realism to the dance numbers.
What I didn’t like about the film:
Some characters receiving more character development than others: In Stepping Out, I found that some characters received more character development than others. Two examples are Andi and Mrs. Fraser. This story gave Andi a fully developed back-story. Meanwhile, Mrs. Fraser’s back-story resides in only two sentences. There are even some characters that don’t receive any character development. Dorothy, portrayed by Andrea Martin, is one of them. I understand that in an ensemble cast, it’s not easy providing a story and character development to every character. But, for me, it left more to be desired.
Some under-utilized actors: I noticed within this cast that some of the actors were under-utilized. One of these actors is Geza Kovacs, who I talked about in my editorial, “Why Jiggy Nye is Not an Effective Villian in Felicity: An American Girl Adventure”. In his role as a club manager named Jerry, he did a good job with the material he was given. However, he was only in the film for two scenes. I know that this particular character didn’t provide as much to the story as other characters did. But I find it frustrating when talented actors and actresses aren’t given an opportunity to fully utilize their talents.
A weaker second half: While watching this movie, I felt the second half was weaker than the first half. This is because some parts of the story were drawn out more than others. A good example is Andi’s story. As I stated before, Andi is a character that received a well-developed back-story. However, it was drawn-out longer than it should have been. To me, this issue is the result of the run-time and a script that wasn’t as tightly written. Even though the film’s second half contained two very entertaining dance numbers, the story itself could have been stronger from start to finish.
My overall impression:
Stepping Out made me feel the exact same way that Moulin Rouge! did. The film had sweet moments and other factors that I liked. But the story as a whole could have been stronger. Some of the downfalls include select characters receiving well-written backstories, some under-utilized actors, and a script that’s not as tightly written as it could have been. However, these elements did not make this movie one of the worst I’ve seen this year. Even though this project had its flaws, the cast, as a whole, shines in the spotlight! This is especially true for Shelley Winters! When we think about actresses who’ve graced the silver screen, Shelley, to me, seems like one of the underrated ones. I don’t hear her name being added to the conversation as I do for other starlets, such as Audrey Hepburn and Bette Davis. But during my year of blogging, I learned that this is the reason why blogathons exist. These events provide a platform to talk about almost anything and everything, so it’s great to see blogathons take the time to give lesser known stars and other movie related topics their “standing ovation”.
Overall score: 6.5 out of 10
Have you seen any of Shelley’s films? If so, which one is your favorite? Share your thoughts in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!
If you want to check out the video that I referenced in this review, type “SISKEL & EBERT: The Worst Movies of 1991” into Youtube’s search bar. Just to let you know, there is some language and suggestive topics discussed in this video. The segment about Stepping Out starts at 6:55 and ends at 8:33.
When I first heard about The 5th Annual Great Villain Blogathon, I was originally going to write about a movie, that I haven’t seen yet, where the primary focus was on a villainous character. However, after accepting the Sunshine Blogger Award, I decided to talk about Jiggy Nye from the movie, Felicity: An American Girl Adventure. This film is based on the Felicity series from the American Girl Historical Collection. For almost three decades, the character of Felicity has represented the late 1700s, during the time of the Revolutionary War. In 2005, this particular series was adapted into the aforementioned film. As someone who has read some of Felicity’s stories, as well as seen this movie, I used to think that Jiggy Nye was an effective villain. Over time, I realized that he wasn’t as villainous as I remembered. Within this editorial, I will explain why I feel this way by primarily referencing Felicity: An American Girl Adventure. I will also be making a few references to two of the books in the Felicity series; Meet Felicity and Changes For Felicity. After making my points about why Jiggy’s not an effective villain, I will share some examples of villains and antagonists that are more effective than him. Now, let’s shed some light on Jiggy Nye and talk about why his reputation as a villain isn’t as strong as other cinematic villains and antagonists.
The Incorporation of Jiggy’s Backstory
A cinematic trend that I’ve personally noticed in recent years is a realistic-sounding backstory being given to a respective film’s villain or antagonist. While this story-telling aspect can provide depth to this particular type of character, there are times when this concept can be executed poorly. This is the case for Felicity: An American Girl Adventure. A minute and forty seconds after Jiggy was introduced on screen, Edward Merriman (Felicity’s father) and Grandfather Merriman share Jiggy’s backstory with the entire family. Though this explanation is brief, they reveal that he used to be a respected gentleman who was very knowledgeable when it came to horses. After his wife died, Jiggy made some poor life choices that are possibly the result of his grief. This limited amount of information could have been useful in developing Jiggy’s character and helping the audience understand why he is the way he is. However, Jiggy’s backstory was, ultimately, given a “don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it” moment. It’s not only addressed in casual passing, but it’s barely referenced throughout the film. The timing of this backstory also came way too early. Because it was brought up less than two minutes after the audience was introduced to Jiggy Nye, it didn’t give the audience an opportunity to become familiar with Jiggy as a villain. Had they spent, at least, half of the movie seeing Jiggy being a villain and then learned about his backstory before a climatic/important moment, it would have given the audience a chance to process this information as well as consider everything they thought they knew about this character.
It’s no secret that I talk about Bucky Barnes quite a bit on this blog. But, as an example, his involvement in Captain America: The Winter Soldier makes sense within the context of this editorial. In the aforementioned film, the audience spent about half of the movie watching Bucky as the Winter Soldier. The audience wasn’t aware that Bucky was the Winter Soldier until Steve Rogers/Captain America removed the mask from his face at about the halfway point of the film. A few moments after this reveal, the audience learned the shocking truth of how Bucky came to be involved with Hydra. This incorporation of Bucky’s backstory was better executed than Jiggy’s backstory in Felicity: An American Girl Adventure. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the audience was given enough time to become familiar with the film’s antagonist. This allowed them to form their own opinion of this character. When the truth about the Winter Soldier is revealed, it makes the audience contemplate these pieces of information as well as re-think everything they thought they knew about him. Because Bucky’s backstory was introduced moments before the film’s climax, it made this reveal more emotional and effective.
No Substantial Evidence
In Felicity: An American Girl Adventure, some of the characters make statements about Jiggy Nye. However, the film fails to provide evidence to these characters’ claims. One example is the characters’ statements about how Jiggy treats his horse, known in the movie/book series as Penny. Toward the beginning of the film, a customer shares her displeasure about Jiggy to Mr. Merriman, saying “I do believe he beat his last horse to death”. When Jiggy arrives at the Merriman family home to retrieve Penny (a moment that I will talk about later), Mr. Merriman tells him “The only crime committed here, sir, is your mistreatment of the poor beast”. Also, when Felicity is trying to persuade her parents to let her keep Penny, she tells her father, “Father, he beats her…and he starves her”. Despite all of these aforementioned claims, there isn’t any substantial proof that Jiggy treats his horse poorly. In the movie, Penny appears to be well-cared for. This horse does not appear starved and there are no signs of injuries on her. The only things that Jiggy does that come close to being abusive toward Penny are tying her to a post in his yard and saying hurtful things toward and about her. In a story when there are claims made about a film’s villain, but no evidence/proof is given to support these claims, it doesn’t provide the audience with a reason to take this character seriously as a villain. It also doesn’t give the audience an explanation as to why they should dislike or be terrified of this character. Because the claims against Jiggy are not supported by evidence/proof, the characters who made the claims appear to have lost a certain amount of credibility.
The villain group, Hydra, in Captain America: The First Avenger is one that the audience doesn’t want to mess with. That’s because the creative team behind this movie portrayed Hydra as dangerous, evil, and cruel. Though this group was shown in the movie for a limited amount of time, their presence brought home the exact point that this film’s creative team was trying to make. It wasn’t until Captain America: The Winter Soldier that the creative team gave their audience solid evidence to the claims that were made about Hydra back in the first film. Not only does this story present examples of this group causing chaos and destruction, but their abuse toward Bucky also shows just how cruel they can be. Because the creative team behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier put in the effort to add evidence to the claims made about Hydra, this gave the audience reasons to not like this villainous group as well as take them seriously as villains. It also made the story and the creative team behind it seem very credible. This is very different from Felicity: An American Girl Adventure.
The way that Jiggy is portrayed in both the Felicity series and Felicity: An American Girl Adventure is in a “villain-turned-hero” way. This specific kind of character development isn’t often seen when it comes to cinematic villains or antagonists. Like with Jiggy’s backstory, however, this part of Jiggy’s story was also poorly executed. Within the first thirty-six minutes of the movie, Jiggy is shown as a villainous character. The next time the audience sees him is twenty-three minutes later, when Jiggy is sleeping on the floor of a jail cell, violently coughing and appearing to be ill. Eight minutes after that, it appears Jiggy has been released from prison, casually walking through the streets of Williamsburg, Virginia and looking like he has recovered from his illness. His final appearance in this movie starts eleven minutes later, when Felicity asks for Jiggy’s help as Penny is about to give birth to a foal. When assessing these gaps in time, it seems like there is an obvious pattern. Jiggy is, essentially, placed in the film for plot convenience. Throughout the movie, the audience, to a certain extent, is given the opportunity to get to know Jiggy as a character. But, when it comes to seeing how Jiggy evolves from villain to hero, the audience never gets to see the personal growth and self-discovery that is usually associated with this kind of character development. If anything, Jiggy’s journey from point A to B feels rushed and sudden, with a limited amount of background provided.
Even though Henry Gowen is from a television show, I believe that his story on When Calls the Heart corelates with the subject of this editorial. For three seasons, Henry Gowen was the resident villain of Hope Valley. It wasn’t until the fourth season when Henry’s villainous ways finally caught up to him. Since When Calls the Heart: The Christmas Wishing Tree, Henry has been making a conscious effort to turn his life around. What works in this character’s favor is that his story is a part of an on-going narrative. Because When Calls the Heart is a continuous television show, not a stand-alone film like Felicity: An American Girl Adventure, the screen-writers have more time to explore Henry’s journey of transforming from villain to hero. What also helps is that Henry is a part of the main cast of characters. This allows him to receive a good amount of screen-time and stay involved within the series. With Jiggy, on the other hand, he isn’t directly related to Felicity’s family or any of her friends/acquaintances. Therefore, he wasn’t given as much screen-time as some of the other characters in the film.
A Hypocritical Protagonist
When an obvious villain/antagonist is placed within a story, there is usually an obvious protagonist to present a balance between right and wrong. Though the protagonist is not meant to be anywhere near perfect, they’re at least meant to make better decisions than the villain/antagonist. While Felicity’s heart was in the right place in Felicity: An American Girl Adventure, some of her choices seem hypocritical. As I mentioned earlier, Felicity and her father made claims about Jiggy mistreating his horse. However, this movie’s titular character is not as innocent as the film wants you to think. In an effort to “save” Penny, Felicity sneaks out of her family’s home in the early morning hours, breaking family rules and disobeying her parents. She also takes Ben’s (her close friend’s) breeches without his permission, trespasses on Jiggy’s property, and steals his horse due to a misunderstanding. On several occasions, some of Felicity’s family and friends try to help her make the right decisions. For example, while spending some time with her grandfather in the garden, he encourages Felicity’s love of horses. At the same time, Grandfather Merriman reminds her that she mustn’t bother Jiggy and his belongings. Despite her family and friends’ efforts, all of their advice goes in one ear and out the other. After Felicity gets reprimanded for stealing Jiggy’s horse, Felicity goes back to trespassing on Jiggy’s property. This time, she sets Penny free into the wild. Because Felicity seems to be making just as many poor choices as Jiggy within the film, it makes these two characters appear more like individuals just trying to get through life than a conflict between villain and protagonist. Even though she uses her grandfather’s advice about choosing kindness over anger later in the film, she doesn’t really set the best of examples, as a protagonist, at an essential time during Jiggy’s story as a villain.
Throughout his trilogy, Steve Rogers/Captain America has always been known for making good decisions, no matter how difficult they seem. One perfect example of this is in Captain America: Civil War. In this film, one of the over-arcing narratives was about the Sokovia Accords. With this document, the use of a superhero’s powers and abilities would be controlled by the government. Not only did Steve take the time to read the Accords, but he decided not to sign it for personal reasons. He knew that his decision would have consequences, but he still stuck by his beliefs. Steve made the choices he did because he felt it benefitted the people around him as well as himself. Unlike Felicity, Steve thought about his actions and choices before he carried them out. He also used a balance of emotion and logic in order to make these decisions. This is also very different from the aforementioned film’s villain, Helmut Zemo. Because he’s upset about losing his family in the tragic events from the previous film, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Zemo’s feelings and emotions fuel his criminal actions. Since Zemo blames the Avengers for the death of his family, he tries to do whatever he can to drive a wedge between the Avengers, from causing massive amounts of destruction to framing Bucky for a crime he didn’t commit. Unlike Steve, Zemo’s decisions seem very self-centered, his only focus being how he’s going to get revenge for his family.
Not a Big Enough Threat
Usually, in tv shows and movies, the villain/antagonist has a consistent presence in the story. This is a way of showing that this character poses as a big enough threat to the protagonist. As I mentioned in argument number three, “No Transition”, Jiggy wasn’t given much screen-time compared to the other characters in Felicity: An American Girl Adventure. I also mentioned that it feels like Jiggy is placed in certain moments of the film for the sake of plot convenience. Because of these observations, Jiggy doesn’t seem like he poses as big of a threat to Felicity. During his “villain stage”, Jiggy and Felicity only interacted with each other on three separate occasions. Not only did they barely speak to one another, but no major conflicts were resolved. Another reason why Jiggy doesn’t really pose as big of a threat in this film is because he doesn’t necessarily do anything that’s villainous. Sure, he said some nasty things (including a threat to kill Penny if Felicity showed up on his property again) and tied his horse to a pole in his yard. But he never commits any serious or unspeakable crimes throughout the film. In argument number three, I said that Jiggy was seen in a jail cell. While his reason for being in prison is never mentioned in the movie, it is said in Changes For Felicity that Jiggy went to “debtors’ jail”. If this is the reason why Jiggy is in jail in Felicity: An American Girl Adventure, it seems like he was unable to pay for anything because of a result of his grief, not because he was trying to take advantage of the system in a criminal way.
For this argument, I’m going to be talking about two examples. The first is the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. A major reason why this character is an effective villain is because she had a more consistent presence in her movie than Jiggy did in his. Even though she doesn’t appear in every scene, the Wicked Witch of the West shows up in enough of them to give the audience the feeling that she is always lurking around the corner. What also helps her case is the music that plays and the special effects that appear whenever she shows up. My other example is Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. While Scrooge is the antagonist at the beginning of the story, the audience never sees or reads about him ever doing anything villainous. Even though being selfish and greedy are not desirable qualities, his choices are not criminal. In fact, Scrooge’s story has similarities to Jiggy’s story, especially since they both transform from villain/antagonist to hero/protagonist. However, Scrooge’s journey is explored more in A Christmas Carol than Jiggy’s is in Felicity: An American Girl Adventure.
My Final Assessment of Jiggy Nye
In the introduction of this editorial, I said that I would describe why I didn’t believe Jiggy Nye was an effective villain in Felicity: An American Girl Adventure. After explaining my reasons why, I feel that Jiggy is presented more as a victim of his personal situation. As I mentioned in my first argument called “The Incorporation of Jiggy’s Backstory”, Jiggy’s wife passed away and his world was greatly affected by it. However, this important detail was barely referenced in the movie, pretty much getting glossed over. It didn’t seem like most of the characters were willing to connect Jiggy’s choices and behaviors to his grief. Because of this, Jiggy became a scapegoat for the sake of needing a villain/antagonist. While he does get a moment to redeem himself and become a hero, this transition wasn’t shown or explored. I understand that this movie was Felicity’s story (especially since her name is in the title) and that this movie is based on a series of books. But I just feel that this aspect of the narrative could have been better executed. If anything, Jiggy was a more effective villain in the first book, Meet Felicity, than in Felicity: An American Girl Adventure. Valerie Tripp, the author of this book, had an entire story to flesh out the character of Jiggy Nye and provide enough evidence to show that he was not a nice person. Because the movie adapted six books into one cinematic narrative, Jiggy’s part of the story was sacrificed and overshadowed.