Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
The Californians seems like it has a lot going for it. Great cast. Some incredible vocals by the female lead. And what should have been a decent storyline. Sadly, though, it loses its way and ends up being nothing more than a predictable, forgettable romantic comedy, without the comedy.
Noah Wyle plays Gavin Ransom, an "all about the money" housing developer with his sights set on his next big project - huge over-priced homes for the ridiculously wealthy yuppies. Of course this development will obliterate some of California's woodlands, but, hey, the people have to live somewhere, right? Noah's twin sister Olive (Illeana Douglas) is his exact opposite. She's a diehard environmentalist. Dedicating her life to her cause, she's become cold and full of anger, barely speaking to her brother who represents all that she loathes. Enter Zoe (Kate Mara) a beautiful girl with a voice as sweet as sugar that melts the heart of all who hear her. With her guitar-playing father (Keith Carradine), she sings beautiful folks songs, about nature and goodness and light.
Olive realizes that Zoe can be the voice that gets her message out to the people. And thus the exploitation begins. Olive teaches Zoe about their cause. Well, more like "brainwashes" her. Zoe is so excited to have an outlet for the singing that she doesn't even realize how she's being manipulated. Predictably, because this is a Hollywood production, Gavin falls in love with Zoe. He recognizes how she's being exploited and wants her to think for herself, and use her voice the way she wants to, not to do the bidding of his overzealous sister.
The rest of the movie shows Zoe being pulled in both directions, and she not really sure where she fits in. As her popularity as a singer grows, so does her realization that she isn't really 100% dedicated to her cause. And as she falls for Gavin, she realizes that he's not all evil. For his part, he comes to see that it's not always all about the money, that other factors are important as well.
A saving grace for this movie is Cloris Leachman. She plays Eileen Boatwright, another environmentalist, but one with a heart and a romantic spirit. She thinks Gavin's "hot" and muses that if only she were "10 years younger...". This is the one line in the movie that made me laugh - since she's approximately 45 years older than he is.
Formulaic and predictable, this movie just doesn't work. It seems to me that it can't decide exactly what kind of movie it wants to be. On the one hand, it wants to outline some of the issues surrounding the environment and development. Maybe it's a movie with a caring message about saving our natural resources? But on the other hand it seems to poke fun at the environmentalists. Olive's character is so cold, and hateful, it's impossible to sympathize with her. Maybe this was supposed to be a satire? But it really doesn't do that well, either. There are hints that Olive is a lesbian, attracted to Zoe. So is this a love-triangle movie? Hard to say, since it never explores that avenue beyond some very subtle hints, and Zoe seems completely unaware of that subtext.
The best part of the movie is the music. Kate Mara provides the vocals, and her voice really is wonderful. Too bad she picked this script to showcase her talent. Rated PG, there's nothing in this movie that anyone could possibly find offensive. On the other hand, there's nothing in this movie to like, either. Skip it.
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