One goal of acting is to find a part so great that it's impossible to turn down. Dianne Wiest found that role -- 10 years ago. Her performance as a stage diva in "Bullets Over Broadway" won her an Oscar, and having the chance to play a watered-down version in a dumb comedy was apparently too much to resist. So here she is in "Merci, Docteur Rey," playing a histrionic opera star who also happens to be an overbearing mother and a femme fatale. The movie snuck into theaters Friday and here's to presuming that by the end of the week it's on its way to the rental pavilion of your choice.
Wiest's diva, Elisabeth Beaumont, is throwing her weight around Paris in a production of "Turandot." While she primps and preens and harrumphs, her 23-year-old son Thomas (Stanislas Merhar) is cruising all-male chat rooms and burning up the phone line. But you know how it is: Mom has no idea her son is gay. Thomas is happy to keep this delusion going, showing her his mousy girlfriend "Linda" (English singer Jane Birkin), a basket case who seems older than his mother (no offense, Ms. Birkin). "Linda," whose actual name is Penelope, has been in therapy for 20 years with the titular Dr. Rey. She's been trying to shake her obsession with Vanessa Redgrave, whose movies she dubs into French and who dares to show up in this movie.
Meanwhile, Thomas has witnessed a murder, but doesn't seem to care much. He just wants to ogle men and keep on loathing his mother, which , given Wiest's antic doting, is easier to understand. First-time writer and director Andrew Litvack forces Thomas to hide, "Blue Velvet"-style, in a closet, twice. He can't, however, scare up a laugh or an iota of concern.
From the looks of his resume, Litvack appears to be some kind of Merchant-Ivory hanger-on, and they've returned the favor by producing this turkey and lending it some of their actors. But "Docteur Rey" didn't have to gobble. With a dirtier spirit and a boozier, blowsier dame (Wiest actually takes this seriously), this movie could have been guilty fun. Instead, it's just guilty.
Wesley Morris can be reached at email@example.com.