I'm going to pitch a movie to you.
We meet Steve and Carol, the perfect couple. They're happy, attractive people who seem to have everything. He trains firemen for a living, and she's an artist, her wild, free spirit balancing out his serious, button-down demeanor. Then Carol gets pregnant, and Steve's dark secret is revealed:
His entire family is midgets.
He kept it from her his whole life (which was easy to do, because he's not a midget), and now they must deal with this problem, because the possibility that their baby will also be a midget is out in the open. This movie takes that situation and explicitly asks the question: "Will she still keep the baby knowing it might be a dwarf?" This isn't a throwaway question, or a B storyline, or anything like that. It is the plot of the movie. Is this woman brave enough to not abort her baby even though it might be a dwarf? As with all movies, imagine the likelihood of a subplot involving an interracial-man-on-midget sexual affair is extremely high.
Assume when I pitch this movie to you that I stress that it is in no way a comedy, and assume I do it all with a straight face.
Also my last name is Weiner. (Just for argument's sake.)
So I'm saying all of these things to you. I'm pitching you a dwarf-centric non-comedy movie, the central conflict of which, is "should a pregnant woman go ahead with her pregnancy knowing the baby might be tiny (but, like, longer than babies are supposed to be tiny)," and the whole time I'm pitching it, my name is Weiner. Mr. Weiner's Midget Movie.
Would you greenlight that movie?
Here's the thing: You already did. Or not you, but someone heard that pitch, complete with the Weiner last name, and said, "Yes, I want to fund that movie." Then someone else read the treatment for a movie that hinged on a woman's decision to have a (potentially) dwarfish baby and said, "I have to direct this." And then some actual movie stars read the script and said, "I need to be a part of this movie." And this was all done, not in the 80s where ridiculous, laughable movies were everywhere and cocaine flowed forth from Hollywood's water fountains. This was 2003, the same year we got Return of the King, X2 and A Mighty Wind. And, of course, this movie. They called it Tiptoes.
And, no, there's nothing wrong with your brain. That's Matthew McConaughey and Kate Beckinsale, two people who, by 2003, were already legitimate, working actors. They didn't need a paycheck, neither was hurting for work. They just saw the script and said "Finally," and then they made this heavy-handed, deadly serious movie about What to Expect When You're Expecting (A Midget Baby). And you know what?
I love it so much.The Trailer
The trailer guy voice makes it seem like a romantic comedy. Do not be fooled. This is a drama.
CharactersMatthew McConaughey plays Steve, a Matthew McConaughey-esque fireman-teacher, who oscillates between resenting his dwarfish ancestry and defending his people with the fervor of some kind of midget-loving Toussaint Louverture. He has anger management issues, but we don't get any indication of that until the last 20 minutes of the movie, and even then he doesn't even seem to be that angry.
Highlight: In a particularly heated argument, Steve is mad that Carol refuses to use the word "dwarf" when describing their child. Offended, or maybe just crazy, McConaughey passionately yells, "Our son is a dwarf. I'm a dwarf!" This ends the conversation. No elaboration, no explanation, just a yelled "I'm a dwarf" and Kate Beckinsale cries, like that was her biggest fear the whole time.
Kate Beckinsale is Carol, an artsy free spirit. When she sees Steve's midget brother for the first time, she's horrified and confused, as if she's never seen a midget before (which is absurd, because we've all had those nightmares). She has lots of questions, but they all seem to presuppose midgets are aliens.
Those are actual lines from the movie. And even when she gets her answers, it's clear that she still doesn't consider dwarves to be actual people. When she meets Matthew's dwarf parents for the first time, she openly admits that she's considered not keeping the baby specifically because "he might be like you people." She eventually, of course, comes to accept and love midgets, either because she has a good heart or because there's nothing wrong with being a dwarf and this whole concept was retarded to begin with.
Highlight: Her character's pretty boring and inconsistent, so I'm gonna go ahead and say "her butt."
Gary Oldman plays Rolfe, Matthew's twin-but-midget brother in the performance of his career. Yes, Gary Oldman plays a midget. And yes, Gary Oldman plays Matthew McConaughey's twin.
One more time here: Commissioner Gordon, Dracula, fucking Stansfield, plays Matthew McConaughey's twin brother, as a midget, and I totally bought it. Still, it's sort of unfortunate, because there's, what, two leading-man roles for midgets in the history of cinema, and one of them went to Gary Oldman? How many pissed off midget actors picketed that decision? Sub-question, how hilarious is that?
Highlight: Rolfe tries to reconcile with his old girlfriend, only to find out she's been dating this (full-sized) security guard. When the tryst is found out, a fight breaks out with Rolfe and his midget lady on one side and the security guard on the other. It ends with her breaking a boombox over his head and, again, it's played totally straight.
People, watch this movie. It is the only time you will see two midgets fight a man that doesn't immediately involve professional wrestling.
Peter Dinklage is always, always great, but he shines as the French, Marxist midget Maurice. Oh, right, this movie has a French Marxist midget. He believes midget rights will only be achieved via the pistol (like a Marxist?) and he is without a doubt the only likable character in the movie. He just hangs out all the time, being badass and carefree and tiny and going straight nuts on full-sized Patricia Arquette's full-sized lady bits. It seems like whenever something dramatic or important is happening, the director likes to undercut it with a scene of Maurice just hanging out, looking weird.
For example, when Steve and Carol get married and do this
we see Peter Dinklage, a few feet away, doing this:
"I will never get married, for weddings turn lovers into relatives." Hell yeah, Maurice.
It wasn't a picnic wedding, and Maurice wasn't invited. They just hung out near the wedding kickin' it like... like a couple of Marxists.
Highlight This image requires no explanation.
Just know that it's in the movie, and if you're not already renting it, go rent it now.
David Alan Grier appears in a cameo as a celebrity in a distractingly terrible wig who likes to fuck midgets.
Highlight: He only exists in this movie to have sex with midgets in ways that shake up the plot, and that is precisely what he does.
Wait for it.
You already know the conflict: Carol and Steve are pregnant with a baby that might be a midget. What you don't know is that this movie has a quota of people who despise midgets that must always be maintained. In the beginning, as stated, it's Carol, who isn't sure if she's morally okay with bringing another dwarf into the world. Once she realizes she's confusing "dwarves" with "mobile AIDS unit," she softens and learns to love all things tiny. When that happens, a switch is flipped and Steve, who up until that point was fine with dwarves, considering he was raised by them, turns into a self-hating almost-dwarf. Here he is reacting to the news that his baby is a dwarf.
He screams and punches a hole in the wall of the hospital room that holds his wife, newborn son and their doctor who, yes, is also a little person. There are a lot of tear-filled arguments and, eventually, Steve has to leave because (ready?) he doesn't love and understand dwarves the way Carol does. She has to raise their baby on her own, because of Steve's prejudice and hitherto concealed anger issues.
I'll be honest, I'm not sure there was one. A lot of the scenes in this movie play like improvisation exercises. Imagine you had a scene partner, and whatever that partner said of you, you had to accept it without question and continue the scene with your new information, even if that information conflicted with previous information. Either that or the director is bored off screen and occasionally shouts "CHANGE ARGUMENTS." I'll give you an example, this is towards the end of the movie. Steve and Carol had the baby, but Steve's already decided it's best for the baby if he's not around to bother it with his anger. Several months later, this scene takes place. Keep in mind these lines are just about verbatim (except the director's, which I've clearly added based on assumption). Just watch how many times "Steve's Problem" changes throughout:
It's the make-it-up-as-we-go approach to scripting that turned Matthew McConaughey's character from an open-minded, fun-loving, fucking fireman to a prejudiced, violent, self-involved bastard. And I love the movie for it. I've never seen a movie that played so loose with its own universe. They clearly don't care about consistency, so anything can happen, and it does in the end when- well, I won't spoil it for you...
Why The Movie Failed Spectacularly (Financially)
I know what you're thinking. "It's an emotional drama with a cast of constantly evolving characters and more midgets than have ever been on screen before. How could it fail?" Let's take a look at the poster.
Look at it. Reeeaaallly look at it.
A poster-designer was told "This is a heartbreaking movie about how difficult it is to be a midget sometimes, and also anger management," and that was the poster they thought best conveyed the story. There has never been a less effective poster. Everyone's looking off in a different direction, except lunatic Patricia Arquette who is staring right at me, and Kate's enormous hair is surreptitiously trying to wrap around her throat. Judging by the poster, I would say this movie is about Kate Beckinsale, a hardworking Nebraskan vampire who falls in love with a cardboard cutout of Matthew McConaughey from The Wedding Planner. Throw in a subplot about Patricia Arquette switching bodies with a baby Predator, mention something about Gary Oldman having a secret of some kind, and Boom, there's your poster.
What's criminal is that the most important aspect of this film (it is about midgets), and really the only thing that will immediately make this movie stand out, is not even represented, as the designer made Gary Oldman look totally non-midget-like. Midgets are your only selling point, nameless poster designer. Get your shit together. Regardless, there was one other promotional poster for this movie that was equally worthless.
The first thing that draws your eye is Kate Beckinsale, who we see here looking at the title of the movie for the first time and considering firing her agent. This poster certainly doesn't suffer from lack of midget involvement. Hell, the "i" in Tiptoes is a little person. Still, judging by this poster, I'd say this movie was about Kate Beckinsale looking hot while a tiny Gary Oldman appreciates her elbow. Also it looks like Peter Dinklage built a time machine that drives sideways. We are left to assume Matthew McConaughey and Patricia Arquette like this movie enough to appear in it, but not enough to pose for promotional photos.
Also, I don't know if the filmmakers were trying to be super artsy or what, but there's this one five-minute phone conversation that's shot really strangely. On Carol's end, all you get is an extended shot of her mouth that's super close-up.
And for Steve, they stuck him in a field at night and I'm pretty sure they lit him the same way we light the Chief in Agents of Cracked.
Did I mention this movie is free to watch online? What the hell are you waiting for?
Daniel O'Brien is a leading scholar in the field of midget comedies.