Director/Screenplay – Karen Leigh Hopkins, Producers – Eric Brenner & Rob Carliner, Photography – Barry Markowitz, Music – Jeff Cardoni, Production Design – Jennifer Klide. Production Company – Myriad Pictures/Rob Carliner Productions/Wiretrap Films
Katie Holmes (Miss Mary Meadows), James Badge Dale (Sheriff Mike), Callan Mulvey (Skylar), Jean Smart (Mother Meadows), Ava Kolker (Heather), Mary Kay Place (Mrs Davenport), Stephen Bishop (Lieutenant Danny), James Landry Hebert (Derek Pierson), James Keane (Father Peter)
Mary Meadows is a relief teacher at a school. She is polite and perfectly mannered in all ways and tries always to think the best of people no matter what. She is also a vigilante who shoots those she considers vulgar and irredeemable with a gun she carries in her purse. She meets Mike, the local sheriff and he asks her out. They have sex and afterwards she discovers that she is pregnant and so they agree to marry. However, as bodies pile up, the sheriff finds increasing evidence to indicate that Miss Meadows might be the wanted vigilante killer.
There is an irresistible appeal to Miss Meadows. This is one perfectly encapsulated by the film’s poster – Katie Holmes in summer dress, handbag and bobby socks holding a gun. The idea is a parody of Miss Manners (the pen name of columnist Judith Martin who wrote on manner of social etiquette) – where Katie Holmes gives us a Pollyanna character dressed like a perpetual adolescent girl in her Sunday Best right down to the hat and white gloves, is obsessed with table settings, home making, correcting people’s punctuation and always thinking the best of everybody no matter what. In between her insistence on correcting people’s manners, she also happens to be a gun-toting vigilante in the best tradition of Charles Bronson in Death Wish (1974) or modern antecedents like Michael Caine in Harry Brown (2009).
The film comes with an appealing opening where Katie Holmes is walking down an archetypal American avenue wearing a summer dress, tap shoes and reading a book of poetry. All around her is a hyper-real parody of sweetness as deer and squirrels frolic by and bluebirds chirrup in the trees, before this is interrupted by a man in a pick-up truck who crudely propositions her and then pulls a gun, which she calmly deals with by reaching into her purse, producing her own gun and shooting him, before serenely returning to reading her book and continuing on.
There seem few actresses than Katie Holmes better suited to this exaggerated parody of Miss Goody Two Shoes. This is fairly much a variation on the role that Holmes has been perceived in in real life, for rightly or wrongly, through the blushing Girl Next Door parts she played in her early roles to the way her marriage to Tom Cruise played out in the tabloids. On screen here, she has an absolutely perfect way of allowing the mannered pleasantries to turn into deadly threats without missing a beat – the scene where she goes to ex-con Callan Mulvey, produces a teapot, cups and saucers out of a basket and pours for the two of them before threatening to kill him is sublime.
Miss Meadows was the third directorial outing of Karen Leigh Hopkins, previously an actress who has also written the scripts for films such as Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael (1990), Stepmom (1998) and Because I Said So (2007). Hopkins made her directorial debut with the little seen The Rose Sisters (1998) and then went onto A Woman’s a Helluva Thing (2001). You suspect that maybe a director more steeped in the action or thriller genres would have given the film a more vicious kick, expanding the scenes where Katie Holmes goes into action but it works perfectly modestly with what there is. There is a fine scene where Katie Holmes walks into a massacre at a fast food franchise and remonstrates the killer (James Landry Hebert) about being a waste of the taxpayers’ dollar and the problems of a weak liberal justice system before simply shooting him in the head. On the other hand, the scene where she eliminates a paedophile priest doesn’t quite hold such a bite. You wished Karen Leigh Hopkins had given us more scenes of Katie in action like this.
Miss Meadows is the film that you feel like John Waters’ Serial Mom (1994) wanted to be before it fell prey to too broad a sense of humour. It sets in with a dark bite and the contrasts between the two opposites of perfect Miss Manners and vigilante killer are perfectly achieved. The only aspect that gets somewhat lost is a confusing ending that seems to imply that the mother is only a figment of Miss Meadows’ imagination – an aspect that it not given enough explanation or ambiguity to make it clear what the film is doing here.
(Nominee for Best Actress (Katie Holmes) at this site’s Best of 2014 Awards).