REVIEWS of "Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence"

Director: Nick Hamm
Starring: Monica Potter, Rufus Sewell, Tom Hollander, Joseph Fiennes
Details: 1 hr. 25 mins. Cert. 15 UK
Released: May 8 '98 (nationwide) UK

Empire - June 1998

Tongue-twisting title, heart-twisting plot. Romantic comedy with an unlikely spin, free of chick-flick cheesiness. And it's British, too, so no Meg Ryan in sight. Record company hotshot Daniel (Hollander) returns from a US business trip and falls for emigrating American girl Martha (Potter) after a chance meeting at Minneapolis airport. They arrange lunch next day but she doesn't show. Twenty-four hours later Daniel relates this tale to old school buddies Laurence (Fiennes) and Frank (Sewell). Daniel gets sympathy from neither as struggling actor Frank is pathologically jealous of Daniel's success and Laurence is in love, too. With the same girl. Who he also met by chance. Frank storms off after their meeting, takes a sulky walk in the park - and meets Martha, too . . .

Hey, it's a small world and London is only part of it so anything is possible. Besides, watching Peter Morgan's screenplay unfold everything is wonderful. Brilliantly plotted, deconstructed and timeshifted in the style of, say, Pulp Fiction, Hamm views three emotionally-charged days from the differing angles of each of the titular protagonists built from the flashback perspective of practising psychiatrist Ray Winstone (an excellent and unlikely cameo). The deadpan comedy is frequently laugh-out-loud funny with Sewell and Fiennes taking to it like ducks to water after their more serious roots. Hollander is unusually likeable, too, as the potentially irksome yuppie. But at the core of everything is newcomer Potter (previously glimpsed briefly as Nicolas Cage's wife in Con Air), bouncing elfishly from pillar to post, streetwise but confused, loved and loveable, and glowing like Julia Roberts circa Steel Magnolias. Fun, feelgood and fast-moving - this is everything you wanted from a Brit romantic comedy (but were afraid to ask).

Irish Times - May 8, 1998

Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel And Laurence

Like last week's Sliding Doors, the cumbersomely-titled Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel And Laurence is a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of 1990s Swinging London, but there the resemblance ends. Writer Peter Morgan's previous credits include the dreadful King Ralph, so he doesn't necessarily possess the subtle touch, and his screenplay here is a straitjacket from which director Nick Hamm seems unwilling or unable to escape. Monica Potter is Martha, a young American woman whose life isn't working out. Buying the cheapest ticket she can find to get out of Minneapolis, she finds herself sitting beside the brash young music biz executive Daniel (Tom Hollander), who becomes besotted with her. When Potter disappears on her arrival in London, Hollander confesses his problem to his best friends Frank (Rufus Sewell) and Laurence (Joseph Fiennes). Over the next day, through a series of coincidences guaranteed to stretch the credulity of even the most broad-minded audience, Potter ends up spending time with all three friends, and is finally faced with making a choice, which she proceeds to do in an ending of quite stunning banality. All the characters are badly sketched, and (with the exception of Potter) not particularly likeable. Hollander, Sewell and Fiennes are viewed in some quarters as three stars-in-the-making of the new British cinema, so one can only hope that their one-note performances here are due to the direction from the appropriately-named Hamm.

Scotsman - May 8, 1998

The Coens, of course, make all this look so easy. Martha - Meet Frank, Daniel And Laurence is a decidedly minor British offering that makes comedy seem terribly hard. What a strain it is to accommodate a story that has Monica Potter, passing American, meet three British friends without any of the chaps quite working out what is going on. What an effort it is for said chums - Rufus Sewell, Tom Hollander and Joseph Fiennes (Ralph's wee brother) - to get through Peter Morgan's dialogue without showing it up for what it is, just another failed and dreadfully self-conscious British attempt to come up with the sort of slick remarks characters are meant to say to one another in fluffy romantic comedies.

Of course, there are Cool Britannia trappings by the red London busload, with chic locations and a soundtrack full of chirpy British pop by the yard. Such desperation to please is very easy to resist, especially when the material is so thin. Romantic comedies, by their very nature, require both emotional investment from the audience and the odd chuckle too. Here the romance angle is so patently contrived Mr Magoo could see through it and there are simply not enough good jokes. Ray Winstone's caring, listening psychiatrist gets the only real belly-wobbler in the 90 minutes or so.

Evening Standard - May 8, 1998

Three into one won't go

Martha - Meet Frank, Daniel & Laurence *** (15) Monica Potter, Rufus Sewell, Joseph Fiennes, Tom Hollander. Dir: Nick Hamm. UK. 1997. 88mins.

Three boys fall for the same girl, and love quickly turns into deceit. The fall-out from Four Weddings blankets this minuscule romantic comedy set among the London tourist traps over a day and a night of "meetings cute". But it still looks skimpy and feels plodding. Monica Potter plays the swinging American blonde who abandons her NY digs for "a future of irresponsible liaisons" abroad with only the fixed and trusting smile of a fantasy sitcom on her cheesecake face to preserve her from rapists, money-changers and and worse. The triumvirate who stalk her in turn, each ignorant of their common target until the final double-takes, are Tom Hollander (a self-centredly cocky pop music tycoon who upgrades the girl on his transatlantic flight in order to score with her), Rufus Sewell (a self-pitying yob whose ideal woman is "myself with breasts"), and Joseph Fiennes (a self-deprecating New Man afflicted with guilt and a job teaching bridge to middle-aged women).

Directed by Nick Hamm, written by Peter Morgan, the movie betrays a strained concern with stringing its juggling act out to feature length, and barely manages it. Trouble is, when any two of the lads are off screen they're immediately forgotten about; when any one of them is on screen, he's completely predictable. The girl, who's said to have had a bad time from men, shows no signs of it but certainly has a bad time with a script in which you don't hear the character, but always hear the writer. Fiennes, though, with not much to do save tell the tale to Ray Winstone's psychiatrist, does most with his part. He's interesting enough on his own to make you curious to know what he'll be like when he's the main attraction and not just a third of it.

Guardian/Observer - May 8, 1998

Four's company The latest British entry conjures up a true romance By Richard Williams

And still they come, the parade of eager aspirants to the worldwide success of Four Weddings and The Full Monty. Last week's contender, Sliding Doors, had lashings of charm but few real laughs. But this week's entrant, Martha - Meet Frank, Daniel And Laurence, is the real thing. A genuinely witty script and a combination of four fine young actors ensure that Nick Hamm's romantic comedy evokes the proper response. It helps when you like the people in a film, even the ones who behave insufferably from time to time. This is a coming-of-age comedy - which, given our culture's evolution into extended adolescence, means that all the protagonists are aged around 30, and beginning to concentrate on the meaning of success and failure. They're young enough to be pretty, but old enough to have some texture.

Martha (Monica Potter) is a young American who decides to change her life in a non-specific sort of way and spends her last $99 on a one-way ticket out of Minneapolis. En route to London she bumps into Daniel (Tom Hollander), a bumptious music business executive with a bouffant who falls for her before they've left the check-in queue. Within 24 hours, through a cleverly devised series of coincidences, she has also met Daniel's best friends - Frank (Rufus Sewell), an out-of-work actor, and Laurence (Joseph Fiennes), who teaches bridge to classes of middle-aged women. They, too, fall in love with her. How can this be? Could three such disparate characters, bound only by their friendship, fall equally hard for the same woman? Potter, previously seen as Nicolas Cage's wife in ConAir, makes it seem a realistic proposition. She has the kind of beguiling presence that Julia Roberts brought to Pretty Woman - a fresh sort of beauty, inspiringly cheerful, but capable of a neat switch to bemused introspection. The face of an angel, the soul of a gypsy - you know the kind of thing.

All the men work well with Potter, but the best scenes are the ones in which they squabble among themselves. Hollander's clownish neurosis,Sewell's sharp timing and Fiennes's dark-eyed intensity blend in a lively three-part harmony. As if his eyelashes, like two large dead
moths, weren't enough evidence of natural good fortune, Fiennes also has the luck to share a couple of framing scenes with Ray Winstone, who dispenses psychiatric advice as if through the partition of a black cab. More robust than his brother Ralph, this Fiennes will probably achieve a similar standing before long. Like Sliding Doors, this film trades on a tourist's-eye view of London. But although the haphazard sense of geography - Heathrow to Piccadilly Circus via Canary Wharf, anyone? - matches that of Spice World, you just don't feel like quibbling with the details of such a good-natured and sparklingly funny effort.

Daily Mirror - May 7, 1998

MARTHA MEET FRANK, DANIEL & LAURENCE **** (out of five) (15, 88 mins)

FORGET Sliding Doors - this is the date movie of the moment, with not one but three hapless British chaps all falling for a gorgeous American. Martha (Monica Potter) has spent her last $99 on a one-way plane ticket out of Nowheres-ville, USA, hoping to start a new life. On the plane to London she catches the eye of music executive Daniel (Tom Hollander). He hits on her and is desperate to keep her in his clutches. But things go wrong and Daniel is soon bemoaning his luck to old friends Frank (Rufus Sewell), an unemployed actor, and Laurence, played by Joseph Fiennes. After a heated argument with Daniel, Frank bottles out of an audition at the National Theatre and finds himself in the park where, surprise surprise, he meets Martha. Wanting to get one over on Daniel, he ingratiates himself with Martha. What the boys don't know is that Martha is herself obsessed with someone, although the chances of coming across him in a city the size of
London are surely pretty remote. Where does Laurence come in? That would be telling. This is a brilliant romantic comedy. Normally the use of coincidence in a movie should be sparing. Writer Peter Morgans' triumph is in using coincidence as the very bedrock of the film. In Monica Potter, we are surely witnessing a future superstar. A treat to look at and a great comedienne, she's like a younger, blonde version of Julia Roberts - with considerably greater acting ability. Fiennes, in his first feature role, looks set to emulate the success of his brother Ralph. Despite a few rough patches, this is very funny stuff indeed, showing that when it comes to romance with a heart AND a sense of humour, we can knock Hollywood into a cocked hat.

PA News - May 7, 1998

90mins) By Darren Bignell, PA Features

If you caught Sliding Doors last week, you'll be well aware that London is, in fact, the new Paris. Or something like that anyway. And, as another rather fluffy tale of love and laughs trips gaily along its streets, England's capital city is once again presented in a considerably more romantic light than anyone who works/lives/has-recently-visited there will recognise. Monica Potter (Con Air) is Martha, London-bound on a shoestring, leaving cares and woes behind in Minneapolis, and jutting her rather delicate chin towards a new, uncertain life. But somehow, in the space of the next 24 hours, she manages to bump into three bickersome mates, who all fall for her, and are all played by stout, up-and-coming Brit types. Pint-sized, high-flying music exec Daniel (Tom Hollander) - with insanely ridiculous coiffeur - becomes smitten in the departure lounge, and fiddles Martha's ticket with the airline so he can bend her ear all through the flight. When she stands him up for dinner the following day, Daniel turns in distress to chums Frank (Rufus Sewell) and Laurence (Joseph Fiennes), only for Frank - a stroppy, out of work actor - to then meet Martha in Hyde Park and see a chance to score bigtime over his chief rival in life. And unknown to both, sensitive would-be artist, contract bridge teacher (what?) Laurence, has also met Martha and is now - as he relates to his psychiatrist neighbour (Ray Winstone) - caught somewhere roughly in the middle.

A romantic fairy-tale relying, by definition, on coincidence and chance this may be - real-life is definitely not like this (not in my experience, anyway) - but the mutual infatuation with the lovely Potter is entirely understandable. Her fresh beauty is suitably beguiling, but it's her impressive performance as the dramatic lynch-pin which proves that window dressing as teary, faithful wife while Nic Cage went 20 rounds with John Malkovich, was wasting the larger portion of her talent. And the boys are okay - Hollander's side-burns clearly about to throttle him as he talks with a cultured/yob hybrid accent just begging for Potter's mimicry, Sewell a more earthy, blokish presence, and Fiennes a bit of a lump but carrying off sensitive and awkward reasonably well. Winstone playing nicely against type is the real treat (which concludes with a superb gag late on), and rounds out a whimsical and rather charming little film, ideal - given its warm and smiley properties - as date movie or early evening pep up. •No sex •No violence •Swearing

Times of London - May 7, 1998

FILM Martha - Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence Odeon West End, 15, 88 mins

Glib and tepid British comedy By Geoff Brown

The film ["Wild Man Blues," the documentary on Woody Allen] is certainly far funnier than Martha - Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence, the latest British bid to be the next Four Weddings and a Funeral. In fact, the film it most often resembles, in material at least, is The Knack, from the heyday of the Swinging Sixties. Three male friends get entangled with the same American girl, although none is aware of the others' involvement. London is always sunny and always smart. The players - Rufus Sewell, Tom Hollander, Joseph Fiennes, and visiting American Monica Potter - launch a charm offensive, but the jokes are wan, the spirit ungenerous, and Nick Hamm's direction indifferent.

SNAP VERDICT Every week, young film fans discuss some of the latest releases . . .

  • Leslie: Sassy. The young cast of this romantic comedy is excellent.
  • Dom: This film was a real laugh from start to finish. The romantic side was only nominally mushy.
  • Emma: A decent little movie which is well worth you parting with a few quid. In a good cast Tom Hollander in particular gives a really excellent performance.
  • Damian: A brilliant, pacy romantic comedy - exit last week's Sliding Doors, enter Martha - Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence. Monica Potter, who plays Martha, is a dead ringer for Julia Roberts, but the film is none the worse for that.

    © 1998-2000 Joy of Joseph Fiennes