For a time back in the 80’s, the hot name when it came to female directors was Susan Seidelman. She’s the filmmaker who had the good fortune of casting an up-and-coming singer named Madonna in her film Desperately Seeking Susan. By the time the film opened, Madonna mania had struck and Seidelman now had “the Madonna movie” on her hands…much to the frustration of the film’s real star, Rosanna Arquette, as rumors have suggested. The film was a hit, unfortunately Seidelman’s follow up was not as successful. Which brings us to 1987’s Making Mr. Right.
The film tells the story of Frankie Stone (Ann Magnuson) a PR professional who is hired to create a campaign around a new high-tech android called Ulysses (John Malkovich). This includes her spending time with the android in order to making him a bit more likable and, quite frankly, more human. The creator of the robot, Dr. Jeff Peters (also Malkovich) is not so keen on the idea, but his employers force him to cooperate.
As Frankie starts to connect with Ulysses, he becomes more and more curious and ends up taking a few excursions outside of the lab/compound where he was built. This includes him going on a date with another lab employee (Laurie Metcalf) who thinks he’s actually Dr. Peters. However, Ulysses has really started to have feelings for Frankie, and soon she finds she is feeling the same way. Too bad he’s due to be shot into space in a few days.
Once you get past the somewhat creepy idea that we’re dealing with a love story between a woman and a robot, Making Mr. Right turns out to be a very sweet little movie. What ultimatley makes it work is the strength of the performances from the two leads. We all know that Malkovich is a great actor, but this is really only his fourth film…and his first comedy, at that. Not only does he show himself to be a very skilled comedic actor, but he perfectly balances two completely different characters. His Dr. Peters is more like the stereotypical Malkovich role – fidgety, frustrated, and coming across like a zit that’s ready to pop at any moment. While Ulysses is so innocent and childlike that you almost forget that it’s Malkovich.
Meanwhile, Ann Magnuson is a revelation. Sexy, determined, and quirky…she is an absolute joy in this. With an outlandish premise, like we have at the center of this film, it would’ve been easy for her role to descend into camp. However, her feelings toward Ulysses seem genuine. I almost said that Magnuson really sells it, but that just feels wrong. Her affection for Ulysses flows and progresses in a very natural and believable way.
If I have a complaint about the film it’s that it does go into a few predictable and well-worn places. The final act of the film hinges on Peters and Ulysses both being present at Frankie’s sister’s wedding, causing cases of mistaken identity. You can see that device coming a mile away. It’s also a bit unbelievable that Ulysses is as naive and childlike as he is, considering he’s just a few weeks away from a science mission into deep space. I kinda think he would’ve been given more than a 2nd grade education, all things considered.
Even with a few problems, the film is so charming that they hardly matter. Beyond the two leads we also get some great supporting players rounding out the cast, including Polly Bergen and Glenne Headly, who was Mrs. Malkovich at the time. Making Mr. Right is very funny and sweet, and has a lot of peculiar 80’s style that that just makes this even more of a wonderful treat of a film. I’m a bit embarrassed that I overlooked this one for 30 years.