“Miss Meadows” never just walks anywhere. When you’re always in tap shoes, you never know when the urge to do a heel tap or paradiddle will strike you.
Unfailingly polite and genteel, she wears white gloves. Always. She never says good-bye, when “Toodle-oo” will do.
She keeps her home, in a rundown corner of suburban Cleveland, spotless — her yard a sea of flowers. And she wears the cutest floral, summery dresses, which she has the hardest time removing the blood stains from.
Because should a would-be rapist try to badger her into her pickup, should a sex offender (Callan Mulvey, the new “Joker”) move into the wrong house, should a priest be caught sexually assaulting a child, Miss Meadows isn’t shy about taking care of this social ill herself. In that tiny purse she carries is a tiny .25 caliber pistol.
Miss Meadows, given a dainty sparkle by Katie Holmes, could be “a ‘Pulp Fiction’ Mary Poppins,” as one sheriff’s deputy describes this vigilante law enforcement is looking for. The film about her isn’t quite that, a dark comedy that takes a darker turn into reality for its third act. But Holmes never breaks character in it, and what a character this Miss Meadows is.
An itenerant substitute teacher, she is direct and as honest as she can be, considering.
“I remind (children) of their goodness,” she says of her first grade teaching qualifications. Her motto, passed on through reminder phone-calls with her mother (Jean Smart), is “make a difference in this world.”
So if the teacher she’s replacing is dying of cancer, she gives the kids optimistic hope in the face of the harsh reality administrators would prefer she share. They write get-well cards, and when Miss Meadows learns the teacher has died, she brings the cards back to attach to balloons that will make their way heavenward.
There is no lesson that can be taught with a smile and a poem.
“Our time we must not idly waste,” mother always taught her, “since all our hours fly off in haste.”
The sheriff (James Badge Dale) is instantly smitten by this woman given to stopping on busy streets to make sure a toad makes it to safety. She isn’t unapproachable. But she only calls him “Sheriff,” even after it’s obvious he’s pulling that law-enforcement style of stalking, even as she’s giggling through sexual intercourse with him.
Writer-director Karen Leigh Hopkins has lots of fun with this surreal set up, and only really loses the thread when reality intrudes. There’s a reason Miss Meadows is how she is. The police are on her trail, her ability to get the drop on a bad guy is impeded when she starts making threats and everybody older than a first grader knows what can happen when you have unsafe sex.
But “Miss Meadows” makes a dandy showcase for an actress who a few years on the shelf, when plainly she still has a lot to offer. Just tell her to bring her tap shoes.
MPAA Rating: unrated with violence, sex, children in peril
Cast: Katie Holmes, James Badge Dale, Callan Mulvey, Jean Smart, Mary Kay Place.
Credits: Written and directed by Karen Leigh Hopkins. A Phase4 Films release.
Running time: 1:30