TIPTOES is a film that attempts to deal with the largely unexplored subject of dwarfism, but quickly becomes convoluted and saccharine. The story is centered around Steven (Matthew McConaughey) who has been told by his fiancée Carol (Kate Beckinsale), that she is pregnant. What he has not told her, is that his twin brother, as well as his whole family are dwarfs, and that their child will more than likely be a "little person." We meet Steven's brother, Rolfe (Gary Oldman), who prompts Carol to discover more about what this means and in the process discovers important things about herself as well, etc. She becomes involved with an organization (modeled after the Little People of America, or LPA, group) whose aim is to promote understanding in the world at large. There is also a subplot involving Rolfe's friend Maurice (Peter Dinklage) and his relationship to Lucy, a "normal sized" woman (Patricia Arquette). Maurice is something of an anarchist, who rejects the politically correct nature of the "little person" label (as does Dinklage), has extreme views of the government, and drinks too much. He is one of the most interesting characters in TIPTOES, but is given little screen time and becomes more of a figurehead for the "little people are just people" subtext of the story (Dinklage would be given much more to work with in THE STATION AGENT). As the film progresses, the relationship between Steven and Carol becomes more melodramatic, and in the the end very little is resolved.
TIPTOES, as a film, seems to be more interested in delivering a warm-hearted message than creating a cohesive story. The film presupposes that the audience has a very narrow view of dwarfs: that they don't lead happy productive lives, that they aren't promiscuous or enjoy parties or drink to excess. All the "little people" in TIPTOES become exaggerated in order to dispel these notions, and are rarely given the opportunity to be simply characters in the story. The "normal sized" characters suffer from underdevelopment however and both McConaughey and Beckingsale fail to register as they are put through the motions of the uneven plot. TIPTOES rarely shows the prejudice that it constantly refers to. Observe the scene, when renting a motel room to Rolfe, Maurice and Lucy, the man behind the counter makes the comment "one adult and two children." No response is made by any of the characters, which seems unlikely considering Maurice is a gun-toting malcontent. The term "midget" is referenced as a derogatory epitaph, but little explanation is given (the word is a holdover from the "freak show" era). TIPTOES decides to sidestep many of these issues with well intentioned portrayals of normality, but generates little enlightenment into the specific social experience of dwarfs. Furthermore, the film fails to find the right tone for the material, going from bouncy to lachrymose in brief intervals; the subtext of Carol's pregnancy is also unsettling. The word 'abortion' is never used, but the capsulated plot detail on the packaging states that after she finds out her child will be a dwarf "Carol decides to have the baby anyway..." This line is used in a fluffy quasi-charming context and would be unthinkable to print if the unborn child was mentally handicapped or paralyzed.
Matthew Bright, the director of TIPTOES, has seemingly carved out a niche for himself by making odd-ball low budget films that have become cult favorites. Both THE FORBIDDEN ZONE, which he wrote, and FREEWAY, wrote/directed, have gone on to find a small, but faithful, audience on the fringe of modern film. The fact that the end result of TIPTOES was a soapy, romantic drama was apparently against Bright's wishes and he claims that the producers marginalized his input as the production went on. He went so far as publicly shun the finished film at the Sundance Festival. Even so, Bright is not a director whose work I would have sought out intentionally, but I was drawn to TIPTOES by the glimmering lure of Gary Oldman. Not only that, but Gary Oldman playing a "little person." After viewing the film, I am uncertain of what his motivations for choosing this film might have been. It could have been for the complicated technical aspects, or that it was a leading role that allowed him to show off his versatility. He does, however, create a fairly interesting, nuanced character (one of the few present in TIPTOES) considering the fact that he is playing a character roughly half his actual height, who walks with a cane (to mask the uneven gait while on one's knees I presume), and has a thick southern accent, all this while performing in heavy make-up (well done by Greg Cannom). That said, casting a person of "normal" size to play a dwarf (I'll let the reader draw their own comparisons) only added to the negative reaction the film received upon its' initial theatrical release (which was limited, basically going straight-to-video) from critics and the LPA. As other reviewers have noted, the methods by which the filmmakers accomplish the "dwarfing" of Oldman, cinematic ally speaking, are somewhat distracting. I would guess that the limitations in budget and time did not allow Bright and his crew to integrate the special photographic techniques as seamlessly as in a film like DEAD RINGERS. It is somewhat refreshing for a film to be relatively free of CGI effects, but the stand-ins and limited camera angles are obtrusive in sections and ultimately hurt the film. 3/10