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Definitely No 

The world's first Dutch musical comedy isn't going to start any trends

Wednesday, Sep 1 2004
It's impossible not to notice that the title of Yes Nurse! No Nurse! -- the first musical film to emerge from the Netherlands -- sounds a lot like porn. "Yes, Nurse, I'll do whatever you say." "No, Nurse, I can't refuse." Yes, I find that I'm lightheaded. No, I don't want to leave. Anybody else feeling a little hot and bothered?

For better or worse (and probably worse), it's not porn. In fact, Yes Nurse! No Nurse! doesn't even acknowledge the pornographic possibilities of its concept. Instead, it delivers a campy musical, a tad short of self-conscious, based on a television show that rocked the Netherlands in the 1960s. The show (of the same title) was so popular that its star was adored above the queen, and on nights when it aired, the streets emptied of pedestrians. About which there is this to say: There's no accounting for some nations' tastes.

Maybe a great deal gets lost in translation, either from television to film or Dutch to English. Because while the movie clearly has fun-loving, lighthearted, and artistic intentions (director Pieter Kramer set out to make a movie that would "radiate a sense of happiness"), it's little more than an irksome sitcom, as superficial as it is mediocre. There's dancing and singing aplenty, but neither the choreography nor the music is inspired. The candy-colored costumes and sets, evoking classic movie musicals and funky '60s fashion, are striking, but we've seen them before. And the lackadaisical script can barely be bothered to lift itself off the page. Instead, it plods along, apparently bored with itself, or believing itself to be beside the point. The script might have been so -- this is camp, after all, which survives on aesthetics, showstoppers, and melodrama. But save for the familiar retro look and feel, none of the above has stepped in to compensate for the script's failures.

Here's the plot: Nurse Klivia (Loes Luca) runs something of a boardinghouse, though it's referred to as a "rest home." Her boarders are a merry, eccentric lot, comprising ballet dancer Jet (Tjitske Reidinga), a mad chemist called Engineer (Beppe Costa), and a sort of Abbott & Costello pair with no apparent purpose in life except to be skinny and thickheaded in one case, and rotund and thickheaded in the other. The group constantly blares music, shouts indoors, and foments chemical explosions, all in the spirit of wacky fun. Their sour and simpering landlord (Paul R. Kooij), also their neighbor, is not amused. At every opportunity, he takes them to court in an attempt to evict them, screeching his grievances at a judge who consumes apple slices midtrial. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Netherlands appears to have rather lenient tenancy laws, or at least courts.) The rest home occupants, meanwhile, work as a team to subvert their landlord's efforts.

Enter Gerrit (Waldemar Torenstra), a compulsive and homosexual burglar who falls for Jet and follows her home. (The homosexual part is never acknowledged, but I think we can all agree that a man who sings to his rooftop pigeons while wearing tightie-whities over an excellent pair of buttocks should at the very least be considered "questioning," or whatever word they have for that in Dutch.) Nurse Klivia, a mothering sort, decides to take Gerrit in and reform his ways. But compulsions aren't so easily mended, and the petty burglar makes it even harder for the group to avoid eviction. Perhaps he should parade about in his underwear more often. It's pretty obvious that the landlord would give that a wholehearted thumbs-up.

Meanwhile, Wouter (Paul del Leeuw), a hairdresser with a killer pompadour, sets up shop in town. Soon, we learn that he and the landlord used to be tight -- again, no explicit homosexuality here, but heaps of the implicit kind. There is a series of mishaps involving happy pills developed by the chemist, more attempts to evict, and so on. It's all tired and blowzy, with weak interludes for music and dancing.

The film could have been better. How about some frank homosexuality -- enjoying the joke that comes from acknowledging something now, in these more enlightened times, that couldn't have been acknowledged by the earlier series? How about sharper musical numbers, better choreography, and good dancing? Loes Luca, as Nurse Klivia, is quite good, embodying an appealingly firm brand of compassion. But she has so little to play off of that she comes across as only slightly more interesting than her cohorts.

It's too bad. Director Kramer is thrilled to be inaugurating a new genre for the Dutch, and he wants to debut with a bang. Or maybe he was just saying that to the public relations person who interviewed him for the press material, and what he really wanted was to make a pile of guilders using a popular Dutch franchise. Either way, his movie is bland and listless, just like the majority of American films that try to pump life into an expired television series in the hopes of transforming it into a different and more demanding genre.

About The Author

Melissa Levine


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