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The Girl Next Door

"Miss Meadows" aims to teach you a lesson

USA Today
By Brian Truitt

One minute she's teaching first-graders, the next she's gunning down criminals with a dainty firearm.

Katie Holmes' title teacher in Miss Meadows (* * out of four; unrated; opens Friday in theaters and video on demand) is analogous to the double nature of writer/director Karen Leigh Hopkins' quirky, uneven drama. It exists somewhere between serious character study and satirical fish-out-of-water story, never figuring out which it wants to be.

Mary Meadows is as old-school as a linoleum floor and a walking, talking anachronism in every way from her retro wardrobe to her greeting ("Toodle-oo!") to the car she drives (a 1956 Nash Metropolitan). A substitute teacher still new in town, Mary draws weird looks from neighbors with her impeccable manners and odd demeanor, but she still has a way with kids, as well as with the town sheriff (James Badge Dale).

She harbors several secrets, however, including that when she's not giving children lessons on kindness and courage, she's popping a cap in a man during a killing spree.

Miss Meadows' modus operandi is set in the opening scene, when her stroll is interrupted by a violent guy looking for some action. Rudeness doesn't work in her book, and even when he pulls a gun on her, she coolly fires a bullet to the head.

The cops are after a woman they've aptly described as a "Pulp Fiction Mary Poppins" for her, a spoonful of gunpowder makes the crime rate go down and that side of her life begins to get in the way of her finding a happily-ever-after scenario with the sheriff.

The contrast between the real world and Miss Meadows' throwback personality is entertainingly striking and gives Hopkins an interesting canvas to paint her darkly funny slice of life. Cute birds, deer and squirrels take notice of her as if she's a Disney cartoon, another dichotomous quality when compared with her side gig serving up justice.

However, the great and violent lengths to which the education-minded vigilante goes are only fleetingly explained through grainy flashbacks. She's earnest to a fault she even calls her mom (Jean Smart) "Mother Dear" yet Meadows mainly stays a maddening mystery to her fellow townspeople and the audience.

Holmes is excellent in capturing Meadows' most oddball qualities. She randomly breaks out in tap-dancing fits, giggles during sex and is head-shakingly frustrating to her neighbors: When one wants to set her up on a date with a dentist and worries that she'll be "an old maid," Meadows replies, "I have no intentions on starting domestication training."

When Holmes veers from that weirdness, though, Miss Meadows drags and struggles on the whole. It's her party and she'll shoot if she wants to, but both the film and its killer cross between Dirty Harry and Beaver Cleaver's mom are more watchable the more eccentric she is.