Television Review

‘The Makeover’ is ‘Pygmalion’ on the Charles

From left, in the TV movie “The Makeover”: Julia Stiles, Maureen Keiller, David Walton, and Camryn Manheim.
From left, in the TV movie “The Makeover”: Julia Stiles, Maureen Keiller, David Walton, and Camryn Manheim.

We’re about to undergo another moment, fellow Bostonians, so brace yourselves wicked good. Next week, a family-portrait series called “Southie Rules” will premiere on A&E and unleash another set of Boston stereotypes upon an unsuspecting country. And next month’s “Boston’s Finest” on TNT, produced by Donnie Wahlberg, will do the same as it follows members of the Boston Police Depaaaahment.

But first, on Sunday, ABC will present a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie that was filmed here, and that is about here, more or less. Called “The Makeover,” it’s a riff on “Pygmalion” and “My Fair Lady,” with an uptight professor named Hannah Higgins (Julia Stiles) remaking a working-class neighborhood guy named Elliot Doolittle (David Walton), who says to her, “Must be nice to be too smaaaht.” That’s right: Not only will you be hit over the head with forced Boston accents and the word “wicked,” you will be hit over the head with George Bernard Shaw. Higgins’s friend and co-worker is, of course, Colleen Pickering (Camryn Manheim), after Henry Higgins’s friend Colonel Pickering.

What can I say? The squawking sounds mostly strained and ridiculous to me, as much of it did in “The Fighter,” “The Departed,” and any Kennedy movie ever. “The Makeover,” Sunday at 9 on Channel 5, is a romantic comedy, and so, happily, at times director John Gray manages to use the broad accents and the stereotypes solely for laughs. Early in the movie, we see Bostonians going gaga for the TV weatherman who’s running against Higgins; and indeed, we Bostonians do have a thing for our weathermen, do we not? And instead of seeing Higgins coach Doolittle with “The Rain in Spain,” we get Doolittle trying to recite, “I parked the car in the far part of the yard” while using his “r” sounds. You can see Walton clearly having a better time of it when he’s able to be over-the-top. The more dramatic and romantic elements in “The Makeover” leave him, and us, empty-handed.


Higgins is making over Doolittle, and we know that Doolittle is also changing Higgins; he learns not to wear a baseball cap, while she learns to stop correcting everyone’s grammar and relax. Why is she trying to change him in the first place? After running unsuccessfully for Congress, Higgins learns from voter surveys that she is too professorial to win in Boston. So, during a bet with Pickering, she decides to turn Doolittle into a viable political candidate for the next election — a special election, as it happens, after the serving congressman is electrocuted (long story).

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For Massachusetts viewers, now special-election experts, the political scenarios in the movie are lousy with possible Brown-Warren interpretations. None of them quite parse through the entire story line, though. Higgins is the Elizabeth Warren figure, who is said to be too academic and stiff; but of course Higgins loses in the movie, and Warren won despite that characterization by some. And Doolittle comes off as the Scott Brown stand-in, a local boy with a good haircut. But Doolittle is a gentle soul who would rather drop out of the race than attack his competitor, even after he’s handed damaging information about the guy. Brown was not reluctant when it came to going after Warren. So this is not “Game Change: Massachusetts,” although that’s a movie I’d like to see.

Doolittle’s mother is a Southie spectacular who gets into all kinds of scraps with the law. She is played by Frances Fisher with an accent that veers absurdly from Dorchester to Brooklyn, N.Y. Melissa Leo, she is not. Higgins pays her to keep a low profile during the election. Doolittle’s sister, Allie, meanwhile, is a financially struggling salt-of-the-earth single mother with three children who is wicked protective of her brother. She is played by Georgia Lyman, who is from Boston, with the best accent in the movie, not that being from the area automatically makes you good at the local accents.

Lyman also gets to scream out the movie’s best line, when she tells the kid across the street not to vandalize or steal Higgins’s car. “Hey, John,” she yells to a sullen boy, “JOHN. This lady’s a friend of mine, K? So her car’s gonna be fine, K? If not, I’m gonna hunt you down and make earrings out of your kidneys. K?”

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at