Written by Matthew Bright (as Bill Weiner)
Directed by Matthew Bright
When I first thought up the idea of a film series exploring embarrassing forgotten pictures, this was one of the first to come to mind. The internet has helped Tiptoes achieve meme status mainly through its cheesily edited trailer. Since the film was a part of a Harry Knowles film marathon, I’ve heard about it but never actually read a review or even sat down to see it myself. Now that is remedied, and I am left aghast at how this film ever got made. It has been compounded by reading up on the background, which confuses things further. So here is my review and some of the behind the scenes on a bizarre movie.
Tiptoes is about Carol, an artist & girlfriend to Steven. Steven is a firefighter who has kept his family background secret from Carol as their relationship develops. This is when we meet Rolfe, a little person, and the fraternal twin to Steven. It turns out Steven’s whole family and the community he was raised in is predominately made up of little people. When Carol tells Steven she’s pregnant, he immediately freaks out, reminded of the joint and bone pain his friends and family endure as well as other health problems. Carol finally gets to know Rolfe and the family, educating herself about little people and challenge her prejudices.
Tiptoes isn’t an immediately terrible premise. A film that seeks to humanize little people and those with dwarfism, contrasting the prevalent use of these actors in fantasy roles, is a great thing. The biggest glaring problem is that the most prominent little person, Rolfe, is played by Gary Oldman, an actor who is of average size. This means he plays the role by walking on his knees and using fake legs for when he sits down. Everything about this is comically offensive because the cast is full to the brim with talented little person actors, including Emmy Award winner Peter Dinklage who was an unknown at the time. Dinklage plays a close friend of Rolfe’s and is prominent that it makes Oldman’s performance all the more uncomfortable.
Writer-director Matthew Bright conceived the original idea when he was eighteen stating that it was “a raucous comedy about little people f***ing each other.” Thirty years later, Bright shared the script with a producer who saw this is a great film to greenlight. I can’t find documentation for this, but I have some suspicions about what happened when production began. As more little people came on board during casting, they began speaking up about the direction of the picture, and suddenly, the plot and tone shifted drastically. There is one scene that could be considered sex comedy, but the rest of the film takes its self absurdly serious.
I think the little people actors were legitimately upset about how they were to be portrayed, and someone in production began doing rewrites. The result is that the dialogue will suddenly sound like it was lifted from medical pamphlets about dwarfism. This transforms the film into the modern equivalent of those stodgy & comical health pictures from the 1950s. Bright was so upset about the changes made to his picture by the studio in post-production editing that he wanted his name removed entirely. Because he was a Writer’s Guild member, they were able to put a pseudonym in that spot, but his lack of DGA membership his name remains as the director.
If all of this wasn’t crazy enough, the actors from the film, including Peter Dinklage, have gone on record saying that the director’s cut was a beautiful movie. Usually, in a picture hacked together by studio execs, you can see some of the brilliance hidden underneath it all. I cannot see how Tiptoes could have been anything but a bad movie. Oldman’s acting is excellent, but beyond that, it’s such an utter mess. Carol and Steven’s arguments about her pregnancy & the baby make no sense, and they will change their positions in the middle of a fight. I recall one verbal exchange that started with Carol having concerns about the baby’s health, Steven agreeing, and then somehow Carol asking why Steven was getting so upset about all this.
The third act of the movie comes entirely out of nowhere, and we start jumping over large swaths of time. It’s not until this part of the film that you realize this whole thing is supposed to be about a love triangle. Even the final scene of the picture doesn’t feel like the ending. It just cuts to black and then credits, but there is so much still unresolved. Supporting characters just vanish from the movie two-thirds of the way through with no closure. I think there is plenty about this movie that almost elevates it to The Room level, but there’s also space for it to have been a decent picture about little people having their voices and points of view diminished. Tiptoes definitely lived up to the horrific hype.