Emma's Wish (1998) starring Joanna Kerns, Harley Jane Kozak, Della Reese

Kerns Yearns to be Young Again

Take the idea of suddenly becoming young as in "17 Again" and then combine it with a touch of "Mrs. Doubtfire" and what you end up with is basically "Emma's Wish" a mildly entertaining movie made at the end of the 90s. Made for TV "Emma's Wish" tries to take the idea of an estranged Grandmother magically waking up 40 years younger and then pretending to be someone else so that she can become the housekeeper for her daughter so that she cannot only be close to her family but also try to help them out. It is all very obvious and at times overly sweet and quite tacky but it has a certain charm and innocence about it even if the limited TV budget and occasional wooden performance makes you laugh for all the wrong reasons.

With her daughter and grandchildren too busy to visit her Emma (Joanna Kerns) is set to spend her 75th birthday with just her friends at the care home where she lives. But the next day having made a wish on an old ring that her late son once gave her Emma wakes up 35 Again. Realising that her wish must have come true she sets about trying to help her daughter who not only resents her but is having marital problems and in need of a housekeeper. With a complete makeover done and having passed herself off as a woman called Mame, Emma sets about helping her daughter before her wish runs out and she grows old again.

Whilst I mentioned that it was like "17 Again" in the idea that Emma wakes up one morning and is suddenly 40 years younger it basically means that it has that sort of body swap style story going on. It does amusingly combine this with the touch of "Mrs. Doubtfire" as she pretends to be a housekeeper so that she can be near her family but it also means that there are few surprises. You can guess that the years of resentment by Emma's daughter will end up being sorted by the time the credits roll and Emma will have helped to make her daughter's life better. And of course at the same time as helping her daughter sort her life out she will have also helped deal with some of her own issues, such as her own resentment of her husband having left her many years earlier.

The thing is that it is a charming idea even if it isn't that original. There are some very pleasant scenes which radiate a warmth which you expect but sadly these charming scenes are few and far between as it often feels like it is trudging through far too much is obvious. It doesn't help matters that the whole idea of suddenly being young again and pretending to be someone else screams out for some over the top comedy yet there are very few really funny scenes. It does try but the humour feels weak, such as Emma's lively room mate in the care home being a man eater despite her advancing years and dodgy hips.

In fact the most laughs come from the weakness caused by the budget limitations. After a lovely nostalgic scene where we are taken back to the 50s and Emma celebrating her 35th birthday with her family at the pier we then jump to the now and Emma as a 75 year old in a care home. The makeup which has been plastered on Joanna Kerns is to be honest quite terrible and makes Robin Williams Mrs. Doubtfire look like a real woman. It seriously is bad and you find yourself trying to ignore it because if you stare too long you begin to laugh. Of course it doesn't help that behind the makeup and cliche Granny clothes you have Joanna Kerns who to put it simply is fit, it makes it even harder to be believable.

As for Joanna Kern's performance as Emma well it's solid, entertaining, charming, occasionally prone to the moment of stiffness but in this sort of TV movie it works. And that can be said of the rest of the cast which includes Harley Jane Kozak as Emma's daughter Joy, William R. Moses as Joy's adulterous husband Bryan and Della Reese as Emma's care home friend Mona Washburn. You basically get the sort of thin and obvious characters you expect from a TV movie and the performances are what you expect as well with not a single one really standing out.

What this all boils down to is that "Emma's Wish" is pretty much what you expect from a TV movie with layers of sweetness and some reasonable performances. It does have plenty which is wrong with it as it mixes up the magically being young again with a touch of the "Mrs. Doubtfire" but the simplicity and innocence of it delivers a certain charm which makes it entertaining even if it is also obvious.