The credits that open Janice Beard (Empire, opens May 10 at the Angelika) raise hopes that the great proofreading movie has finally arrived. Names, pecked out in Courier and thoroughly mangled (titular actress Eileen Walsh’s i gets the P!nk treatment), are blue-penciled into submission. Alas, the film quickly abandons deleatur and caret for a contrived plot—part corporate sabotage, part little-temp-that-could—but like any copy editor worth her salt, it refuses to leave well enough alone. In the Grand Guignol prologue, Janice’s father dies in childbirth, the CPR imperatives (“Cleah!”—this is Scotland) alternating with the nurse’s labor instructions (“Poosh!”). Her mother’s “post-natal post-mortem” depression turns into chronic agoraphobia; when gawky, hyperimaginative Janice comes of age, she finds administrative work at a London car company, hoping to save the quid to cure her. At the office, ostensible mail boy Sean (Rhys Ifans) has Janice unwittingly abet his espionage (he wants to scuttle the firm’s new line), while the queen of the typing pool (Patsy Kensit) humiliates her to mask her own insecurity. (“You’re beautiful and you’re sexy,” Janice helpfully tells her during the big cry following their big confrontation.)
Playful and sentimental, with comic-book characterization and a half-orphaned, filially righteous head case, Janice Beard resembles a British Amélie (please blurb me), though the Scottish secretary is messily extroverted where her French counterpart cruises on enigmatic-elf power (“Enigmatic Elf Power!”—Village Voice). Director Clare Kilner strews giddiness throughout, such as the Pet Sounds-redolent horns that go off whenever Janice glimpses Sean’s scruffy coif. And if the heroine’s forced wackiness hinders believability, at least the energetic Walsh makes her entertaining. Fantasizing during her brief unemployment that she’s won the Turner Prize, Janice becomes her own interviewer, clutching her hair in a mad pantomime of superficial thought.