I was assigned to review I Could Never Be Your Woman last year about this time, but the theatrical release date was pushed back at the eleventh hour. The movie then had a fall release date ... which also vanished. Now this romantic comedy starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd and written/directed by Amy Heckerling has gone direct to DVD with no U.S. theatrical release at all. You'd think this must mean the movie is a real stinker, but that's not the case. (Entertainment Weekly has an interview with Heckerling that tells the story behind the release problems, which seem to be grounded in financial and distribution snafus.)

I Could Never Be Your Woman is almost an entertaining, lightweight comedy, except for one flaw: its message is about as subtle as those in a Disney sports movie. Rosie (Pfeiffer) is a 40-year-old TV writer/producer who fears she is growing too old for her job, and too old and ugly for romance. When she falls for Adam (Rudd, who was in Heckerling's Clueless back in 1995), who auditions for a bit part on her show, she continually tries to halt the relationship because the age gap worries her so much. The young people all seem to be jeering at her; the old guys get to be fat and jerky and have no trouble finding work or attractive partners. Meanwhile, her teenage daughter Izzie (Saoirse Ronan) has just started being interested in boys, and she is suffering from body issues too.

If the themes about female insecurity over age and weight and attractiveness were presented in a more subtle way, the movie would have been more effective and probably more fun to watch. Unfortunately, nearly every word out of a woman's mouth in the movie is about these issues. Rosie is hounded by Mother Nature (Tracey Ullman), who continually reminds her of her physical shortcomings compared to the younger women around her. Izzy writes parodies of Britney Spears and Alanis Morrisette songs with lyrics about how women are perceived. I don't think it's unrealistic that every woman in this movie has body issues, or even that they talk or think about them, but the strident dialogue plus the songs plus Mother Nature plus hints elsewhere in the movie start to wear you down after awhile. It's not feminist polemic, either -- the women in this movie are a lot happier when they're dating, and they're less interested in their work than they are in their relationships, for the most part. And then there's the "catfight," complete with hairpulling, that definitely feels like a throwback.

On the other hand, if you can get past the heavy-handed message, the actors in this movie are at their comic best, and make this movie worth watching. Rudd and Pfeiffer make a fun (and very attractive) couple, and Jon Lovitz is strangely believable as Rosie's ex-husband. Fred Willard pops in periodically as a network exec, Stacey Dash (also in Clueless) is a wonderfully pouty and bitchy teen star, and you'd never know that Saoirse Ronan was Irish from her performance as a Southern California pre-teen. Tracey Ullman seems superfluous as Mother Nature -- normally I love watching the actress, but I think the movie would have been better without the character.

The DVD also contains some deleted scenes and a commentary track from director Amy Heckerling and producer Cerise Hallam Larkin. I only made it through about half the commentary track, which talks primarily about the challenges presented in shooting most of this film in England -- a lot of the supporting cast is British, although you'd never know it from their flawless West Coast accents.

I Could Never Be Your Woman is a good DVD rental if you want a light comedy with a little romance and a charming cast. And it did one wonderful thing for me -- I was able to overcome my disappointment with Paul Rudd as a romantic lead from Over Her Dead Body. My Paul Rudd crush has been happily restored.