There’s a whole lot to know about Las Vegas Showgirl Michelle (Sutton Foster). She has big dreams of landing a role in Chicago, she thinks that topless dancers are taking women back several decades, and she doesn’t have any time for — nor any interest in — her admirer/”technically stalker” Hubble (Alan Ruck). What she needs is to be 25 (again), not be swept away on extravagant dinners and lavished with gifts. And, thanks to Amy Sherman-Palladino, Michelle’s funny — really funny — in a fast-talking, self-deprecating Lorelai Gilmore sort of way. Even though she flops her audition, we like her immediately.
A Decent Proposal
With the audition blown and hopes dashed, Hubble swoops in and offers to take Michelle to paradise — literally. He lives in a sleepy coastal town called Paradise, with a house that overlooks the ocean and offers Michelle all the devotion and doting her heart desires. Three martinis to the wind, Michelle accepts even though she barely knows/barely tolerates the otherwise completely harmless Hubble. He declares, “Let me take care of you.” And given that she resides next to a hooker, and has no job prospects beyond being just another face in a Vegas review, she agrees, —and they get hitched in a Vegas drive-thru wedding. Who says romance is dead?
Welcome to Paradise
Wouldn’t you know that perfect-seeming Hubble was hiding one small detail from Michelle? Turns out that his idyllic seaside home is occupied and tragically decorated by his mother Fanny (Kelly Bishop), who also runs the local dance school (convenient). When Michelle arrives, Fanny is flabbergasted at her son’s impulsiveness, but agrees to begrudgingly welcome Michelle into her life, providing she can throw a massive wedding party for the newlyweds, and invite the whole town to the shindig. Michelle is mortified, but obliges. We like her even more.
After scoring a gorge party dress from local dressmaker Truly (Stacey Oristano), Hubble’s lovesick ex, Michelle braces herself to be introduced to Hubble’s nearest and dearest. Instead she breaks down and confesses to him that she doesn’t love him, she says, “I’ve never loved anybody really. I don’t think I’m made that way.” Hubble retorts with a heartfelt speech and couple of soft kisses — and no sooner are Michelle and Hubble knockin’ boots while the party waits downstairs.
Michelle and Hubble return to the party post-coital, and needless to say, Fanny does not approve. But as much as she tries to ridicule Michelle for lacking class or fashion sense (ironic considering Fanny’s wardrobe looks like tablecloths), Hubble stands up for her, demanding that his mother and everyone in Paradise treat Michelle with respect. (OK — we kind of swoon.)
Michelle soon meets the advanced students at Fanny’s school, and they have personalities straight out of the book of dance school archetypes. There’s Sasha (Juila Goldani Telles), who’s thin, thinks she’s perfect, and enjoys being a bit of a bitch. There’s Boo (Kaitlyn Jenkins), who’s immature, chubby (relatively), and somewhat insecure — but a wicked-fast learner with some real natural dancing chops. And Ginny (Bailey Buntain) who’s frustrated because she’s developing the body of a voluptuous dancer — you know, the kind who frequents poles, not ballet studios.
When Michelle catches the girls swigging beers in the studio, the seasoned dancer takes the opportunity to teach them all what it’s like to audition, since they’re all going to try out for a spot in a ballet summer program. While Michelle gets them on their feet, Fanny looks on and, natch, sees potential in Michelle. Finally, Fanny — we loved Michelle from the beginning!
A Shot in the Dark
Rather than continue to berate her daughter-in-law, Fanny does the next best thing: she gets her drunk. The two go to a dive bar and share shots while they commiserate over their mutually abandoned professional dancing careers and their hopes for Michelle’s impromptu marriage. Fanny loves her son, and Michelle wants to love him. It’s clear these two women could like one another if they could get over themselves, but they can’t find the words. Luckily, they’re both dancers, so they crank up the jukebox and find the steps instead.
But just when they hit a stride and seem to share a rhythm, Truly and the sheriff arrive with tragic news. Hubble’s been killed in a car accident while he was out looking for the two women, not knowing where they’d gone. It’s a sobering moment for both Fanny and Michelle —both their lives turned upside down, suddenly and completely without warning.
We’re left hanging with two equally smart, strong women facing personal crisis and general life upheaval, and our hearts break for them, and we root for them — even as they snark at one another needlessly. So, basically, chalk Bunheads up to being classic Amy Sherman-Palladino in the best way possible.