A writer struggles with fame — his and others’ — in “We Love You, Sally Carmichael!,” a pleasantly cute little comedy filmed in the Salt Lake City area.
Former “Ugly Betty” and “Covert Affairs” co-star Christopher Gorham directs and stars as Simon Hayes, a Salt Lake City author who has tasted failure under his own name and success under someone else’s. His first serious novel sank without a trace, so then he wrote a young-adult romance novel, “Siren” — about a young woman who falls in love with a merman — under the pseudonym Sally Carmichael. “Siren” was loved by fans and hated by critics, as were the two sequels.
No one in Salt Lake City knows Simon is behind the “Siren” series — not even his brother Brad (David Nibley) and his family. His anonymity is threatened by his agents (Paula Marshall and “30 Rock’s” Jack McBrayer), who say a deal for a “Siren” movie adaptation hinges on a big-name actor, Perry Quinn (Sebastian Roché), meeting Sally in person. Simon, forced by the terms of his publishing contract, agrees to meet Perry, a self-absorbed blowhard seemingly modeled on the public personae of Johnny Depp and Matthew McConaughey.
At one point, Simon walks into a bookstore and stumbles into a meeting of “Siren” fans, to whom he pontificates loudly about the book’s literary failings. The tirade impresses the store’s owner, Tess (Elizabeth Tulloch, formerly of “Grimm”). Tess, who was a fan of Simon’s first novel, also runs a small indie newspaper and asks him to write an article about the “Siren” phenomenon. He agrees, but is unprepared when the takedown goes viral and brings unwanted celebrity to his doorstep.
The screenplay, by Utah comic actor Daryn Tufts (known locally as energy-conservation pitchman Therm), follows the contours of traditional and quite chaste romantic comedy, as Simon and Tess start to spark before obstacles rise up to interrupt their courtship. Tufts also gently delivers some sharp commentary about the mechanisms of fame, both through Perry’s oblivious behavior and Simon’s increasingly anxious attempts to preserve his privacy.
Gorham directs with a light touch, and one could easily imagine this movie popping up on the Disney Channel or the Hallmark Channel after its theatrical run. Simon informs Perry that he’s Mormon, but that isn’t something the movie dwells on in great detail. (Gorham isn’t Mormon, but locals will remember him as LDS missionary John Groberg in the 2001 drama “The Other Side of Heaven.”) Gorham also called in favors (he worked with Marshall on the short-lived sitcom “Out of Practice”) and pulled in cameos from Felicia Day and Perez Hilton.
“We Love You, Sally Carmichael!” fizzles out a bit in the conclusion (though the post-credits scene is hilarious). Along the way, though, it’s a fun and sweetly realized little comedy that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to take your kids or grandma to see.
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’We Love You, Sally Camichael!’
A writer struggles with the anonymously created phenomenon he’s grown to hate, in this fun and family-friendly comedy.
Where • Area theaters
When • Opens Friday, Aug. 4
Rating • Not rated, but probably PG for mild language and mature themes.
Running time • 83 minutes.