They/Them/Us


How easily your world is turned upside-down when you’re a teen.

(2021) Romantic Dramedy (Blended Family) Joey Slotnick, Amy Hargreaves, Jack Steiner, Shanna Strong, Abi Van Andel, Lexie Bean, Sarah Eddy, Robert Pavlovich, Trina Gardiner, Esther Cunningham, Johanna McGinley, Abigail Esmena, Shyra Thomas, Richard Hagerman, Heidi Lewandowski, Cheyenne Poz, Graham Caldwell, Dominic McNeal, Tre Ryan, Lisa DeRoberts. Directed by Jon Sherman

 

The idea of blended families is nothing new; Hollywood has been making comedies about them for decades. However, as time goes by and familial relationships become more complicated, so too does blending two families together become all that much more of a challenge.

Charlie Goldman (Slotnick) is a divorced film professor whose ex-wife Deborah (Van Andel) is eager to get back together with him, something he is interested in not at all. He has taken a job at a Christian university, masquerading as a devout Christian when in fact he is a virtual embodiment of a neurotic Jewish man. His son Danny (Steiner) smokes enough weed to make Cheech and Chong go “Whoa, you might wanna slow down a little bit there Homeboy” and daughter Anna (Strong) blames him for the divorce.

He meets Lisa Harper (Hargreaves) on a dating site. As it turns out, they click almost immediately. She’s mainly looking for a sexual partner, though – a series of one-night stands to “play the field,” as she puts it. Her daughters Maddie (Bean) and Courtney (Eddy) miss their Dad, who has moved away to Europe and both have a none-too-cordial relationship with their mom. Not one of the teens is anxious to see their parent find love with another person.

But love is what Charlie and Lisa find, and it isn’t long before Charlie invites Lisa to move in with her kids. The kids take to the idea like a cat taking to having its tail dipped in brown mustard. It’s hard enough to make a relationship work in this day and age without having openly hostile kids who are rooting for it to fail. Can love survive, let alone thrive, in such an environment?

The humor here is broad, what I like to call “Har-de-HAR-har-har” humor. In other words, I get the sense that the writers were going for as broad and as universal a humor as possible and end up coming up with nothing that is particularly funny. The characters are painted in extremely broad strokes; Charlie’s a nebbish, Danny is a stoner who is an absolute dickweed when sober, Lisa has a secret yen for BDSM…but other than Hargreaves who gives her character a great deal of patience and care, most of the actors seem not to have much direction in terms of where they are taking their characters and as a result, we end up not caring for any of them – with the exception, perhaps, of Hargreaves’ Lisa.

The plot is fairly predictable for a movie of this nature and the ending is about as Hollywood as it gets, which is kind of an odd duck for an independent flick. The soundtrack is loud, obnoxious and intrusive, almost cartoony in nature. Yeah, there are a lot of problems with this movie.

But Hargreaves isn’t one of them, and she has a lot of potential to make an impact as an actress. I hope she gets some better parts in better movies after this, because she deserves better. And frankly, so do you.

REASONS TO SEE: Hargreaves is magic in a role that could easily become self-parody.
REASONS TO AVOID: Too many rom-com tropes.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, drug use and plenty of sexual situations and sexual situations, as well as some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Makes its world premiere tonight (as this is published) at the Dances With Films 2021 film festival in Los Angeles.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/11/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Yours, Mine and Ours
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Language Lessons

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel


The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Dev Patel toasts his participation in an early favorite for the best movie of 2012.

(2011) Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Dev Patel, Tena Desae, Lillette Dubey, Sid Makkar, Seema Azmi, Diana Hardcastle, Lucy Robinson, Paul Bhattacharjee. Directed by John Madden

 

Everybody ages. Not everybody gets to grow old and it’s for damn sure that not everybody grows as they age period.

A group of seven British retirees find themselves on a bus for the airport taking them to India. They’re not on a holiday or a tour – they are moving to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a budget-priced retirement facility which claims in their advertisements that they have all the amenities needed so that they might spend their golden years in comfort and luxury.

Their interest is that the Hotel is inexpensive enough that they can all afford to live, as they all (with a couple of exceptions) have some sort of financial difficulty. Evelyn Greenslade (Dench) discovered when her husband passed away that he was deeply in debt and she was forced to sell her home in order to pay them off. Douglas (Nighy) and Jean (Wilton) Ainslie lost their life savings when their daughter’s internet company which they had invested in failed. Muriel Donnelly (Smith), a retired domestic, is going to India for a hip replacement surgery which is the only place where she can afford one. Madge Hardcastle (Imrie) is out to find herself a rich husband who can support her needs. Norman Cousins (Pickup), a ladies’ man, wants one last one-night-stand to tide him over. Finally Graham Dashwood (Wilkinson) who is a retired high court judge, grew up in India and seeks to find a lost love.

The hotel that they arrive at is far from what the advertisements claimed; it is ramshackle, without working phones and is old, decrepit and in need of much repair. Sonny (Patel), the manager, is highly enthusiastic and likable but lacks business know-how. He is desperately trying to get a local businessman to invest in the hotel in order to get it solvent; his mother (Dubey) wants him to come back to Delhi so that she can arrange a proper marriage for him. Sonny however only has eyes for Sunaina (Desae), a call center employee.

The new residents all react in different ways to their environments. Evelyn takes a job at the call center as a consultant to help the employees, including Sunaina whom she forms a friendship with, how to speak to elderly British sorts. She needs the work in order to afford to live at the hotel.

Graham disappears most of the day, rarely talking about where he’s been and what he’s done. He recommends places for the others to explore, which Douglas takes him up on. Jean prefers to stay in her room and read, complaining about everything and everyone. Muriel, whose racially insensitive views made some uncomfortable, begins to come around after her successful surgery and befriends a maid of the Untouchable class. When she gives her some advice on how to better sweep the pavement, the maid is very grateful, despite Muriel’s discomfort.

In fact, all of the residents are being profoundly touched by their surroundings and by each other. Some will find exactly what they’re looking for; others will be disappointed and others will be surprised. All will be confronted by their own mortality and their own shortcomings – and all will be changed by their experiences, and by India.

Madden, best known for directing Shakespeare in Love, assembled a tremendous cast and wisely lets each of them get their moment to shine. The movie is not so much about aging but about living – about never being too old to change and grow. It’s kind of a cross between Bollywood (without the songs and dance), Ealing Studios comedies, and On Golden Pond. While the movie certainly is aimed at an older audience, there is plenty in it for non-seniors to enjoy. It doesn’t hurt that the script (by Ol Parker) is well-written and full of some wonderful lines not to mention a great deal of wisdom.

Each character gets at least a few scenes to shine in; most remarkable are Dench, Wilkinson, Nighy, Smith and Wilton. Imrie and Pickup also fare well in their moments. Dench does a voiceover (which is the vocalization of the blog she’s writing) that is actually non-intrusive and well-written rather than a lot of Hollywood voice-overs which tend to be the writers showing off how well they can turn a phrase. Wilkinson and Nighy are two of the most consistent actors in Hollywood; Nighy often gets parts that are kind of far-out, but here his character is a decent man, worn down from years of living with a shrew. Wilkinson’s characters tend to run the gamut from amoral executives to care-worn fathers but here he is a lonely man, haunted by his past and the repercussions of his decision not to protest an obvious injustice. The inner decency of Graham shows through at every moment; he’s a judge that I would want hearing my case, a man who wins the respect of pretty much all of his compatriots.

This is a movie that you can fall in love with. It allows Indian culture to shine through without over-romanticizing it; you get the sense of the drawbacks of Indian culture as well (the congestion, the poor infrastructure and yes, the smell). However it counterbalances that nicely with the overall accepting nature of the Indian people, the beauty of the temples, palaces and countryside and yes, the people themselves – Patel and Desae make a magnificent couple.

I went in expecting to like this movie but not to love it but I wound up appreciating every moment of it. None of this rings false and to my way of thinking, you get to view the world through the eyes of people who have largely been discarded and marginalized by the world at large. Some of them do indulge in a heaping helping of self-pity but for the most part they find their niche in the world and inhabit it, much like anybody of any age. I know younger people might find the subject matter of seniors trying to fit into the world uninteresting to them but for those who don’t reject the subjects of India and the elderly out of hand, this is a movie you’ll find tremendously rewarding.

REASONS TO GO: Amazing performances. An unsentimental but affectionate look at India. Great one-liners.

REASONS TO STAY: Younger people might find the pace boring and the subject uninteresting.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words scattered here and there, and some of the content is a bit sexual in nature.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The novel that Jean is reading is Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach, who also wrote These Foolish Things on which this movie is based.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/15/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100. The reviews are pretty much positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Young @ Heart

INDIA LOVERS: The area around Jaipur is shown with equal parts crumbling, decaying poverty and ancient beauty. The countryside is equally inviting and for those who haven’t considered visiting India, this acts as a pretty compelling reason to go.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Wild Grass

This Means War


This Means War

Tom Hardy and Chris Pine mistakenly believe they're trying out for the next Men in Black movie.

(2012) Spy Comedy (20th Century Fox) Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Tom Hardy, Chelsea Handler, Til Schweiger, Abigail Leigh Spencer, John Paul Ruttan, Angela Bassett, Rosemary Harris, George Touliatos, Clint Carleton, Warren Christie, Leela Savasta. Directed by McG

 

When guys bond, it’s a beautiful thing. Guys will take a bullet for each other; guys will give you the shirts off their back. When a woman comes between two best friends, all bets can rapidly become off.

That’s especially true for Franklyn “FDR” Foster (Pine) and John “Tuck” Harrison (Hardy). Both of them are elite field agents for the CIA and their partnership in the field has led to the kind of friendship that is as close as family (in fact FDR regularly brings Tuck to the home of his Nana (Harris) for family functions). They are working a case in which two German weapons dealers (and actual brothers) are in the midst of pulling off a scam in Hong Kong. The operation goes south and one of the brothers winds up taking a doozy of a last step. Naturally Heinrich (Schweiger), the terse surviving brother, vows revenge.

The debacle lands the two field agents in desk jockey-land. Bored out of their skulls, they begin to talk about their love lives (and if you know how bored guys have to be to discuss their love lives with one another…) leading Tuck, recently divorced and missing his son Joe (Ruttan) to sign up with one of those online dating services.

Lauren (Witherspoon) is a product tester and she loves her job. She had moved to Los Angeles to be with her boyfriend who wound up cheating on her, sending her into a romantic tailspin from which she’s not yet recovered. Her best friend Trish (Handler) signs her up for a dating site and she promptly lays her peepers on Tuck’s profile and is very interested.

So is Tuck but FDR knows that he’s rusty at the whole dating thing, so he arranges to hang out at a neighboring video store just in case he’s needed to rescue his friend. Tuck and Lauren hit it off right away so Tuck sends the “all clear” signal to FDR. FDR, a big-time movie buff, decides to find something to rent for the night. Of course he stays long enough to bump into Lauren after her date with Tuck. Not knowing who she is, he flirts with her and long story short, manages to connive her into a date.

The two men find out that they are both dating the same girl and as it turns out, both have strong feelings for them. At first they set up ground rules of a “may the best man win” sort but soon enough the “all’s fair in love and war” corollary sets in and they are both using all the high-tech means at their disposal to keep an eye on each other as they put the moves on poor Lauren. Will she choose either one of them, or will the evil Heinrich show up and spoil the party?

McG has made a reputation that isn’t necessarily the greatest among critics. In all fairness, he doesn’t seem to be aiming to create films that are as memorable so much as they are entertaining. There’s a lot of bright colors, lots of things that go boom and lots of eye candy for both sexes, all of which are elements regularly seen in McG movies.

That this movie has gotten critically spanked is no surprise – that this is much better than what the critics are letting on isn’t either. What is a surprise is that the audience, generally better arbiters of this kind of film than the critics, haven’t picked up on it yet.

There is good chemistry between Pine and Hardy, essential to make this movie work. These are two up-and-coming stars, both who show signs of being destined for bigger and better things. Their byplay is natural and realistic; they act like a couple of guys who have been friends for awhile. The chemistry with Witherspoon is a little bit more forced. Mind you, Reece Witherspoon is one of the most beautiful women in the world, but she seems uncomfortable with the slight sluttiness her character displays.

This isn’t smart entertainment by any means. It’s a big dumb dog lying in front of a fire on a rainy afternoon; familiar and easy to deal with, making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. This breaks little or no new ground and doesn’t really want to. The whole aim here is to entertain and if that’s all the filmmakers are after, mission accomplished – and not in the George W. sense either. I can be picky and take issue with the somewhat choppy pacing which is less than seamless going from comedy to romance to action sequences but while it’s a little annoying it isn’t a dealbreaker.

There’s far worse out there at the moment and there will be far worse available when it comes out on home video/streaming. If you’re looking for something mindless and fun, this could be your huckleberry. If you’re looking for something that isn’t just empty calories, well, you might want to check your art house listings.

REASONS TO GO: Good ol’ empty-headed entertainment. Some nice action sequences and good chemistry between Pine and Hardy. Witherspoon is awesome to look at.

REASONS TO STAY: The pacing is a bit choppy; feels like you’re driving a car with a bad transmission.

FAMILY VALUES: You’ll find plenty of bad language, some action-style violence and a lot of sexual innuendo. .

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: At one point in the film, FDR is waiting for Tuck to show up at his home to join him in a “CHiPs” marathon. Actor Chris Pine’s father Robert Pine was a regular on that show.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/12/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 26% positive reviews. Metacritic: 31/100. The reviews are poor.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: True Lies

STAR TREK LOVERS: Both Pine and Hardy have appeared in Star Trek films – Hardy as Shinzon, the clone of Capt. Picard in Star Trek: Nemesis and Pine as Capt. Kirk in Star Trek. In fact the reference to Pine being a cruise ship captain throughout the film is in reference to this.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Kung Fu Panda