Peace, Love & Misunderstanding


Living the hippie life.

Living the hippie life.

(2011) Comedy (IFC) Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Ann Osmond, Rbert Bowen Jr., Marissa O’Donnell, Nat Wolff, Elizabeth Olsen, Joyce Van Patten, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyle MacLachlan, Joseph Dunn, Chace Crawford, Rosanna Arquette, Katharine McPhee, Denise Burse, Teri Gibson, Poorna Jagannathan, Terry McKenna, Wayne Pyle, Alison Ball, Laurent Rejto. Directed by Bruce Beresford

When things are going wrong in our lives, it is a natural instinct to run back home to our parents. Sometimes, we just crave the comfort of being next to our figures of security but other times, it’s their wisdom that we truly need.

Diane (Keener) is a high-powered Manhattan lawyer who is used to being in control. When her husband (MacLachlan) announces that he wants to divorce her, it shakes her to her very core. Needing a refuge, she decides to go home to mom in Woodstock. The trouble is, Diane’s mom Grace (Fonda) is something of a free spirit who hasn’t really left the 60s and the two women, as different as night and day, haven’t really spoken in 20 years.

But Diane has more than her own pride to think about. Her young son Jake (Wolff) is terribly shy and lacks self-confidence. That might just be because her daughter Zoe (Olsen), a budding poet, is terribly judgmental about things and people. Her kids need a support system while Diane tries to put her shattered life back together.

All three find Grace to be more than a little irritating at first and Woodstock a bit too sedate for their liking. However, all three find romantic interests; Jake falls for Tara (O’Donnell), a waitress at the local coffee shop; Zoe, a vegan, against all odds develops a crush on Cole (Crawford), a butcher. Even Diane finds time to become romantically involved with Jude (Morgan), a budding musician.

As the family finds healing in the love of others, Grace and Diane begin to find common ground. Can the two women, at war with each other for over two decades, finally make peace? Maybe there’s hope for the Middle East yet if these two can mend their differences.

Australian director Bruce Beresford has some pretty nifty movies to his credit and while he hasn’t really made it to the top tier of Hollywood directors, he is nonetheless well-respected and has had a consistent career. This movie isn’t one that is going to be a resume highlight but it nonetheless has its own kind of charm.

Chief among its charms is Fonda, who rarely gets lead roles these days and usually plays crusty old broads, curmudgeonly old mothers-in-law or this one, the eccentric granny. We tend to forget what an amazing career Fonda has had, with Oscar-caliber performances in Klute, Coming Home and On Golden Pond.

Also of note is the village of Woodstock. Famous for the music festival (which actually took place on a farm 60 miles away), the town – if this movie is to be believed – has capitalized on the notoriety of the festival and has become kind of a high-end Berkeley (those of you who live or have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area will immediately know what I mean). Think of it as a college town permanently stuck in a by-gone era.

This isn’t an inconsequential film mind you, but it isn’t something you have to overthink. It’s a charming, pleasant diversion that might bring a smile to your face and is nicely performed and directed. It won’t necessarily change your life any although the lessons it teaches about living life at a pace that doesn’t burn you out is well-taken (the ones about being in love solving all your problems, not so much) and you’re never really hit over the head with them. It’s one of those movies that gives you the warm fuzzies and sometimes, like a hug from your mom, that’s all you need.

WHY RENT THIS: Strong female roles and performances. Woodstock is a charming location.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit scattershot. Seems to indicate that the secret to happiness is romance.
FAMILY VALUES: There are a few sexual references and some comedic drug content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:¬†Although two films she performed after shooting this one were released before it, this was actress Elizabeth Olsen’s first cinematic acting job.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $590,700 on an unknown production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, YouTube
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Georgia Rules
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Insidious Chapter III

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High Fidelity


High Fidelity

This is my movie and these are my people.

(2000) Romance (Touchstone) John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Todd Louiso, Jack Black, Lisa Bonet, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins, Chris Rehmann, Ben Carr, Lili Taylor, Joelle Carter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Sara Gilbert, Bruce Springsteen. Directed by Stephen Frears

 

John Cusack is one of those actors who is quirky, engaging, charming, occasionally irascible but always interesting to watch. In short, a young Jack Nicholson. From time to time, Cusack will produce small-budget films on his own that are generally paid for by his appearances in big-buck extravaganzas such as Con Air. Like Cusack himself, these less fiscally ambitious movies are nearly always quirky yet endearing and generally include his sister Joan in some capacity (see Grosse Pointe Blank).

In High Fidelity he plays Rob Gordon, who owns an eclectic record store in Chicago that actually sells records, and by that I mean vinyl. The store specializes in classic rock and soul and indie rock. Gordon has just broken up with his girlfriend Laura (Hjejle), who left him to take up with a New Age ex-hippie named Ian (Robbins). While Gordon’s store employees – the loud, rude and opinionated Barry (Black) and the soft-spoken music nerd Dick (Louiso) – try to keep the store running (such as it does; the store is nearly broke), Gordon is busy trying to figure out why he keeps getting dumped.

A compulsive list-maker, Gordon seeks out the girlfriends responsible for his top five worst breakups in an effort to discover why they chose someone else over him.

Cusack imbues Gordon with complexity. He yearns for stability and contentment, but always sabotages himself with the wrong impulses just when those goals seem attainable. Moody, temperamental, a musical snob and more than a little bit of a jerk, Gordon is nonetheless sympathetic. He admires excellence (particularly in music) and champions the underdog without fail, which is why he sells vinyl, a sort of Don Quixote of music retail. He smokes compulsively, talks to the camera like it’s a confessional and plunges into all situations without fear. It may sound awful on paper, but Cusack is likable enough to pull it off.

To his advantage, Cusack surrounds himself with a great cast. Black and Louiso are hysterical as his employees. Sister Joan is her usual acerbic self as a mutual friend to the estranged couple. Robbins shows flair as the new boyfriend. Catherine Zeta-Jones is lustrous in an uncredited cameo as Charlie (one of Cusack’s top five)and indie film queen Taylor, as another one of Cusack’s list, lends cachet. Bruce Springsteen even cameos as himself, displaying a heretofore unrevealed knack for the craft.

This was pretty much Jack Black’s break-out performance. It was from here that he went on to get leading roles and it’s easy to see why. His on-screen charisma is simply astonishing here. He steals nearly every scene he’s in, culminating in a stunning performance of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” in the final reel. He’s manic, hysterically funny and infectious in this role which has to be considered one of the best performances of his career.

As a rock critic for an independent alternative weekly for six years, I can tell you that this is MY film and these are my people. Director Stephen (Dangerous Liaisons) Frears wisely lets Cusack take center stage, letting the rest of the performers play off him and build their performances off of him. Cusack takes up a ton of screen time – he’s in almost every scene – so if he’s not your cup of tea, you should probably pass on this one. Still, there are some great laughs herein (particularly the scene in which Cusack and Robbins meet face-to-face in the record store), a lot of insight into why we mess up our relationships, and an awesome soundtrack, much of which was selected for the film by Cusack himself.

The film began life as a novel by Nick Hornby (from whose pen also spawned About a Boy). That was set originally in Hornby’s native London but was transplanted to Chicago by Cusack who co-wrote the script. I think the shift works really well; the action seems germane to the Windy City setting and one gets a sense of life among Midwestern hipsters. Chicago has always been a center for musical trendsetting and separate from L.A. or New York is a far more grounded location, making for more down-to-earth kind of realism rather than a boatload of trendies struggling to be the first to the Next Big Thing.

High Fidelity didn’t do killer box office, but it shouldn’t be overlooked among the wave after wave of teen sex comedies, self-indulgent Oscar leftovers, event movies and niche films that populate the video store. It’s a well-written, enjoyable movie that will be on your mind long after you turn off the TV slash computer slash smart phone.

WHY RENT THIS: Killer soundtrack. Fine script and excellent performances by Black, Louiso, Hjejle and both Cusacks. Some laugh-out-loud moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If you don’t like Cusack you won’t like this.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s some sexuality and a lot of four-letter words.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The location of Rob’s store Championship Vinyl used to be a Wax Trax record store, the retail outlet for the influential Chicago-based Industrial and Punk label.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $47.1M on a $30M production budget; the movie lost money.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: Wanderlust

Our Idiot Brother


Our Idiot Brother

Elizabeth Banks is amused as Paul Rudd tries the Bertie Botts Every Flavor Frozen Yogurt

(2011) Comedy (Weinstein) Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Rashida Jones, Hugh Dancy, Kathryn Hahn, Shirley Knight, Janet Montgomery, Steve Coogan, Bob Stephenson, Peter Hermann, Adam Scott, T.J. Miller, Lydia Haug. Directed by Jesse Peretz

We all are suspicious of things that are too good to be true, whether they be products or people. When people come along who seem to be too nice by half, we wonder if they are manipulating us – or are just plain idiots.

Ned Rochlin (Rudd) is an amiable biodynamic farmer selling his organic wares at a local market when he is approached by a uniformed police officer (Stephenson) who wants to buy some weed. The good-natured Ned, not understanding what was happening, sells it to him and is promptly arrested and sent to jail (although he gets out early for good behavior).

When he does get released, things have changed. His bitchy ex-girlfriend Janet (Hahn) kicks him out, having taken up with Billy (Miller) and refusing to let him claim his dog Willie Nelson. Ned is forced to move back in with his mom (Knight) who’s a bit of an alcoholic and whose style doesn’t exactly conform to Ned’s.

Ned’s three sisters aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to spend time with him. Miranda (Banks) is a self-absorbed career woman trying to make it as a reporter at Vanity Fair and is willing to do whatever it takes to get there. She isn’t seeing anyone, although Jeremy (Scott), a neighbor, would certainly like to have some of her undivided attention.

Then there’s Natalie (Deschanel), a barista and aspiring stand-up comic who lives with Cindy (Jones), a lawyer. Natalie is oversexed and has a one-night stand in a taxicab that ends up with her getting pregnant, which she doesn’t want to tell Cindy about. Finally, Liz (Mortimer) lives in a sexless marriage with Dylan (Coogan), a documentary filmmaker who also regards Ned as something of a moron.

Ned goes to stay with each sister in turn, finding out some dirt on each of them and letting it slip out at inopportune moments. He is good-natured and sweet but he doesn’t know when to keep things to himself. He is utterly honest and guileless and can’t conceive of a world that isn’t, so he wreaks havoc in each of his sisters lives like a hippie tornado.

There is a lot of charm to Our Idiot Brother and it largely comes from Rudd. He is genial, even if he is wearing one of the worst cinematic beards ever. He is so sweet and lovable you can’t help him even if he is dumb as a rock. He’s like that big lovable goofy dog we’ve all had; you kind of love him because he’s a numbskull.

The ladies are all veterans of the indie movie scene and they don’t quite fare as well, sadly. Deschanel is one of the most talented actresses around (not to mention one of the most beautiful) but she is given little to work with other than a libido. Mortimer is forced to drop her robe in front of a disinterested Coogan and mostly look constipated. Banks comes off as an evil love child between Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep’s satanic editor from The Devil Wears Prada) and J. Pierrepont Finch (the ambitious office nebbish in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying).

All three are mostly given character flaws along with an abiding feeling of superiority over their brother, who they all look upon as a complete moron. Of course, all are redeemed by their brother’s honesty and kindness – I’m not giving away anything you couldn’t figure out before walking into the theater. Sadly, they aren’t memorable characters and their conversion comes without any effort or sacrifice. You never get the sense that they suffered in order to come out the other side smelling like a rose.

There are some very funny moments (a party scene where naive Ned falls into a threesome for example) but not enough to sustain the movie which seems to meander aimlessly from scene to scene. There doesn’t seem to be much point here other than to make a sweet, charming comedy which is quite all right by me, but at times this seems more of a collection of scenes than anything else and that’s a bit disconcerting.

It’s worth seeing for Rudd alone – he can be as charming as they come. This isn’t the vehicle that is going to lift him into another strata of stardom however; that will have to come another day.

REASONS TO GO: Rudd is terribly likable and charming. The cast is exceptionally talented.

REASONS TO STAY: There’s little inertia and the movie runs on too long. There are not enough funny moments to sustain it.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some nudity and sexual content, as well as a few F bombs and other crude words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie came together unusually quickly, taking about four months from the time producer Peter Saraf read the script to the day shooting wrapped.

HOME OR THEATER: It won’t be around in theaters much longer given the box office numbers, but that’s okay – this will work perfectly well on the home screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Debt