Ode to Joy (2019)


Love means never having to stand in the rain.

(2019) Romantic Comedy (Mosaic) Martin Freeman, Morena Baccarin, Jake Lacy, Melissa Rauch, Jane Curtin, Shannon Woodward, Ellis Rubin, Jackie Selden, Adam Shapiro, Jason Altman, Alex Perez, Ravi Cabot-Conyers, Tyler Bourke, dL Sams. Directed by Jason Winer

Love is a difficult enough proposition without throwing in an exotic illness. The highs, the lows…it’s a real test of our emotional capabilities. It can affect even the best of us in unexpected ways. Those who are especially sensitive…it can be a real war.

Charlie (Freeman) is such a case. He has a rare condition called Cataplexy which affects those who suffer it whenever they are struck by strong emotions. Although portrayed here as a separate disease, it is actually a side effect of narcolepsy. For Charlie, whenever he feels joy, he loses consciousness. That can be a real mood-killer, romantically speaking.

He lives a carefully ordered life, one in which he tries to avoid any situations that might affect him emotionally and the sight of newborn babies will have him reciting lists of the most depressing thigs imaginable. He tries to keep as even a keel as possible, aided by his generally irresponsible younger brother Cooper (Lacy). That all takes a sharp left turn when he meets Francesca (Baccarin). Charlie and Francesca hit it off immediately and soon Charlie takes a chance and asks her out. It seems to go really well until she asks him up to her apartment – and Charlie’s condition makes a very nasty appearance.

Charlie, fearing what might happen, calls things off with Francesca and ends up seeing Bethany (Rauch), a friend of Francesca’s. Cooper, noticing that Francesca is available, starts dating his brother’s ex – except Charlie and Francesca aren’t at all sure that they are with the right partners.

Freeman is a charming lead with oodles of likability. While the chemistry with Baccarin isn’t 100% convincing, it’s a good 95% at least; maybe it’s the imperfections that make the romance at the center of the movie more powerful. While the medical basis for the film is a little bit shaky, it should be remembered that this isn’t meant to be a medical textbook and thus the disease is meant to fit the story rather than the other way around.

At times the dialogue gets a little florid, not unusual in a rom-com although the film valiantly tries and mostly succeeds at avoiding the clichés of the genre. Still, there is plenty of heart here and while I could do without the quirky indie New Yorker tropes, this is actually a heart-warming and charming little film that hopefully will get at least a limited release (it has a distribution deal with a boutique Sony label so there’s that) because this is the kind of movie the world needs more of.

REASONS TO SEE: Not your typical rom-com. Really strong performances all around. Bizarre in a good way.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some of the dialogue is overwrought.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some sexual references and mild profanity as well as a bit of violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Freeman and Baccarin have both appeared in Marvel movies; Freeman as Agent Everett Ross, Baccarin as Vanessa Carlyle.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/14/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: As Good As It Gets
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Carmine Street Guitars

Advertisements

Can You Ever Forgive Me?


Melissa McCarthy awaits that call from the Academy.

(2018) Biographical Dramedy (Fox Searchlight) Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Ben Falcone, Gregory Korostishevsky, Jane Curtin, Stephen Spinella, Christian Navarro, Pun Badhu, Erik LaRay Harvey, Brandon Scott Jones, Shae D’lyn, Rosal Colon, Anna Deavere Smith, Marc Evan Jackson, Roberta Wallach, Tina Benko, Sandy Rosenberg, Kevin Carolan, Mary McCann. Directed by Marielle Heller

 

It’s a tough old world out there and anyone who tells you differently is trying to sell you something. Sometimes we find success only to have it snatched away from us and before long, desperation begins to set in as the bills begin to pile up.

Lee Israel (McCarthy) was a successful writer – her biography of columnist, raconteur and perpetual game show contestant in the 1950s Dorothy Kilgallen landed her on the New York Times bestseller list. Those days are long gone; a disastrous biography of cosmetics maven Estee Lauder was in the cut-out bins almost as soon as it was released. Her caustic personality hasn’t endeared her to publishers or her agent (Curtin) and nobody but nobody wants to hire her – in addition to her prickly personality her style of biographies have gone out of favor with the public while caustic tell-alls are all the rage. Her agent tells her bluntly she needs to find another way to earn a living.

This is New York City in the 1990s, one of the most expensive places in the world to live and Lee is 51 years old with no job experience other than writing. Her alcoholism has become so pronounced that when she does find a job as a copy editor, she actually brings her glass, ice and booze into the office, a big no-no. So with her rent months overdue and her beloved cat ill and needing medicine that she can’t afford and in any case she has an unpaid balance that needs to be paid before the vet will even look at the cat, she hits rock bottom.

She sells a letter from Katherine Hepburn that nets her an unexpectedly high amount of cash from a local bookseller but when she discovers a Fanny Brice letter, the bookseller who buys it (a lovely Dolly Wells) gently tells her that the contents of the letter are a little bland, so she can’t give her as much as she’d like to. Undeterred, Israel decides to rewrite the letter for which she gets a handsome fee. Now realizing that this could be a lucrative source of income for her, she begins forging letters out of whole cloth from gone but not quite forgotten stars like Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich and Dorothy Parker who Lee is particularly adept at imitating.

Lee begins to celebrate by drinking more, endearing her to the closest thing she has to a friend – gay, drug-addicted fading man about town Jack Hock (Grant) who shares a catty wit with Lee who mainly tolerates him but when she starts letting him get close, she soon realizes that there was a reason that she has isolated herself from people. Besides, the FBI has discovered her little game and soon she appears on a list of people forging memorabilia from stars and nobody will buy from her. She has to rely on Jack to sell her letters – and Jack isn’t exactly the most reliable guy on the planet.

Many critics are raving about McCarthy’s performance and with some justification. Some are even predicting an Oscar nomination for her and I’ll admit, there is also some justification for that. I’m not sure this is an Oscar-worthy performance but it’s pretty damn close. Grant is also getting some ink pushing him for a Best Supporting nomination – again, not without justification.

Some will have a tough time with this because McCarthy is almost too good at portraying Israel’s notorious misanthropic side. Near the end of the movie cracks begin to appear in her armor and even as her deeds are coming crashing down around her, one gets the sense that McCarthy might have preferred a less humble Lee at the end of the film.

But for the most part the script is funny and smartly written by Nicole Holofcener – one of my favorite writer/directors out there – and Jeff Whitty. We also get a nice epilogue which explains what happened to both Jack and Lee (both have since sadly passed away) and lets us know that Lee’s wit was just as caustic as ever even after she did her time. This is a strong indie which may have some Oscar buzz around it going into Awards season; keep an eye out for it if you are motivated by such things.

REASONS TO GO: The script is smart and funny. McCarthy does a not-quite-Oscar-worthy turn here.
REASONS TO STAY: Israel is so unlikable that it is difficult to root for her.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a pretty fair amount of profanity (some of it sexual) as well as some brief depictions of drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone was attached to the movie before she was. When Julianne Moore who was originally cast as Lee Israel backed out over creative differences, Falcone recommended his wife for the role.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/6/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews. Metacritic: 87/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hoax
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Long Shadow

The Heat


Some pictures say a thousand words; this one just says "say WHAT?!?"

Some pictures say a thousand words; this one just says “say WHAT?!?”

(2013) Buddy Cop Comedy (20th Century Fox) Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Demian Bichir, Marlon Wayans, Michael Rapaport, Jane Curtin, Spoken Reasons, Dan Bakkedahl, Taran Killam, Michael McDonald, Tom Wilson, Peter Weireter, Erica Derrickson, Kaitlin Olson, Joey McIntyre, Michael Tucci, Bill Burr, Nathan Corddry, Jessica Chaffin, Jamie Denbo. Directed by Paul Feig

It is 2013 in Hollywood and after decades of inspired (and uninspired) Odd Couple buddy cop pairings, America gets its first all-woman cop buddy duo. I would think that just for being a trailblazer The Heat should get props, and it does particularly since they cast the two roles perfectly.

Sarah Ashburn (Bullock) is an ambitious but uptight FBI agent. She’s very successful at closing cases but her people skills are a bit lacking. She’s smarter than most of the men around her and she knows it but what’s worse she likes to show it off. She’s eager for a promotion that she’s probably richly earned but her boss (Bichir) isn’t so sure; he instead sends her from New York to Boston to take down a mysterious drug lord who is pushing his way into the city.

Shannon Mullins (McCarthy) is a rude, crude and lewd Boston cop who intimidates her colleagues with her foul mouth, her nasty attitude and her hair-trigger temper. When she’s not abusing her boss (Wilson) – who bears more than a passing resemblance to Biff Tannen – she’s having one night stands with clingy men and bickering with her family. She’s so tough she arrested her brother Jason (Rapaport) and sent him to prison, from which he’s just emerging.

The two are more or less after the same guy. At first, of course, they are competing but when ordered to work together these lone wolves find out that there is some benefits from working in a pack. However they’re up against a very male-oriented culture which doesn’t take them seriously and to make matters worse, Mullins family is at risk from a sadistic killer (McDonald).

Melissa McCarthy broke out as a big star in a supporting role in Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids and it’s no accident that he’s behind the camera for the role that may make her a superstar. This is the perfect part for McCarthy – foul-mouthed, physical with a tender side that really makes better use of her talents than this year’s earlier hit Identity Thief did. Some of her zingers were the kind that made you laugh so hard that you missed dialogue that came out after it.

She is paired perfectly with Bullock who has played tough cops before but here she allows a little prissiness to set in. She’s so lonely that her cat isn’t even hers – it’s her neighbor’s who is vexed that the cat visits “the weird lady next door.” Bullock is one of the best at playing socially awkward but extremely competent women – remember her boss from Hell in The Proposal? – and nobody does book-smart-but-people-dumb like Bullock. The chemistry between her an McCarthy is on the level of Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy and Mel Gibson/Danny Glover in the annals of cop buddies.

Although the film is groundbreaking, it’s a shame they couldn’t give the two leading ladies a groundbreaking script to work with. Despite the terrific performances of Bullock and McCarthy (and of the cast in general), the plot is such that it feels like it was written in a Screenwriting 101 class. If you’re going to have two women leading a cop buddy movie, play to the strengths of women in general instead of just having them referring to their lady parts in a series of crude jokes. Cagney and Lacey and Rizzolli and Isles were both able to do this successfully on television; while I get those shows are both more procedurals than this one, I don’t think they needed to give the women ugly male characteristics to make this funny, unless of course they’re trying to make the point that the two sexes are more alike than unalike which I can appreciate.y

In any case, this is superior summer entertainment that has that element of familiarity that Hollywood thinks American movie audiences yearn for. It bodes well for the future of McCarthy to take the throne as America’s reigning film comedienne superstar with her two big hits this year. She is clearly the reason to go see this movie and clearly looks to be as funny if not funnier than some of her highest-paid male colleagues right now.

REASONS TO GO: Bullock plays surprisingly well against type and for her part this is right in McCarthy’s wheelhouse.

REASONS TO STAY: Beyond the novelty factor of two women in the lead roles, the movie doesn’t really add much to the buddy cop genre.

FAMILY VALUES:  A buttload of bad language. Some of the content is on the crude side, and there’s a bit of violence to top it all off.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Was originally set for a late spring release, but the studio, encouraged by early reception to the film, decided to move it into the summer.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/8/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 62% positive reviews. Metacritic: 59/100; the reviews are pretty much split but leaning towards the positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Other Guys

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: The Lone Ranger (2013)

I Don’t Know How She Does It


I Don't Know How She Does It

It just doesn't get any more romantic than a loving embrace in snowfall.

(2011) Comedy (Weinstein) Sarah Jessica Parker, Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Kelsey Grammer, Olivia Munn, Seth Meyers, Christine Hendricks, Jane Curtin, Mark Blum, Busy Philipps, Sarah Shahi, Jessica Szohr, James Murtaugh. Directed by Douglas McGrath

There are few people I have more respect for than the working mother. It is very much like juggling alligators; if you mess up even on one gator, you can find your whole world crashing down around you.

Kate Reddy (Parker) is just such a creature. She works as an executive at an investment bank’s regional office in Boston; she has a crusty boss (Grammer), an overqualified assistant named Momo (Munn) who disdains Kate’s commitment to her job, and a backstabbing co-worker (Meyers).

Outside of work she’s got a bitchy mother-in-law (Curtin) and a devoted friend (Hendricks) who thinks Kate has it all together but like most moms, does a lot with smoke and mirrors. She also has a saintly husband named Richard (Kinnear) who is an architect who is just getting a major promotion at his job. She too is working on a big promotion – by coming up with a brand new retirement fund that will appeal to both investors and the bank’s brass as well. She is given a hunky partner to work with – Jack Abelhammer (Brosnan). It also means that she’s going to be traveling to New York a whole lot.

That means guilt for missing her kids life and further guilt for neglecting her husband. It means being made to feel less of a mom by the stay-at-home supermom (Philipps) that works out while her kids are at school and takes advantage of party planners for her kid’s birthdays. Does anybody remember when getting pizza and a cake was enough for a child’s birthday party?

Of course, we all know that sooner or later the gators are going to come crashing down and take a bite (or several) from Kate whose two children are precocious and adorable and well-adjusted which doesn’t sound like any kids I know. We also know that her work career will take off and promise even more travel, putting more strain on her marriage. Isn’t that how it works for all working moms?

This is a movie that has been taking enough lashings from critics to make a Roman galley slave blush. I would venture to guess that most of the critics taking shots at it are not working moms. I was with one when I caught it in the theater and she was quite affected. She thought that the issues that Kate faced were very relatable. That’s a big plus in my book.

I’ve never really warmed to Sarah Jessica Parker as an actress. She’s always seemed shrill and a bit too neurotic for my tastes. She still is here, but the role really calls for it. Kate has a great deal of stress on her and sometimes stress makes us do desperate things, like buying a pie at a deli and trying to disguise it as homemade.

Greg Kinnear is one of the more likable actors out there right now, and he does saintly husband as well as anybody. Despite Kate consistently leaving him holding the bag at home and seemingly dismissing his career as less important as his own, he continues to support her in every way imaginable.

Pierce Brosnan is another solid pro who pretty much always delivers. Here he’s a sweet and respectful colleague who rather than taking credit for her work gives her props. Yeah, sounds like a lot of investment bankers I know – not that I know many. Still, the moral and kindly businessman is not one we see in the movies much these days.

The movie is purportedly a comedy although there is a lack of laughs here (although to be fair, Da Queen found many things funny that were well out of my experience range). It also lacks the gravitas and depth to be a decent drama, which kind of leaves the movie in this limbo of neither one nor the other and not be satisfactory overall.

This definitely has limited appeal which is just fine. If you’re a mom and you work, you’re going to find a lot to love in this movie. If you love a working mom, you might see a bit of insight in there. If you don’t have a working mom in your life, you might want to pass this by – there’s not a lot here for you. That’s all good, but just a word to the wise – be aware that this movie is definitely skewed to a specific demographic and if you don’t fall within it, you might wind up wondering if the local multiplex still gives refunds.

REASONS TO GO: Kinnear and Brosnan are awesome. This is definitely a role well-suited for Parker. The issues that come up for Kate are very relatable for working moms.

REASONS TO STAY: Not funny enough to be a comedy nor does it really have enough depth to be a good drama either.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some sexual references and a bit of innuendo.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director McGrath also writes a political commentary column, “The New Flapjack,” for The New Republic.

HOME OR THEATER: Certainly this will do just as well at home as it will in the theater.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Drive

I Love You, Man


I Love You, Man

Jason Segel and Paul Rudd share a bro-mantic moment.

(DreamWorks) Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, J.K. Simmons, Jane Curtin, Jon Favreau, Jaime Pressly, Lou Ferrigno. Directed by John Hamburg

In this Age of Information, we have invented terms that didn’t exist before for relationships that had no name before. When two guys become obsessed with one another in a non-sexual way, it’s called a “bromance.” While there have been plenty of movies about male bonding, this one is the first to use the term, at least in its marketing.

Peter Klaven (Rudd) is an L.A. realtor who is looking to make his mark by selling Lou Ferrigno’s (playing himself) home. The commission he’d receive would give him enough cash to develop a property of his own and hopefully set him up for success. He has a fiancée, Zooey (Jones) that he adores and who is his best friend.

Peter is also a bit uptight and perhaps the least cool person in Los Angeles, a place where cool rules. Peter is somewhat metrosexual, and has always been more comfortable with women than with men. In fact, he has no male friends to be the best man at his wedding, a fact pointed out by his gay brother Robbie (Samberg) who is his dad’s (Simmons) best friend.

It turns out Zooey has some concerns about this as well, so Peter decides to go out on a series of “man-dates” to find himself a best man-friend. Initially, it goes horribly. He goes to a poker game run by Barry (Favreau), the husband of Zooey’s best friend Denise (Pressly), but winds up irritating Barry the Blowhard by winning at poker (and every other competition) despite having absolutely no idea what he’s doing, and finishing up the night by throwing up on Barry.

Other dates go soundly wrong as well, as Peter is mistaken for gay and other predictable results. It isn’t until another open house for the Ferrigno property takes place when Peter meets Sydney Fife (Segel) who is there for the free food that things finally begin to look up. Sydney’s insights and genuine free spirit strike a chord in Peter and they wind up exchanging numbers, which leads to some sweet hanging out.

Sydney has a nice little house a block away from Venice Beach, but we never see the inside of it. What we do see is Sydney’s “man cave,” a converted garage in the backyard where Sydney keeps his toys; a drum kit, flat-screen TV, recliner, lava lamps and the sort of things that bachelors like to keep in their homes to make them look cluttered and man-comfortable – and the sorts of things that go away once they get married.

Sydney and Peter share a love for the progressive rock trio Rush (a favorite of mine too, I have to admit) and other things to bond over and soon Peter is spending more time with Sydney than he is with Zooey. It looks like Peter has found his best man, but is he going to have a wedding to use him for?

Hamburg and company have almost surely studied the Judd Apatow method of modern film comedy, because this movie could easily have been made by Apatow, who has Knocked Up and Superbad on his resume, among others. There is enough crudeness to make it edgy but not enough to make it raunchy.

Rudd is one of the funniest guys you’ve never heard of. He is quite possibly the best comic character actor working today. He can take a character like Peter, find out the things that make him funny and underplay him just enough so that he doesn’t necessarily stand out, but you leave the theater finding that most of the best laughs were his.

In fact there were plenty of funny moments here, although there were also times that it seemed like the filmmakers were trying to force things a little bit. I get that guys talk like “Dude Dudingham” “The Great Bro-bowski” back and forth ad nauseum, but it doesn’t have to go on over and over again. We get it.

One other note; while I realize that being mistaken for gay has some humor potential, it made for some awkward stereotyping that I didn’t find funny. While there are plenty of bitchy gay men out there, I thought that some of the jokes in this area went over the line into the offensive zone. A little sensitivity might have been in order here.

But then again, if you’re overly sensitive you probably shouldn’t go to a comedy. The point of a comedy is that you should be able to laugh at yourself and if you can’t do that you might need therapy of a different sort. There is certainly plenty to laugh at here, just not as much as I was led to believe by the critics. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood for this. Oh well.

WHY RENT THIS: More of a “bro-mantic” comedy than a romantic comedy. Some genuinely funny moments. A credibly authentic look at male bonding.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the humor is a bit forced. The gay jokes are somewhat repugnant.

FAMILY VALUES: The language here is a bit rough for the younger sorts. There are also some fairly crude situations which make this unsuitable for children.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: J.K. Simmons’ character is named Oswald. In the HBO series “Oz” (which co-starred Simmons), the name of the prison the show was set in was Oswald State Correctional Facility.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Nothing listed.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Crazy Heart