New Releases for the Week of September 28, 2018


NIGHT SCHOOL

(Universal) Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Keith David, Rob Riggle, Romany Malco, Al Madrigal, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Ben Schwartz, Anne Winters. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee

Hart stars as one of several misfits taking night classes in an attempt to pass their GED exams. Haddish is the no-nonsense teacher assigned to help them get there.

See the trailer, clips and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, DBOX, Dolby, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content throughout, language, some drug references and violence)

Cruise

(Vertical) Emily Ratajkowski, Noah Robbins, Kathrine Narducci, Spencer Boldman. An Italian-American boy from the mean streets of Brooklyn falls for a beautiful Jewish girl from Long Island. It’s 1987 and anything is possible.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs

Rating: NR

Hell Fest

(CBS) Bex Taylor-Klaus, Tony Todd, Reign Edwards, Amy Forsyth. A masked serial killer finds a happy hunting ground in a horror-themed amusement park where the guests think that his gruesome murders are all part of the show.

See the trailer, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, DBOX
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for horror violence, and language including some sexual references)

Little Women

(Pure Flix) Lea Thompson, Ian Bohen, Lucas Grabeel, Melanie Stone. A modern update of the classic Louisa May Alcott novel follows the March sisters as they traverse the often treacherous path from girlhood to womanhood.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements and teen drinking)

Science Fair

(National Geographic) Cristina Costantini, Darren Foster. For high school science nerds, their super bowl is the International Science and Engineering Fair. This documentary follows nine students from around the world as they compete for the “Best in Fair,” an award that only one of them can win.

See the trailer and a video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements and brief language)

Smallfoot

(Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Channing Tatum, James Corden, Zendaya, Common. A bright young yeti discovers the existence of what was thought to be a mythological beast – a human. The news of his discovery turns the world upside down for his people who wonder what else might be out there.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some action, rude humor, and thematic elements)

Sui Dhaaga: Made in India

(Yash Raj) Anushka Sharma, Varan Dhawan, Raghuvir Yadav, Govind Pandey. A husband and wife in India discover the need of entrepreneurship while trying to revive the artisan traditions of their homeland.

See the trailer and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

At First Light
The Bookshop
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Devadas
The Healer
My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
Nawab
Trico Tri Happy Halloween

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

The Apparition
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Devadas
Museo
My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
Nawab
Pataakha
Trico Tri Happy Halloween

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Blaze
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Devadas
My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
Natakam
Nawab
The Padre
Pick of the Litter
Trico Tri Happy Halloween

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Chekka Chivantha Vaanam
Devadas
My Hero Academia: Two Heroes
Nawab

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Hell Fest
Night School

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

South Asia Film Festival (Maitland, FL)

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Wilson (2017)


A dysfunctional family portrait.

(2017) Dramedy (Fox Searchlight) Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Isabella Amara, Judy Greer, Cheryl Hines, Margo Martindale, Brett Gelman, Mary Lynn Rajskub, James Saito, Bill McCallum, Alec George, Nate Mooney, Paul Cram, Tom Proctor, Katie Rose Law, Roxy Wood, Bruce Bohne, Greta Oglesby, Rachel Weber, Toussaint Morrison, Tonita Castro. Directed by Craig Johnson

 

We all know someone like him; a person with the social skills of a charging bull. Someone who generates awkward silences like our president generates Tweets. You know, that person who stops every conversation dead in their tracks with pronouncements that defy reason or rudeness that defies civility.

Wilson (Harrelson) is that guy. He lives in the Twin Cities of Minnesota with his dog that he adores but who pisses him off regularly. His only friend is moving about as far away as he can get and taking his shrewish wife with him. Wilson’s dad passes away from cancer soon afterward. With all this going on, Wilson decides he needs to reconnect with the world.

Doing that, he decides, means reconnecting with his ex-wife Pippi (Dern). She’s no saint either, owning what could charitably be charitably described as a checkered past including prostitution and drug abuse. When Wilson finds her, she’s trying to get her life back together working as a waitress. But that’s not all.

When Pippi originally left, she’d told Wilson that she’d gotten an abortion – but psych! It turns out that she’d put the baby up for adoption instead. Claire (Amara) has been raised by wealthy parents but has plenty of issues. Wilson is determined to reach out to the child he never knew he had and establish a connection, dragging a reluctant Pippi along in the process. It could be a good thing but as Wilson is wont to do, he messes things up instead.

This is based on the graphic novel by Daniel Clowes (who also wrote the screenplay) and it plays in a lot of ways like a Clowes book; simply drawn and not terribly sketched out. However, I have to admit I went in with low expectations based on a trailer that felt like something I’d seen plenty of times before. In all honesty I was pleasantly surprised; I thought this was going to be one of those social experiments to find out how unlikable they can make the main character and still get some critical acclaim.

Frankly, the critical response has been surprisingly low on this one; the general consensus seems to be that the film is predictable and in some ways it is – Wilson’s journey is pretty much by-the-numbers and yet I left the theater feeling a bit of catharsis. That’s not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination.

It is definitely a movie that builds. Early on my low expectations were essentially being me and I remember leaning over and whispering to Da Queen “Oh, now I remember why Woody Harrelson is mostly playing support roles these days.” Well, more fool me – as the film progressed, Harrelson took over and while he was still playing a pretty much unlikable no-filter kind of guy, I felt myself beginning to root for Wilson. Hey, a guy that much into dogs can’t be all bad, right? In any case, I was reminded why Woody Harrelson has a filmography that a whole lot of actors in this town would envy. Okay, in Hollywood. EVERY actor in Orlando would envy Woody Harrelson’s filmography.

Yeah, there are places that the film gets a bit sentimental and yes, when Wilson hits rock bottom it’s hard not to get emotional. One thing though that differentiates this from other films of this ilk is that it has a superior cast. Laura Dern, Judy Greer, Margo Martindale (who’s essentially only in one scene) and Cheryl Hines are top actresses who take a back seat to nobody in terms of consistent performances. They add depth to the film and give Harrelson plenty of places to play off of – Dern in particular makes an excellent foil for Harrison. The young Isabella Amara does some fine work here as well; her character is certainly complicated and troubled but is basically a decent girl who hasn’t gotten a ton of love in her life.

The ending is a little schmaltzy but all in all, I did end up liking Wilson more than I expected to. I’m not a big Clowes fan by any stretch of the imagination so that’s a bit of an accomplishment but I’m now very interested in picking up a couple of the man’s graphic novels and giving them another chance. Sometimes, changing your perspective is a right place at the right time kind of thing.

REASONS TO GO: This is the kind of film that grows on you. Wilson does in fact grow throughout the film which is a bit of a shocker.
REASONS TO STAY: Way too many neuroses on display for some.
FAMILY VALUES: Lots and lots of profanity and a smidgeon of sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The jail scenes were filmed at the Ramsey County Correctional Facility in St. Paul, Minnesota which is a working prison.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/28/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 39% positive reviews. Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Super
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Barry

New Releases for the Week of June 21, 2013


Monsters University

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY

(Disney/Pixar) Starring the voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Nathan Fillion, Julia Sweeney, Aubrey Plaza, John Krasinski. Directed by Dan Scanlon

A prequel to the “monster” (har de har har har) Pixar hit from 2001. Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan are wide-eyed, fuzzy-cheeked young men attending college at Monsters U. for their freshman year. Both have dreams of becoming scarers, but whereas Sully is a natural born scarer, Mike seems to be his own worst enemy. When their escalating rivalry gets them both kicked out of the program, they realize they’ll have to join forces in order to make things right.

See the trailer, promos, a interview and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: G

The Bling Ring

(A24) Emma Watson, Leslie Mann, Tarissa Farmiga, Claire Julien. Based on actual events, a group of fame-obsessed Los Angeles teens start cyber-stalking various celebrities and eventually, break into their homes and steal their stuff. At first something of a lark, it grows into something larger and darker. Oscar-nominated director Sophia Coppola is in the big chair.

See the trailer, a featurette and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Crime

Rating: R (for teen drug and alcohol use, and for language including some brief sexual references) 

The Kings of Summer

(CBS) Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Megan Mullally. A trio of disenchanted teens, tired of living with the parents, decide to declare their independence, building their own domicile in the nearby woods and swearing to live off the land. Of course, we all know how well that’s going to work – they’re teenage boys after all.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language and some drinking)

Much Ado About Nothing

(Roadside Attractions) Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg. Shakespeare’s classic romance about the two unlikeliest of lovers who are thrust into the bowels of romance due to the machinations of their friends. Adapted and directed by Joss Wheden, last scene directing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes which is sure to bring out an audience of jaded hipsters. You’ve been warned.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexuality and brief drug use) 

Raanjhanna

(Eros) Dhanush, Sonam Kapoor, Abhay Deol, Swara Bhaskar. A young man grows from childhood to adulthood in love with a young woman who is a complete mystery to him. As he grows into adulthood, his life will be complicated by her in ways he couldn’t predict.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

World War Z

(Paramount) Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Matthew Fox, David Morse. As a pandemic turns the world’s population into zombies, a United Nations employee goes around the world in a race against time to find out the source of the plague before the zombie apocalypse goes from popular bar conversation to disturbing reality.

See the trailer, a clip and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror Action

Rating: PG-13 (for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images) 

Safety Not Guaranteed


 

Safety Not Guaranteed

Aubrey Plaza applies the old “come-on with Campbell’s” method of seduction to Mark Duplass.

(2012) Comedy (FilmDistrict) Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson, Kristen Bell, Jenica Bergere, Karan Soni, Lynn Shelton, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jeff Garlin, William Hall Jr., Tony Doupe, Xola Malik, Grace Arends, Alice Hung. Directed by Colin Trevorrow

 

WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.

So read an actual 2004 classified ad in an alternative weekly in the Northwest (it actually showed up on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno’s” headlines segment. Someone thought it would make a good springboard for a small budget film. Someone was right.

At a story meeting for Seattle Magazine, the tyrannical editor Bridget (Rajskub) is looking for a story to go into the next issue. Most of her minions are silent but finally Jeff (Johnson) comes up with investigating the classified ad mentioned above. Bridget greenlights the story, allowing Jeff to take two interns – Darius (Plaza), a cute but anti-social sort, and Arnau (Soni), a nerdish Indian-American virgin. Jeff himself is quite the horndog, boasting that he’d already scored with the editor.

But he has an ulterior motive in heading to the small town outside of Seattle. He wants to hook up with Liz (Bergere), a lost high school lover he recently re-connected with on Facebook. He has the interns stake out the post office box and find out who the guy is who placed the ad. It turns out to be Kenneth (Duplass), a brilliant but socially awkward clerk at the grocery store. He lives out in the boonies in a house that he inherited from his deceased parents. Locally, he’s considered flaky but harmless.  When Jeff tries to contact him, Kenneth sends him packing, being a suspicious and paranoid sort. When Darius gives it a shot, her somewhat sharp and caustic attitude seems to attract Kenneth and he agrees to train her.

He is also paranoid and thinks that government agents are following him. Imagine Darius’ surprise when it turns out that government agents are following him. Some of the supplies that he’s purchased to build his time machine (which he swears is the real deal) have raised red flags somewhere and there are thoughts he could be building a weapon of mass destruction.

Still, the reporters think he’s a nutcase but Darius finds herself strangely attracted to him. And why not? He plays heartbreaking songs on the zither, has a refreshingly down-to-earth attitude about earth, the universe and time and isn’t hard on the eyes either. She finds herself opening up to him and letting him inside her very staunch defenses. But he can’t be serious about building a working time machine…can he?

One of the things that struck me about this movie from the get-go is the amount of heart it has. Some movies fake it really well, while others try to manufacture it or force it. This one has it. Yes, there are occasional elements of indie quirkiness but Trevorrow doesn’t stoop to clichés. There isn’t any of that hipster smarm that often makes me want to head over to the Village and open up with an Uzi on the trendy spots. No, there isn’t any indie band name-checking, no artists living in lofts they couldn’t possibly afford, no pop culture-peppered dialogue that will sound lame and dated in six months.

And certainly no romance between odd gamins who are way too smart and way too un-ambitious. The relationship between Darius and Kenneth is organic and realistic. These aren’t just a couple of characters who fall in love because the script calls for them to; this is a relationship that grows in an unexpected way as most love does in the real world. There is a scene during the training sequence when Kenneth is running and Darius is right behind him. The smile and measuring look she gives him tells without a single word of dialogue that she not only finds him interesting but that he is treating her like she’s never been treated before. You know that the love is there maybe before the characters do which is again, not unlike real life.

Plaza, who has a similar role in TV’s “Parks and Recreation” (and for whom the part was initially written) makes a splash in her feature film debut. She has the presence and charisma to be appealing on the big screen. I hadn’t really gotten that vibe from her television work but for my money she has a very bright future. She reminds me of Sarah Silverman in some ways, only less annoying and more charming.

Duplass, who is one of the Duplass Brothers responsible for directing some memorable indie hits like Jeff, Who Lives at Home proves himself an adept actor and quite frankly he’s much in demand – he’ll be appearing in no less than seven films that are slated for a 2012 release in some way, shape or form. This might be the best of the lot. He’s laconic, a little daft, a little edgy and a little romantic. This is a difficult role at best, to make someone so basically unlikable relatable. He’s guarded and standoffish and very much broken, but Duplass gives him warmth and grace. You end up liking Kenneth and root for him and Darius to make it.

Also of note if Johnson as Jeff. Jeff is basically a self-centered douche looking for a hook-up with a high school hottie who, like him, is wearing the years for all to see. As the film progresses we begin to see the layers stripped away as the horndog shows that he isn’t just all about Jeff. By the end of the movie he’s actually quite likable and the lazy, shoddy journalist we thought he was is put to lie as well.

The pacing is slow and laid back, so teens and other attention-challenged persons may find this boring. That’s a bit of a shame because this is as satisfying an experience as I’ve had at the movies this year. Sadly, the movie didn’t get a wide release – it’s not an easy sell and people might get distracted by the time travel aspect (which is a bit of a MacGuffin but kind of isn’t either – you’ll just have to see the film to find out what I mean). Still this is a movie I’ll certainly be remembering for my year-end best-of list. I hope you seek this out in its limited release – it’s a gem worth finding.

REASONS TO GO: A movie with as much heart as you’re likely to find. Cute and clever without being condescending.

REASONS TO STAY: Very quirky. A little too understated for the ADHD crowd.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is pretty salty and there are a few sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While Darius and Arnau are staking out the PO Boxes, the first man to walk into the post office is the one who wrote the original ad that the movie is based on.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/18/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100. The reviews are kinda mixed but more towards the positive side.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Primer

POST OFFICE LOVERS: Darius and Arnau stake out an old fashioned small town post office, one of the sort that is becoming increasingly rare in this day and age.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT: The Other Woman

Little Miss Sunshine


Little Miss Sunshine

The Hoover family weathers yet another catastrophe but they suck it up in the end.

(2006) Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carrell, Alan Arkin, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin, Bryan Cranston, Beth Grant, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Wallace Langham, Lauren Shiohama, Matt Winston. Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

Some families seem to live charmed lives, while others seem to live under a cloud. Thus it is with the Hoovers, a middle class family living in suburban New Mexico that on the surface seem pretty normal – a supportive mom, a self-employed dad, an irascible grandpa and two kids. However, beneath the surface, there is nothing normal about any of them. 

Into this mix comes Uncle Steve (Carrell), the brother of mom Sheryl (Collette). He has just been discharged from the hospital after a suicide attempt. At the dinner table, he tries to explain why he tried to kill himself. It wasn’t because of the failed love affair with a grad student – a male grad student to the bemusement of grandpa – or the loss of his job after a meltdown, or the fact that his ex-lover has taken up with his rival, the second best Proust scholar in America. It’s just that his grant has been yanked and given instead to his ex’s new beau.

Everybody is kind of living in their own little world. Grandpa (Arkin) has been kicked out of the retirement community he loved being in because of his excessive drug use, and I’m not talking about the kind prescribed for his colon problems. Teenaged Dwayne (Dano) dreams of going to flight school and flying fighter planes for the Air Force, and has taken a vow of silence until he achieves that dream. Little Olive (Breslin) wants only to be the next Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant winner.

Sheryl is trying to hold everything together, but it isn’t easy. Money is tight, especially since her husband Richard (Kinnear) has quit his job in an attempt to sell a self-help system he came up with called “The Nine Steps.” However, there is light at the end of the tunnel – his agent Stan Grossman (Cranston) is going to a self-help convention in Scottsdale, Arizona and is supremely confident he’ll be able to sell it to a publisher. Richard is nervously…ok, agonizingly, awaiting the phone call that the deal is done.

Things change when a different kind of phone call arrives. The little girl who won the regional pageant that Olive was runner-up in has been disqualified and Olive can now go to the finals in Redondo Beach, California. She goes absolutely nuts with joy. Flying her there is out of the question – the family can’t afford it. Sheryl can’t drive her all the way there, since they won’t all fit in Sheryl’s car and the VW microbus is a stick shift and Sheryl only drives an automatic. There is no question of leaving Steve by himself, since he is still technically on suicide watch. That means everybody goes, even though Dwayne would rather be eaten alive by army ants.

They set off into the land of the surreal; driving along the southwestern highways that lead from Albuquerque to L.A. Along the way, every disaster you can possibly think of befalls the family, from financial to mechanical to personal. As the journey continues, each member of the family will have to face their own personal crisis and eventually, all of them will have to come together to support little Olive in her dream, despite enormous obstacles.

This is quite plainly the funniest movie I saw that year by far. I was laughing out loud throughout the movie, and during the climactic scene, nearly nonstop. I was laughing so hard Da Queen was beginning to wonder what species had accompanied her to the theater; judging from the hooting sounds I was making, it sure wasn’t Homo sapiens

Unlike a lot of modern comedies, this is a movie that doesn’t rely on one cast member to carry the jokes. In fact, it’s fair to say that nobody in the movie is overtly comedic. This is a comedy of situation and of character. Yeah, there are some good one-liners, but for the most part, this is a bunch of more-or-less ordinary people just trying to get by as their situation spirals out of control. They are riding in a microbus that sabotages them at every turn (they must push the bus to start it and then run like track stars to leap into the side door, and this bus also has the most persistent horn in the world – it emits the noise that you would expect of a wounded or dying roadrunner). 

A lot of people will go to see this because Steve Carrell is in it, but he isn’t the star of the movie. This is most definitely an ensemble piece and everyone continues pretty much equally. Kinnear generally appears in roles as affable but backbone-challenged guys, and he gently spoofs his own image here, a kind of nudge-and-wink job that doesn’t get in the way of the movie but adds to it. Carrell plays it very low-key, keeping the wackiness pretty much to everyone else. He isn’t the straight man per se, but the closest thing to it in this movie. Youngster Paul Dano has the toughest row to hoe, having to be completely without dialogue most of the movie, but he does a great job at getting across teen angst without saying a word.

Still, I loved Toni Collette in this. She plays a supportive mom who has to deal with a chaotic situation nearly non-stop and she loses it in a couple of places but in a manner that is not so over-the-top and perfectly believable. I think that’s really the key as to why this movie works so well – everyone in it is so believable, even the bitchy pageant official (Grant). Nobody sinks to caricature in this. Even Breslin as Olive is not annoying in the least.

As with all good comedies, there are moments of pathos and revelation. In the end, what keeps the Hoover family going is that they are a family and they lean on each other, dysfunctional as they are. There is a tender moment during the movie where Dwayne is completely shattered, sitting in a field and utterly lost. He doesn’t want to go on anymore. Little Olive just walks out to him and puts a hand on his shoulder. A simple moment between a little sister and her big brother that doesn’t feel forced or manipulative at all; it’s a completely natural little gesture of comfort that works because that’s what brothers and sisters do.

Dayton and Faris come from a music video background; this is only their second feature and the first to really make any impact. They took a tightly written script (by Michael Arndt) and delivered it without hamstringing it with cliché. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff; it’s simply a seriously funny movie that will be the kind of movie you’ll be able to watch a lot of times without it losing its freshness, and that’s a very difficult and rare achievement for a comedy.

WHY RENT IT: Laugh-out-loud funny throughout that isn’t dominated by one chracter or actor; the actors are believable.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Those looking for a Steve Carrell movie will be disappointed; he is as restrained as he ever has been in a movie and is simply a cog in the machine here.

FAMILY MATTERS: A little bad language, a little sex and a little drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Abigail Breslin wore a fat suit during filming to make Olive look a little chubbier than she actually is.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There is a music video by DeVotchKa as well as four different alternate endings.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $100.5m on an $8M production budget: the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Illusionist

Sunshine Cleaning


Sunshine Cleaning

Mary Lynn Rajskub and Emily Blunt share an awkward moment on an elevator.

(Overture) Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, Steve Zahn, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Clifton Collins Jr., Jason Spevack, Paul Dooley, Eric Christian Olsen. Directed by Christine Jeffs

Life is a messy business, so you might as well get paid for cleaning up after it. At least, that’s the theory.

Rose (Adams) is a single mother struggling to make ends meet. She works as a maid in a low-rent New Mexico hotel, worries with a high-strung 7-year-old boy causing chaos in a public school that would just as soon see him drugged. She carries on an affair with Mac (Zahn) the high school quarterback who fathered her child then abandoned her to marry someone else.

It is Mac who gives her the idea to start up a new business when he mentions off-handedly that crime scene clean-up pays very well. With no idea what is involved in the disposal of blood, guts ‘n’ gore from a living space, she approaches the idea with moxie and spunk, roping her shiftless sister Norah (Blunt) into helping her out with the encouragement of her Dad (Arkin) who never met a get-rich-quick scheme he didn’t like – and that didn’t send him fleeing for the poorhouse.

Rose begins to feel that the job is a bit of a calling. Norah, who does her own thing (and it’s usually the wrong thing), becomes involved in the life of the daughter (Rajskub) of a client who had committed suicide, and in a somewhat awkward way as well. Norah is the polar opposite of the straitlaced, slightly anal Rose. Where one likes to plan, the other prefers spontaneity. Where one is ambitious, the other is a slacker. I’m sure you know which one is which.

Rose has issues of her own, however. She has an inferiority complex stemming from her high school years, when she was the cheerleader and the belle of the ball. Ashamed of her lowly station in life, her new business is giving her self-confidence for the first time since her glory days. Attending a baby shower at which many of her former schoolmates will be in attendance becomes nearly as important to her as getting her son into a private school. This leads to a disaster that could spell the end of nearly every one of Rose’s dreams, as well as her relationship with her sister.

The producers of this film have another movie to their credit to which they are anxious to compare this one to: Little Miss Sunshine. Unfortunately, all the two films really have in common is their New Mexico setting, the word “Sunshine” in their titles and Alan Arkin. This is, I think, meant to be a black comedy. I’m not really sure. Something tells me that the filmmakers aren’t either.

That’s not to say that this movie isn’t without its charms. Adams is an accomplished actress who delivers a nicely layered performance. She is at once the mousy maid who has been smacked around overly much by life, the efficient and organized boss, the enthusiastic lover and the compassionate friend, not to mention the fiercely defensive mom. For my money, it’s some of the Oscar-nominated actress’ best work ever, although it was sadly overlooked.

Blunt is a talented actress in her own right as well, and she gives a solid performance in a role that is not written as well as Rose is. I got the impression at times that some of the things Norah does to screw up are done merely to advance the story along. They don’t seem terribly organic with the character that is not as brainless as her actions seem to make out she is.

Arkin delivers his usual fine work in a role that has come to define him pretty much over the last several years; the crotchety but eccentric dad/granddad. It’s a role he’s been playing for a couple of decades now (you can see the germs of it in Edward Scissorhands) and he does it better than anybody.

I tend to have a soft spot for movies that show a side of real life that we don’t often get to see portrayed onscreen. Truthfully, I never wondered who cleaned up a murder scene after the forensics team leaves the scene but obviously somebody must. Roger Ebert mused that there was a documentary in this movie somewhere and he’s right; unfortunately, there’s also a better movie in here as well.

I’m a big believer in the theory that characters should drive the actions, not the other way around. A good movie will take a set of characters, plop them into a situation and then see what they make of it. A movie that has to resort to having a stock idiot character in the mix is suffering from lazy writing and in almost every case will be flawed and not nearly as good as it could have been.

It’s too bad that the movie wasn’t better written because it has a lot going for it. I like the premise, I like the setting, I like the acting, heck I even like the gruesome crime scenes. This is a movie that swayed between being a black comedy and a slice-of-life drama and winds up somewhere in-between in a no man’s land of indecision. It’s worth seeing for the performances of the leads, but only just.

WHY RENT THIS: Adams, Blunt and Arkin give solid performances. A twisted slice of real life served up in New Mexico, where movies don’t film often enough.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the imagery and subject matter is squirm-inducing. Norah is such a screw-up at times that you wonder if she was written that way just as a plot device.

FAMILY VALUES: Some very disturbing images not suitable for children; also there is a goodly amount of foul language as well as some drug use and sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the first two seasons of “The Office,” Adams played John Krasinski’s girlfriend. Blunt was Krasinski’s girlfriend in real life at the time of filming.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a featurette on the realities of crime scene cleaning with some people who do the job in real life.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: I Love You, Man