Nobody’s Fool (2018)


A buncha girls in cars.

(2018) Romantic Comedy (Paramount PlayersTiffany Haddish, Tika Sumpter, Omari Hardwick, Mehcad Brooks, Amber Riley, Whoopi Goldberg, Missi Pyle, PJ Morton, Michael Blackson, Jon Rudnitsky, Chris Rock, Nev Schulman, Max Joseph, Adrian Conrad, Courtney Henggeler, Candace West, Crystal Lee Brown, Peyton Jackson, Al Hamacher, Victoria Ealy. Directed by Tyler Perry

 

Tiffany Haddish is one of the hottest comedians in the world. Tyler Perry is literally a brand name in African-American cinema. It would seem to be a match made in heaven. Instead, it’s a godawful mess.

For one thing, Haddish is basically an extended cameo. She plays Tanya, the recently released from prison sister to affluent, successful Danica (Sumpter) who has just landed a big contract at the marketing firm she works at, and is long-distance dating Charlie (Brooks), a man she has never seen or been in the same time zone with. Tanya thinks she’s being catfished – ironically (or not) a program on MTV, which is owned by Paramount’s parent corporation. Tanya even gets the hosts of Catfished (Joseph and Schulman) to investigate. Meanwhile, there’s lovesick Frank (Hardwick), the coffee house owner who is completely smitten with Danica but doesn’t quite measure up to Danica’s succinct list of qualities her husband must have. Apparently in Tyler Perry’s world, all single women have such a list.

The problem with the movie is that it really isn’t very funny, and when you’re talking a rom-com, that’s half the promise. Oh, there are a few momentary chuckles – mostly supplied by Haddish – but she’s a fish out of water here. This really isn’t a movie that utilizes her talents very well and quite frankly, there have been damn few of them that she’s been in that have. It’s like she’s trying to out-Madea Madea and we all know that’s just not possible.

Sumpter does a lot better. She’s a natural rom-com lead and while she looks somewhat flustered when she’s with Haddish, she does the upscale African-American woman maybe better than anyone. Sadly, the plot goes meandering into all sorts of different territories – a Perry trademark, and like most of his films it hits and misses. This one is much more of a miss; it’s one of the weakest movies in the Tyler Perry catalogue and it shouldn’t have been. I think he would have been better served to make a movie around either Haddish or Sumpter – but trying to do both doesn’t serve the film well, and since Haddish is absent from nearly the entire second half of the movie, it leaves audiences giving puzzled looks at their TV screen, wondering where their star went to. I’ll tell you where she went – she’s on an extended coffee break in Frank’s shop. Watching her do that would have made a better movie than this one.

REASONS TO SEE: Sumpter has real talent and should be getting better parts.
REASONS TO AVOID: Too many rom-com clichés. Too much overacting from Haddish.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity (including sexual references) as well as sexual situations and some drug material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is Perry’s first film for any studio other than Lionsgate.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Epix, Fandango Now, Google Play, Hulu, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/29/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 24% positive reviews: Metacritic: 39/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Why Did I Get Married?
FINAL RATING: 4.5/10
NEXT:
Murder Death Koreatown

Olympic Dreams


Olympic gold.

(2019) Romantic Comedy (IFC) Nick Kroll, Alexi Pappas, Gus Kenworthy, Morgan Schild. Directed by Jeremy Teicher

 

Sometimes, less is more.

Armed with a minimal crew and a largely improvised script (that never feels it), Teicher, co-writer Pappas and a small cast were granted extraordinary access to the Olympic village at the 2018 PyeongChang winter games. While the backstage pass is half the fun here, it is not all of it.

Penelope (Pappas, who was an Olympic runner at the 2016 Rio games in real life) is a cross-country skier on the American team who approaches the opening ceremony of the Games with a mixture of childlike wonder and deer-in-the-headlights fear. Her event will be one of the very first of the games so she doesn’t have a whole lot of time to take it all in. She does her best – gets a personal best time, as a matter of fact, but as is sometimes the case, her best isn’t good enough. She finishes out of the medal competition.

She’s left with a whole lot of time and not much to do. On the other hand, Ezra (Kroll) is a volunteer dentist, an Olympic junkie who has waited for this moment for his entire life. He loves chatting with the athletes and sees that Penelope is a bit down in the dumps, so he approaches her. Eventually the two form a friendship and while both are a bit awkward – Penelope’s training precluded any sort of social life, while Ezra is hampered by a fiancée back at home that he is taking an unwilling break from – they circle each other, unsure of what move to make next.

All this takes place amid the pomp and pageantry of the Games and on “dates” in PyeongChang itself. Teicher, who did most of the filming and sound recording himself, manages to capture a kind of rom-com sweetness that transcends the location which is quite a feat. Kroll and Pappas have real chemistry together and we get a real sense of what Penelope is going through, a kind of “What now?” moment that she doesn’t have an easy answer for. She is alone in a crowded room, not possessed of the self-confidence some of the other athletes have, and her isolation is often palpable. She has no friends and makes tearful calls to her coach at home, exclaiming on what a great time she’s having while it’s clear she is hurting.

Ezra, likewise, is finding it harder than he thought. He is not happy with his life and suspects that his fiancée might not be the right woman for him – he loves to travel and she hates leaving the States. Still, he is not a man who likes to take chances – he’s a dentist fer chrissakes – who yearns to step out of the rut he’s in but is unsure if he has it in him to do so.

In a very real sense they are good for each other, but like most real people they are also bad for each other. The two fight – over his inability to take a chance, over her self-centered devotion to her sport – and one wonders what kind of future the two could possibly have. In addition, there’s an age factor – he’s 37, she’s 22 – which isn’t belabored in the film but is clearly on Ezra’s mind.

The ending kind of gets to a point that you think it’s going to go but it doesn’t get there the way you thought it might. You at times want to shake Ezra and tell him “WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU? KISS THE GIRL, DAMMIT!” and at the same time you want to shake Penelope and tell him “WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU? YOU’RE COMING ON TOO STRONG!!” The script does follow kind of a standard rom-com formula and like I said it doesn’t always go about it in the way you’d expect, but those who love this much-abused genre are going to enjoy this. It’s even appropriate that it came out on Valentine’s Day. Not a bad way to spend a cold night with your honey, in front of a TV set with a warm blanket, hot cocoa and this film. There is nothing wrong with having the cockles of your heart warmed, after all.

REASONS TO SEE: There is a lot of charm here.
REASONS TO AVOID: There is also a few rom-com tropes.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and some sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film that was allowed to shoot in the Olympic village during an Olympic games.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: AppleTV, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/14/20: Rotten Tomatoes:63% positive reviews: Metacritic: 56/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Cutting Edge
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Beautiful Boy

Crazy Rich Asians


Love, Singaporean style.

(2018) Romantic Comedy (Warner BrothersConstance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Harry Shum Jr., Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remy Hii, Nico Santos, Jing Lusi, Carmen Soo, Pierre Png, Fiona Xie, Victoria Loke, Janice Koh, Amy J. Cheng. Directed by Jon M. Chu

Fairy tales are powerful things. Doesn’t every little girl want to marry the prince and go riding off into the sunset together, preferably in the direction of a beautiful castle? Trust me, men have their fairy tales as well but we won’t get into those here.

Rachel Chu (Wu) is an economics professor at NYU and she’s been dating handsome Nick Young (Golding), a fellow academic, for more than a year. She’s headed to Singapore with him to attend his cousin (and best friend’s) wedding. When they get first class tickets on the airplane, she asks him how wealthy his family is. “We’re comfortable,” he says modestly. Yeah, they’re comfortable in the same way that Bill Gates is comfortable.

Nick’s mom (Yeoh), the imperious matriarch of the family, is none too pleased to see Rachel who even though her son is crazy about her is still nonetheless not even close to the kind of match that she had in mind for her son. Rachel will have to navigate the sometimes-treacherous waters of Nick’s family, aided by her college bestie Peik Lin (Awkwafina), if she is going to keep the man she loves.

America loves its rich folks and that helps the movie out a great deal. The fact that this is a largely Asian-American cast and crew is a big deal, and the movie gives us some insight into Chinese (primarily) culture and customs, and those are some of the more endearing moments of the film.

I can’t say enough about Constance Wu, one of the stars of Fresh Off the Boat. She has tons of charisma and likability; she has a big future ahead of her and not only as a romantic leading lady. She has the kind of presence that Awkwafina (who would break out this year in The Farewell) has, but with a touch more self-assuredness. Golding also has a ton of leading man appeal.

Although there are a few rom-com tropes here, they don’t necessarily get in the way of the enjoyment of this movie. After an over-profusion of the genre over the last 20 years, romantic comedies have fallen somewhat out of favor. With a fresh take on them as this one has and particularly after the kind of success it enjoyed (the highest box office for any romantic comedy in more than a decade), you can bet we’ll be seeing more of them in the near future. If they’re this good, I wouldn’t mind at all.

REASONS TO SEE: Constance Wu is a find. Culturally informative. Escapes most rom-com clichés.
REASONS TO AVOID: Sends some mixed messages about the institution of marriage.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexually suggestive content and a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Netflix offered to produce the movie at a substantially larger budget, but producer Kevin Kwan felt that it was important to prove to the studios that Asian-American movies were commercially viable. Netflix ended up producing Always Be My Maybe instead.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft,  Movies Anywhere, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/7/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews: Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pretty Woman
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
A.X.L.

Always Be My Maybe (2019)


A perfect example of Keanu-worship.

(2019) Romantic Comedy (NetflixAli Wong, Randall Park, James Saito, Michelle Buteau, Vivian Bang, Keanu Reeves, Daniel Dae Kim, Susan Park, Karan Soni, Charlyne Yi, Lyrics Born, Casey Wilson, Miya Cech, Emerson Min, Ashley Liao, Jackson Geach, Anaiyah Bernier, Raymond Ma, Peggy Lu, Simon Chin, Panta Mosteh, Karen Holness. Directed by Nahnatchka Khan

 

After a glut of romantic comedies in the last two decades, the big screen has taken a break from making them, largely because most of the rom-coms that came out over that time were essentially cookie cutter images of each other with little new to recommend them. In the last year, Netflix has attempted to fill the gap with varying results.

Sasha Tran (Wong) is an L.A.-based celebrity chef who is opening up a new restaurant in San Francisco where she grew up. Back then, her best friend was Marcus Kim (R. Park) who she lost her virginity to back in the day – in a Toyota Corolla no less. She employs Marcus’ dad (Saito) to install her HVAC system and as it turns out, Marcus still works for his Dad. As it also turns out, Marcus still plays in the same band he did in high school, still lives with his dad and still drives the same Toyota Corolla (which if I were Sasha might make me a little queasy).

The two drifted apart over the years and are both currently seeing other people, but the sparks are still there. Are the two condemned to each other’s Friendzone or will those sparks ignite the flames that have always been just beneath the surface?

Wong and Park, who both co-starred in the sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, co-wrote the movie with Michel Golamco and there are moments when their natural comic talents shine through but the movie is also riddled with rom-com clichés that sabotage their best intentions. The chemistry between Wong and Park is surprisingly weak and one feels that Sasha and Marcus would be better off as friends, so the rooting interest for a successful romance is out the window. Still, a strange but glorious cameo by Reeves playing a parody of himself, and Park’s strange but funny raps keep the movie from being a total waste. Rom-com fans without high standards will doubtlessly eat this up, particularly if they loved last summer’s Crazy Rich Asians which is a far superior movie but certainly had a hand in getting this greenlit.

REASONS TO SEE: There are some truly hilarious moments.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit on the cliché side.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexual content, profanity, brief drug use and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While in the film Randall Park and Ali Wong are childhood friends who are roughly the same age, in reality Park is eight years older than Wong and he founded the theater troupe at UCLA that she later joined.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/6/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 90% positive reviews: Metacritic: 64/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Crazy Rich Asians
FINAL RATING; 6/10
NEXT:
The Chambermaid

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

Gloria Bell


Gloria Bell’s life is in a whirl.

(2018) Romantic Comedy (A24) Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera, Brad Garrett, Holland Taylor, Rita Wilson, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Sean Astin, Chis Mulkey, Caren Pistorius, Cassi Thompson, Tyson Ritter, Barbara Sukowa, Jenica Bergere, Sandra Rosko, Sonia Gascón, Aileen Burdock, Janet Sherkow, Ari Schneider, Cristobal Tapia Montt, John Luder, Jennie Fahn. Directed by Sebastián Lelio

 

Laura Branigan’s 80s pop hit “Gloria” despite its sprightly synthesizers, upbeat melody and delicious pop hooks is not a happy song: “Gloria, don’t you think you’re fallin’/If everybody wants you, why isn’t anybody callin’?” Gloria is a lonely and desperate lady; such is the fate for Gloria Bell.

Gloria (Moore) has been divorced for several years, an amicable parting that has left her alone (husband Dustin (Garrett) is remarried to Fiona (Tripplehorn) and Gloria is friends with both of them) but not ostensibly lonely. She works as an insurance claims adjuster/mediator and at night hangs out in clubs where she can dance to the pop hits of her youth. It is on one of those nights that she meets Arnold (Turturro) who is recently divorced.

Arnold is a gentle and loving man and Gloria dares to hope that he might be someone she can commit to. However, Arnold soon begins to show some character flaws; he is still tethered to his ex-wife and unemployed adult daughters both as a provider and as an emotional punching bag. Arnold turns out to be something of a weakling and at times chooses the path of least resistance rather than standing up for what he truly wants out of life. He is a man crushed by the weight of his perceived obligations. Can Gloria have a future with a man like that?

In a year where women as filmmakers are becoming more visible, so are stories that put women front and center and this one has much to recommend it. First and foremost is Julianne Moore; she is an actress who I (and I’m not alone on this) consider essential. Nearly every performance she gives is a clinic and this one is one of her best in recent years, including her Oscar-winning role in Still Alice. There are plenty of critics who say that her performance here exceeds those of the nominees for Best Actress at the most recent Academy Awards but like them, I’m skeptical that her performance in March will be remembered when nominations are being considered in January of next year. Moore brings a kind of inner light to the character that makes her excessively attractive.

Turturro also brings some humanity to a role of a feckless loser, making the character almost sympathetic despite some of the spiteful and spineless things he does, although to be fair Gloria herself doesn’t always make the best decisions; the occasion of a birthday party for her bitter and somewhat mean-spirited son (Cera) leaves Dustin feeling ignored and unwanted which isn’t much of a stretch for him who has self-image issues to begin with. I liked the performance but I can see where the character might make it hard for some audiences to relate to him.

In fact, most everybody n the movie is flawed in some way and Gloria herself as I mentioned is known to make decisions thee and me would consider questionable. She is big-hearted however and perhaps a little more optimistic (Da Queen thought “hopeful” would be a better word here but you draw your own conclusions) which leaves her open to be hurt. As together as she often seems, she is at the heart of things extremely vulnerable.

Lelio makes the clever move of using the soundtrack – which is wonderful by the way – reflect Gloria’s mood at the moment. When she is hurt, we hear Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” When she feels hopeful that her relationship with Arnold is becoming something real, we hear Paul McCartney’s “No More Lonely Nights.” At the birthday party we hear the whole family singing Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” which displays her feeling of isolation. Olivia Newton-John’s “A Little More Love” is an early melancholy moment. Moore sings along with many of the songs here – off-key on most of them.

Gloria is the kind of character that life can’t get down for long as the ending clearly shows. There is an element of triumph despite the setbacks that she suffers and while some critics have complained that there is no growth in the character over the course of the film, I disagree; the character manages to stand tall despite having her heart broken and that can’t be discounted. In any case, how much growth do you expect from a 50-something character? It’s not that someone that age can’t change, it’s that those changes are often subtle and seemingly insignificant.

I found the movie incredibly charming and occasionally moving and it’s largely due to Moore’s scintillating performance. I suspect a lot of the movie-going public is going to give this a miss because we’ve become conditioned to big blockbusters and movies with big emotional pay-offs. You don’t get either of those elements here but this is nonetheless a satisfying movie-going experience you deserve not to cheat yourself out of.

REASONS TO SEE: Moore remains an essential actress. The soundtrack is excellent, reflecting Gloria’s on-screen moods.
REASONS TO AVOID: Turturro is a great actor but his character here will drive you crazy.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sexuality, some nudity, a fair amount of profanity and some brief drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is an English-language remake of Lelio’s 2013 film Gloria.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/2/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews: Metacritic: 80/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: All About Eve
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Hurley

Book Club


In any decade, nobody parties like Candice Bergen.

(2018) Romantic Comedy (Paramount) Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Don Johnson, Ed Begley Jr., Richard Dreyfuss, Wallace Shawn, Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton, Mircea Monroe, Tommy Dewey, John Shartzer, Ravi Kapoor, Lili Bordán, Marisa Chen Moller, Amanda Martin. Directed by Bill Holderman

 

Four literate ladies have been friends for ages and have seen the curvature of their lives move towards the downward slope. One of the hallmarks of their friendship is their regular book club meetings in which the four women read a book and then discuss it the following week. The membership includes Vivian (Fonda) the somewhat oversexed owner of a boutique luxury hotel chain; Sharon (Bergen), a divorced judge who is notoriously career-driven; Diane (Keaton), a recent widow whose bossy daughters (Silverstone and Aselton interchangeably) want her to move to Scottsdale into a basement apartment even though she’s perfectly happy and capable of supporting herself in Los Angeles and finally restaurateur Carol (Steenburgen) whose husband (Nelson) has been notably absent in the bedroom of late – corresponding with his retirement. The reading of Fifty Shades of Grey inspires them to ramp up their love lives.

This is one of those films that perpetuates the myth that senior sexuality is at best cute and at worst a colossal punchline to a bad joke. Being that I’m climbing towards those rarefied age climes, perhaps I’m a little more sensitive to that sort of thing but with modern medicine allowing us to live longer than we used to, sex drives are correspondingly lasting well into our sixties and seventies, sometimes even into our eighties. While there may be those who still giggle at the thought of Granny and Grampy getting busy, it’s not realistic anymore to expect that they don’t.

At least Holderman, a veteran producer making his directing debut, doesn’t waste the talents of his cast. All of these pros deliver performances that range from strong to terrific. Bergen in particular brought to mind past glories as we’re reminded watching her that there has never been another Murphy Brown and there likely never will be.

The film suffers from having too many characters and not enough backstory; I would have been much happier with fewer but better developed characters in the mix. Still, I’m glad that these ladies are still drawing a paycheck and I would love to see much more of them, albeit in better films than this one. At least it has a killer soundtrack going for it.

REASONS TO SEE: The great cast also gets a great soundtrack.
REASONS TO AVOID: The myth that senior citizens having a sexual life is ridiculous is perpetuated here.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity including sexual references as well as other sex-related content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bergen, Fonda and Keaton all dated Warren Beatty at one time or another.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/12/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews: Metacritic: 53/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Boynton Beach Club
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Patient 001