David Brent: Life on the Road


David Brent is his own biggest fan.

(2016) Comedy (Netflix) Ricky Gervais, Ben Bailey “Doc Brown” Smith, Jo Hartley, Tom Basden, Mandeep Dhillon, Abbie Murphy, Andrew Brooke, Tom Bennett, Rebecca Gethings, Andy Burrows, Stuart Wilkinson, Steve Clarke, Michael Clarke, Nina Sosanya, Stacha Hicks, Kevin Bishop, Alexander Arnold, Dermot Keaney, Diane Morgan. Directed by Ricky Gervais

 

Most Americans are aware of the version of the sitcom The Office that starred Steve Carell and a fair amount of them are probably aware that it was based on a British version starring Ricky Gervais. Much fewer of the American audience have probably ever seen any of the British episodes and fewer still will likely have enjoyed it; certainly it is an acquired taste and although it shares many attributes with the American version, the two are quite different.

David Brent (Gervais) was the boss in The Office but he’s fallen on hard times. He works as a salesman of toilet cleaning products for a company called Lavichem and although he turns a somewhat upbeat face to it, one can tell that he is not satisfied at all with the way things have turned out. He’s bullied mercilessly by fellow salesman Jezza (Brooke) and is often the subject of serious conversations with HR manager Miriam Clark (Gethings).

He isn’t without admirers though, like Nigel (Bennett) who looks up to him as a comic mentor, or hopelessly besotted Pauline (Hartley) and the sweet receptionist Karen (Dhillon).  Still, Brent can’t help but feel as if his destiny is passing him by and that destiny is to be – a rock star. So, he assembles a second version of his original band Foregone Conclusion (which includes We are Scientists drummer Andy Burrows) and taking unpaid leave from Lavichem hits the road to do ten dates in the Midlands….all within a few hours’ drive of his flat in London. Along for the unwilling ride is Dom Johnson (Brown), a fairly talented rapper whom David brings along for the street cred he miserably lacks and whom David generally refuses to allow to perform except to use David’s abhorrent lyrics. Cashing out his pension, David undergoes financing the entire tour himself, much to the concern of sound engineer/road manager Andy Chapman (Chapman).

David’s tendency is to blurt out whatever comes to mind without first passing it through a filter, following it with a sort of strangled giggle as if to say “Oh dear, what have I gone and said now?” as a kind of embarrassed signature. He stops conversations dead with his pronouncements and off-the-wall observations that betray sexism and bigotry that most people have the good sense to keep to themselves if they possess those tendencies at all.

True to form, he alienates everyone in his band to the point where they force him not to join them on the tour bus he rented but to follow in his own car behind it. They refuse to dress with him, forcing him to have his own dressing room. The songs that he writes for them to play are pretty awful and the band is humiliated at gig after gig; the only saving grace is that nobody is showing up at them and those that do are drawn out of curiosity to Brent’s quasi-fame (the film treats The Office as a documentary which of course it was made to resemble) and most leave well before the gig is over.

Against all odds, one ends up feeling a kind of sympathy for Brent. He’s the guy who doesn’t realize that he is the joke and nobody is laughing. Still, he soldiers on either because he’s oblivious or refuses to let it get him down. There is a kind of nobility in that which is fascinating, because believe me Brent says some of the vilest things. There is a whole sequence around the “N” word that takes uncomfortable to new levels.

This is a comedy of awkward silences. There is no laugh track and no incidental music, just like the sitcom. The silence serves to make the audience feel more and more uncomfortable which I suppose is a form of humor. In its time it was innovative although it seems a bit dated now. The problem is that the movie doesn’t really add anything to what’s already out there; although Gervais has gone to great pains to distance this project from The Office, his presence essentially makes the sitcom the elephant in the room by default. That begs the question; why did this film need to get made? Some fans will just be happy to see Brent back in the saddle but others will need more than that.

In general, those who adored the British version of The Office will likely enjoy this or at least be interested in checking it out. Those who found the show puzzling will likely not find any insights here that will change their minds. It’s definitely an acquired taste and those who have not yet acquired it should probably give this a miss. Otherwise, those who have might find something here worth ingesting although they likely won’t find it as good as the original.

REASONS TO GO: Gervais actually manages to make Brent somewhat sympathetic. Fans of the British Office will find this right up their alley.
REASONS TO STAY: It’s a very acquired taste, just like the original The Office. It’s an hour and 36 minutes of awkward.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, sexual innuendo and drug humor.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although David Brent is depicted driving a car on numerous occasions in the film, Ricky Gervais actually doesn’t know how to drive.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/22/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 61% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Office (BBC Version)
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Burning Sands

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Brief Interviews with Hideous Men


Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Julianne Nicholson discovers that if you get a few glasses of wine in him, Timothy Hutton will begin to loosen up with the Ordinary People stories.

(2009) Comedy (IFC) Julianne Nicholson, Will Forte, Timothy Hutton, Dominic Cooper, Bobby Cannavale, John Krasinski, Christopher Meloni, Denis O’Hare, Max Minghella, Lou Taylor Pucci, Josh Charles, Frankie Faison. Directed by John Krasinski

What do men really want? Why, any woman knows the answer to that – it’s sex and lots of it, in some cases the kind most humiliating and degrading to the woman possible. But how accurate is that portrayal?

Apparently right down to the bone, according to this adaptation of a collection of short stories by the late David Foster Wallace of the same name. In those stories, the questions are asked by an anonymous interviewer just denoted by a Q and a colon. Here, a character is created to be the interviewer; Sara Quinn (Nicholson), a low-key cropped-haired gamine who sits down a group of men in front of a pitcher of water and a tape recorder and asks them a variety of questions. These interviewees are rarely given names, only numbers. They rarely have anything nice to say. She does all this for a post-graduate thesis for pompous Professor Adams (Hutton).

Not everything here is a formal interview. Some of the vignettes are snippets of overheard conversations, or Adams pontificating on whatever. The last is Sara’s ex-boyfriend Ryan (Krasinski) who had dumped her without explanation, leading her to this graduate project. When she at last gets to question him as to why he would hurt her in that way, the answers are far less than forthcoming and far more than humiliating.

Krasinski, better known as Jim in “The Office,” chose a very difficult first project for himself and to his credit doesn’t become lost in it, although the movie does meander a little bit in the final third. Still, he has an excellent sense for casting as the impressive cast often delivers spot-on performances. Along with Hutton, Faison plays the son of a washroom attendant who worked a demeaning job for decades in a hotel he wouldn’t be allowed o stay in. He narrates his story with a mixture of disappointment, shame, and respect. Meloni (from “Law and Order: SVU”) and O’Hare discuss a rather tragic event while waiting in a train station and both are as good as anyone else in the movie, particularly Meloni who is both caustic and sympathetic at once.

The movie has been criticized for lack of a unifying thread but I disagree with that assessment. I do think all the stories are related in more than just a general way; they have to do with the self-image of men and their insecurities that lead them to treat women so poorly. While at times this seems to be a rant against the male species in general, I chose to take it as simply the viewpoint of those who are mystified by the cruelty and arrogance of men and who have yet to find men with better qualities, at least in men that are available to them.

My problem with the movie is that while Nicholson is usually a fine actress, here she is emotionally cut off, so wounded is she from being dumped by a boyfriend that she is frankly well rid of. She kind of floats in and out of the movie, carrying absolutely no inertia which in turn gives the movie a strangely languid quality that I found somewhat unpleasant.

However, Krasinski chose to retain much of Wallace’s terrific dialogue in the movie, utilizing the novelist’s style as much as possible when he couldn’t quote directly. It is one of the movie’s best qualities, and given the fine actors who he recruited to recite that dialogue, makes for a movie that stimulates the mind as much as the libido.

I’m not sure you’ll get any further insight into men by watching this, but you might get a few explanations about our behavior here and there. It is an oversimplification to say that men are all about sex; that aspect is more of a symptom than the disease. However, that men are capable of wanton cruelty is certainly not a surprise. What is surprising is that neither Wallace nor Krasinski could find anything or anyone redeeming in the gender to act as a counterbalance.

WHY RENT THIS: Some of the vignettes particularly that between Meloni and O’Hare and a late monologue by Faison are brilliant. The dialogue is well-written and the impressive cast delivers in most cases.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sometimes the movie feels a little aimless. Nicholson is bland and too expressionless.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a surfeit of sexual innuendo and conversation as well as some foul language of the non-sexual sort. The overall theme and situations are not for children in the least.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In Professor Adams’s office there is a pile of books, the top one of which is David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest.” Wallace also wrote the book this is based on.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $33,745 on an unreported budget; the theatrical release lost money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Bonneville

It’s Complicated


It's Complicated

It's just a little history repeating...

(Universal) Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, Lake Bell, Mary Kay Place, Rita Wilson, Alexandra Wentworth, Hunter Parrish, Zoe Kazan, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Emjay Anthony, Nora Dunn, Bruce Altman. Directed by Nancy Meyers

Life after divorce can be difficult. So can life after fifty. For a fifty-year-old divorced woman, creating an identity for yourself separate from the one created as a married woman can be an ongoing process.

Jane Adler (Streep) is a successful Santa Barbara bakery owner whose twenty-year marriage to her husband Jake (Baldwin) had ended ten years previously when he cheated on her. Jake wound up marrying Agness (Bell), the younger woman he’d cheated with and inheriting her son Pedro (Anthony), quite possibly the only five-year-old boy Marlo Thomas would punch in the face.

But Jane’s okay, having finally figured out how to live as a divorced woman. She has three adult children – Gabby (Kazan) who is the last to leave the house, Luke (Parrish) who has just graduated from college and Lauren (Fitzgerald) who is engaged to her boyfriend Harley (Krasinski) who has been accepted as “one of the family” already.

Through a convoluted set of circumstances, Jake and Jane wind up in a bar alone together and wind up drinking a lot of wine, do some dancing and end up in the sack. Jane is mortified at first but the attraction between her and Jake is undeniable. For his part, he has never really fallen out of love with his ex-life, especially since the marriage to his hormone-suffused new wife hasn’t turned out the way he thought it would.

Jane is very conflicted about her relationship with her ex, having become the other woman. Further muddying the waters is her architect Adam (Martin), a very nice guy who is helping her with a new addition to her rambling mansion overlooking the Pacific and to whom she has become seriously attracted to. She’s torn between her established relationship, which she isn’t sure is completely over, and the new one, which may hold the promise of something long-term.

Director Nancy Meyers has already explored middle-aged female sexuality in films like Something’s Gotta Give but she gets into the physical sexuality a little more here. Meyers, who also wrote and produced the movie, is becoming one of the more successful women in Tinseltown where female directors are rare.

Here, she has a great cast to work with and they deliver. Streep usually doesn’t play sexual, but she does it magnificently here. She’s a woman who is comfortable in her own skin, which is where her sexiness stems from. She is also not without her self-doubts, however, particularly about the rightness of her actions. Much of the movie revolves around her inner conflict about her relationship with Jake. She is used to be the one sacrificing for her husband and her kids; here she is doing something clearly for her own benefit and its something she’s not used to and not really comfortable with. That makes her pretty much every woman.

Baldwin has shown in “30 Rock” that he is a comic actor to be reckoned with and he continues his fine work here. His Jake is narcissistic, and prone to swaying in whatever direction the breeze is blowing. Like Streep’s Jane, you find yourself not able to really despise Baldwin’s Jake despite his objectionable actions.  

While Steve Martin can play the nice guy in his sleep, he gets to let loose a little bit during a scene at a party where he and Jane get stoned. There, he reminds you that he is one of the best comic actors in the business and has been for 30 years. This is one of his best performances in recent memory.

One note about John Krasinski. Most of you have probably only seen him in “The Office” if at all, but he does exceptionally well here as the future son-in-law who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and possessing of too much information about everything. He is likable and funny; he could well be the next breakout comedy star to emerge from television.

There is much implied nudity here (although no genitalia – female or male – are shown explicitly) and quite frankly, these aren’t the hardbodies that you usually see in intimate scenes. Still, that’s one of the things I liked about the movie – it’s not about hotties copulating but more like real people. While seeing Baldwin’s hairy, pudgy physique (or Streep’s pasty white skin) may not do anything for you, they are more like the people you would actually hook up with were you out there hooking up.

At the heart of the movie there is sweetness, enough that Da Queen took a bigger liking to this movie than I did. It also doesn’t end necessarily the way you’d think it would or even hope it does. Think of this as a romantic comedy that most of us can relate to, even if the circumstances that it depicts are far more complicated a situation than most of us will ever find ourselves in. In any case, those of you not willing to wait in line for Avatar or not inclined to see it at all might consider this an alternative for your holiday moviegoing.

REASONS TO GO: The script is deft and funny. Streep, Baldwin, Martin and Krasinski deliver the goods, acting-wise.

REASONS TO STAY: I’m not sure I needed to see Alec Baldwin nude, even with his vitals covered.

FAMILY VALUES: Some sexuality and drug use. You may want to think twice before allowing smaller children to see this.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Martin previously worked with Meyers on the Father of the Bride movies.

HOME OR THEATER: As with most romantic comedies, a big screen is not an absolute necessity.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Akeelah and the Bee

The Hangover


The Hangover

Zach Galafianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms suffer the effects of The Hangover.

(Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Heather Graham, Justin Bartha, Sasha Barese, Jeffrey Tambor, Ken Jeong, Rachel Harris, Mike Tyson, Mike Epps, Jernard Brooks, Rob Riggle. Directed by Todd Phillips.

The bachelor party is an ages-old tradition, a rite of passage in which single men transition from being men to being grooms. It’s the last hurrah for close friends as they lose one of their own to marriage, bidding goodbye forever to his independence and his cojones.

Such is the situation for Doug Billings (Bartha), whose groomsmen plan on taking him to Vegas for a night to remember. Phil Wenneck (Cooper) is the irresponsible one, married and missing the life of a single alpha male. He hopes to reclaim that, at least for one night. Stu Price (Helms) is a henpecked dentist, mortally afraid of his girlfriend (Harris) who is a world-class bitch, but he’s determined to propose to her at the wedding anyway – with his grandmother’s engagement ring, no less. Along for the ride is Alan (Galifianakis), the obese brother of the bride who has a thing about recreational drug use and gambling.

The quartet raise a glass of Jagermeister on the roof of Caesar’s Palace, then head out for a night of debauchery. When they wake up in their hotel room the next morning, they find it completely trashed. They have absolutely no memory of what occurred the night before. Stu is missing a tooth and wearing a wedding ring. The groom-to-be is nowhere in sight, and there’s a tiger in their bathroom. And where did that baby come from?

The boys have a limited amount of time to piece together what happened during their lost night and find the missing groom so they can get him to the wedding on time. Along the way they have to dodge a diminutive Chinese gangster (Jeong) with a real rude streak, two dim-witted but sadistic cops and Mike Tyson, owner of the tiger in question. Time and the odds are against them, but this is Vegas and anything can happen.

Director Phillips (Old School) and writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) have hit a home run. This is one of the best-written comedies in years. Nearly every situation is funny as is most of the dialogue. Phillips has cast an excellent ensemble, mostly from television, and is rewarded with some career-making performances, starting with Galifianakis, who resembled John Belushi physically, but has a personality all his own. He will be catapulted into a stratum with guys like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Jason Segel – and who knows, maybe alongside guys like Steve Carrell and Jim Carrey.

This is also a career-making turn for Cooper, who shows potential as a leading man, and has since his turn in the TV series “Alias.” Here he finally fulfills that potential and makes good use of his considerable charm. The character of Phil could very easily descend into obnoxious cliché, but Cooper makes him believable. Helms rises above his work on “The Office” and shows that he has far more depth and range than most give him credit for.

I have always liked Heather Graham as a comedic actress since her appearance in the Austin Powers series, and she also shows remarkable range as well. The stripper with a heart of gold is a hoary cliché in the film industry, and Graham pulls it off without sinking to formula. Her Jade is a woman with dreams and hopes who has no reasonable chance to climb beyond where she is right now, and yet she still believes. There’s a little bit of poignancy to the role that the likable Graham is perfect for.

This is a movie that has flown beneath the radar, overshadowed by much higher-profile releases, and proves to be a pleasant surprise. The critical praise for the movie has been loud and well-deserved. To be fair, there are a few false steps that the movie takes, primarily in the character of the bitchy girlfriend who might have fit the film’s ethos a bit better if she had some redeeming quality. She’s there mainly to serve as a comic foil for Helms, who doesn’t actually need one here. And, quite frankly, this is a guy’s movie. A lot of women may not necessarily find this as funny or as clever as men do.

Still, any criticisms you might level at the movie have to be minor. I’m all for pleasant surprises and The Hangover is just that, a movie with a premise that in less capable hands could be just crudeness for the sake of being crude. Instead, we get a marvelous comedy that makes you laugh without asking you to leave your brain behind. Color me impressed.

REASONS TO GO: Breakout performances by Cooper, Helms and especially Galifianakis. A smartly-written comedy that relies on believable characters and outrageous situations for its humor.

REASONS TO STAY: Definitely a movie intended for men; some women may find it offensive and not funny.

FAMILY VALUES: There is nothing remotely suitable for family audiences.  

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The characters stay in room 2452, which adds up to 13, which is meant to be a theme for the bad luck the characters experience throughout the movie.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: On the 2-disc deluxe edition, there is an interactive Map of Destruction which details where the movie was filmed. There are also pictures taken by the missing camera (which has been heavily promoted in the advertising of the DVD). There is also a feature on actor Ken Jeong and how he developed his character.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Tsotsi