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Entries in brave (2)

Wednesday
Dec192012

The Guilt Trip

The Guilt Trip is a movie that should speak to a great number of people. Similar to this year’s Brave, which told a story about the bond between a mother and daughter, the film is about a mother/son connection many of us take for granted. Even though many of us have grown up and moved on and occasionally don’t want anything to do with our mothers, that connection is forever binding and the love is unyielding. The Guilt Trip hits some right notes when exploring this bond, even making its sugary sweetness bearable, so the movie’s problem isn’t that it isn’t narratively interesting. The problem is that it just isn’t very funny. Pegged a comedy, The Guilt Trip’s jokes miss far more than they hit, which drags the surrounding tenderness of its story down to a point where it simply can’t be recommended.

Andrew Brewster (Seth Rogen) is an ex-employee of the Environmental Protection Agency. A chemistry whiz-kid, he has put all of his heart, soul and money into a product called “Scieoclean,” a science based cleaning product that is more effective than other retail cleaning products, but also devoid of any harmful chemicals, to the point where you could even drink it if you wanted to. He’s currently on a cross country road trip where he hopes to sell his product to some major retailers, but first, he goes to New York to see his mom, Joyce (Barbra Streisand). While there, he learns that he was actually named after his mother’s old lover, whom she still retained feelings for. His mom hasn’t gone on a date since his father died when he was eight, so Andrew tracks this man down and discovers that he lives and works in San Francisco. Despite his mother’s grating nature, he asks her to accompany him on his road trip, not revealing that his final “meeting” stop is actually her old lover’s place of work.

Right from the get-go, The Guilt Trip is a hard pill to swallow. Andrew comes off like an unappreciative son, someone who doesn’t necessarily realize how hard his mother must have worked to raise him after the death of his father. He does his best to avoid her and doesn’t even want to talk to her half the time. He’s been so caught up in the stress of what’s amounting to a failed business venture that his mother’s well-being hardly seems to cross his mind. When he finally decides to ask her to accompany him on his road trip, he actually gives her a very short time limit, mere seconds, to decide before pulling the offer off the table. It’s his last ditch effort to stop this trip from happening, yet we’re supposed to believe that he cares enough about her to track down her ex-lover and rekindle their flame? Any believability such a scenario has comes only if you twist it into a selfish motivation; after all, if Joyce is busy with a new (old?) man, she’ll leave Andrew alone.

The Guilt Trip doesn’t give a good first impression, but it thankfully gets better as it goes on. It’s an uphill battle it never really wins—if the peak is a recommendable movie, the film gets a few feet from it and collapses—but it does an admirable job of saving itself from what would have otherwise been an instant write-off. Despite her occasional annoyance, Joyce is energetic and loving, clearly caring more for her son than anything else in the world, as a mother should, and as past events in their lives surface forward, more layers behind these characters are revealed. They aren’t simple archetypes as the beginning suggests, but rather fully realized characters who appear to have lived full lives before the lights went down and we met them. From a screenwriting perspective, that’s a difficult thing to accomplish, especially from a start as lousy as the one here.

The reason The Guilt Trip never takes off, though, is because it’s weighed down by a serious lack of laughs. Through all the crazy exploits and quick one-liners, the film shows itself to be comedically shallow, rarely producing laughter, of which is slight when it actually does. Rogen, the dependable comic he usually is, is much more reserved here (because the script calls for it, to be fair). It’s instead Streisand who gets to go crazy, but, if the end credits ad-lib sequence is any indication, she isn’t very good at it. Perhaps allowing Rogen to summon his wackiness alongside Streisand would have hurt the balanced story, but it certainly would have provided more laughs. That surprisingly sweet tale about a son and mother who love each other, even though they don’t fully understand (and sometimes annoy) each other is the heart and soul of the movie; nearly all of its failures stem from its lack of laughs. If you’re a son or a mother with a son, you’re bound to find something to latch onto in The Guilt Trip, but everyone else will deem it a waste of time.

The Guilt Trip receives 2.5/5

Friday
Jun222012

Brave

It’s unreasonable to expect Pixar to put out an animated classic every year. To keep up a standard of excellence as good as Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3 would be near impossible and last year, the seemingly infallible studio had its first bust with Cars 2. The film, while fast paced and colorful, was missing the character relationships that were so strong in its predecessor. It was missing the emotion and the humanity (yes, there was humanity in those machines). For the first time, Pixar made a bad movie. It’s too early to tell if that was the beginning of the end of quality entertainment from the studio, but judging from their newest release, Brave, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Brave isn’t amazing and when compared to Pixar’s other 12 full length releases, it’s closer to the bottom than it is to the top, but at least it’s good and it offers some substance to complement its gorgeous visuals.

The film follows the young Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) as she approaches her betrothal. For her entire life, her mother, Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson), has prepared her for this moment, where young men from competing kingdoms will compete for her hand in marriage. The problem is Merida doesn’t want to get married. She wants to be free, able to ride the countryside on her horse and practice her archery as she sees fit. Prim and proper isn’t her way of approaching life, so to avoid marriage, she buys a spell from a witch in the nearby woods. The spell is meant to change her mother so she won’t feel it necessary to force Merida into marriage, but the spell instead changes her into a bear. This threatens her safety as her father, King Fergus (voiced by Billy Connolly), is an avid bear hunter and has been ever since a mysterious bear took his leg years ago. Furthermore, two sunrises from now, her mother will be changed forever, so she must hurry if she wishes to break the spell.

What was sorely missing so much in Cars 2 is central to Brave. This isn’t about dazzle; it’s about human relationships—more specifically, mother-daughter relationships—and the bond the two eternally have. It’s about listening and trying to understand each other even when you disagree. It’s a simple message to be sure, but it’s one that speaks to both children and parents that highlights the importance of love and understanding. The theme is presented perhaps a bit too on-the-nose, however, considering that after Queen Elinor is turned into a bear all she can do is listen. The movie doesn’t set up a scenario where the characters discuss how they feel about the situation. It instead thrusts them into a situation where one is forced to hear the other out. The script obviously had a thematic goal in mind, but it doesn’t seem to know how to get there without literal interpretations. The script is anything but subtle and as far as writing goes, when isolated from the movies they represent, Brave is one of Pixar’s weakest.

The writers don’t even take the time to map out a proper villain, instead throwing in another spellbound human in a similar situation as Queen Elinor to make things a bit more dangerous and further enforce its theme of mother-daughter love as forcefully as possible. Where they succeed is in the creation of Merida’s little brothers, identical triplets named Harris, Hubert and Hamish. They don’t speak a word the entire movie, but they’re easily the best characters in it. They’re energetic, mischievous and very funny and the antics they pull off, both for their own benefit and to help out their family, are endlessly amusing. Their rascally behavior usually means pranking others, which leads to enough slapstick to fill a Kevin James movie, but it’s harmless in its approach and provides the biggest laughs.

But the feeling of disappointment lingers on. A movie as good as this one would be a delight if coming from another studio, but Pixar is capable of so much more. Nevertheless, this is a step in the right direction. If Cars 2 was three steps back, Brave is two steps forward. It doesn’t come close to matching the brilliance of their best, but it’s also a far cry from mediocrity. Some people lost some faith in the studio last year and Brave won’t completely restore it, but it will give them cause for optimism that Pixar hasn’t lost their touch. They’re just saving it for something special.

Brave receives 3.5/5