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Entries in Comedy (104)

Friday
Sep212012

Hello I Must Be Going

Hello I Must Be Going is so similar to this week’s other 35-dating-a-19-year-old dramedy, Liberal Arts, that it’s impossible not to notice or compare. Normally, when comparing two movies, one clearly outshines the other, yet Hello I Must Be Going is no better or worse, but it’s exactly as bland. Both films think they’re saying something more than they really are and despite all around solid performances, they fail to make an impact. If one must be chosen as superior, I suppose it would be Liberals Arts, if only because it’s funnier and a bit more heartfelt, but that in no way makes this movie bad. It would have been bad even without the comparison.

Amy (Melanie Lynskey), like so many mopey movie characters these days, is down on her luck. Her husband has just left her, shattering her happy existence, and she has moved back in with her parents, Stan (John Rubinstein) and Ruth (Blythe Danner). She’s been holed up in that house for months now and has had little interaction beyond her family. However, her lawyer father is hoping to nail a big client and is having him and his family over for dinner, so she is forced to doll up and put on a smile. That night, she meets Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), a 19 year old actor and son of the big client, and they instantly make a connection, sparking a secret, off-limits romance that, if discovered, could have serious repercussions for her future and her father’s business endeavors.

That’s the way the movie wants you to think about it at least. The reason the father wants to nail this client so badly is so he can retire, so the worst thing that could happen is that he’d have to wait a couple more years, though a late movie twist makes this reasoning moot anyway. As for Amy and Jeremy, they aren’t doing anything illegal or manipulative. They both clearly have feelings for each other—and as they say, love knows no age—so the consequences seem negligible at most. The stakes are never truly high, though they carry the guise of importance. This realization makes the movie feel aimless, unaware of where it wants to go and what it wants to say. It has the ingredients to make for interesting commentary, but, despite coming close to profundity a couple times, it mixes those ingredients into something most unsavory. It’s the cinematic equivalent of having something on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t find the words to create the meaning.

Similarly, the idea of having to be someone others want you to is forced into enough nooks and crannies of the film that the idea ends up becoming a self-parody. Jeremy, for instance, is pretending to be gay because his mother thinks he is. The why behind this decision is hardly explored, instead passed over by a quick throwaway line of dialogue, something about how it’s sometimes easier to be someone that others want you to be. Although not a bad theme, the character motivation doesn’t follow it through. Amy’s eventual maturation doesn’t come from support and understanding from those around her, or even from a realization that she deserves more than what life has given her, but from pressure from others to move on, to forget about the love of her life that dumped her and the second love of her life that is forbidden. She seems to move on by conforming to the ideas of others, not from her own desire to do so.

Hello I Must Be Going is a mess in search of a meaning. The performances are terrific and Lynskey, who is too often relegated to supporting roles, is finally given a chance to shine. She makes the most of it, even if her awards chances are slim, and she crafts a likable, sympathetic character whose charms manage to outweigh the whininess. But the movie as a whole is just there, trying really hard and not doing or saying much of anything. Even its contradicting title, one would assume, is meant to carry meaning, but it does little more than provide an easy zing for movie reviewers like myself. Frankly, it wasn’t long after saying hello that I was ready to get going.

Hello I Must Be Going receives 1.5/5

Friday
Sep072012

Bachelorette

This week’s limited release, Bachelorette, is bound to remind most viewers of Bridesmaids and The Hangover, two films with similar ideas and settings, but whereas those movies had charm, smarts, mystery and laughs, Bachelorette has none. The story centers on four best friends, Regan (Kirsten Dunst), Becky (Rebel Wilson), Gena (Lizzy Caplan) and Katie (Isla Fisher), who have all gathered together to celebrate Becky’s marriage and they’re the most appalling people you could possibly imagine. Aside from the relatively sweet and innocent Becky, these women are vile and ugly and they—supposed best friends—don’t evet treat other well, much less anyone else. The characters are too mean to be funny or likable and even at a brief 87 minutes, Bachelorette ends up being one of the biggest wastes of time of the year.

Shortly after the film begins, the four girls find themselves all together for the first time in a long time. Their way of reconnecting is to scold each other and bicker about events that happened many years ago. This early event is, believe it or not, the least unpleasant in the entire movie. Later, at the reception, Gena calls Becky out on her stint with bulimia in high school, which, if we’re putting a positive spin on things, was at least said to her face; most of the discussion that goes on about Becky is obscene, off-putting and behind her back, mostly directed towards her larger body type. Then, while on a drunken stupor, Regan, Gena and Katie rip her wedding dress while trying to fit two of them in it (because look how large it is!). It’s this event that puts them on a twilight adventure to fix the dress before the wedding the next morning and it’s a downward spiral from there.

The things these women say and do to each other and others are so despicable that they aren’t worthy of repeating here, but they aren’t the only awful characters. The men in the movie, spearheaded by Trevor, played by James Marsden, are just as bad. Early on, Trevor condones date raping Katie while she’s in a state of inability to consent, but not before heading to a local strip club seemingly for the sole purpose of demeaning the dancers. The only person that scrapes by unscathed is Joe, played by Kyle Bornheimer, who treats everyone as kind as can be and refuses to sleep with Katie, even as she (probably unknowingly) beckons him to do so. He’s the only person in the film with a conscience, but his presence comes off as contrived in a sea of such shamelessness, as if he was put there solely because the film needed someone who wasn’t a complete and utter ass.

No doubt some will call this a black comedy, where you would expect this type of behavior (it would be hard to justify liking it as anything else), but it’s not dark enough to be called such. Instead, it’s just incredibly mean-spirited. Seemingly the only time the characters don’t say something mean is when they’re too drunk or high to speak, which hardly qualifies them as upstanding individuals. Bachelorette comes off like a movie made for and by high school bullies, the pretty people who spoke down to others simply because of their quirky personalities or appearances.

Did I mention the film simply isn’t funny either? Of course, one wouldn’t expect it to be with characters as deplorable as this. Bachelorette is a wanna-be, a movie that tries so desperately to be like those aforementioned popular comedies, but mistakes cruelty for wit. It’s easily the most vicious movie of the year. To find amusement in it is to find amusement in hate.

Bachelorette receives 0.5/5

Friday
Aug312012

Sleepwalk with Me

It’s difficult not to think of FX’s “Louie” while watching Sleepwalk with Me. They don’t have much in common other than the fact that the main stars are real life comedians playing fictional versions of themselves, but it’s the novelty of seeing a stand-up comedian, who is most comfortable on a stage, act out a story and try to find meaning. Although certainly flawed, “Louie” does a pretty good job of that and manages to surprise with its smarts at every turn. Sleepwalk with Me isn’t quite up to its level. It’s a good movie, but at a mere 80 minutes (and that includes credits), it’s a little light on story and much of its desired meaning is lost.

The film stars Mike Birbiglia as Matt Pandamiglio, an aspiring stand-up comic who spends more time bartending than he does telling jokes. He’s in a relationship with Abby (Lauren Ambrose), whom he loves dearly, but nevertheless, he’s not ready to get married. The problem is she is. His sister’s impending marriage is only causing more eyes to turn his way with the hopes of him finally making the decision to settle down. These pressures cause his anxiety to spike and before he knows it, he’s sleepwalking to an extreme level, to the point where he could potentially harm himself or others.

Frankly, his whole sleepwalking predicament is beside the point. Aside from the obvious parallel between it and his drab existence, where the clichéd message of “look how some of us are sleepwalking through life” rears its ugly head, there isn’t much to it. It provides the occasional fit of laughter, like in an early scene where he starts kicking a laundry basket and yelling that there’s a jackal in his room, but for a device to be so central to the story, it’s surprisingly thin. With little writing experience other than his own stand-up routines, Birbiglia falls to the first-time-indie-writer problem. He thinks his movie is far more profound than it really is.

Even with this flaw, Birbiglia nevertheless manages to create likable characters that we care about, even if we don’t care about what they’re doing. Pandamiglio is your typical everyman. He’s relatable, but only because he’s common. He isn’t buff, successful or even particularly good looking, but neither is he scrawny, unsuccessful or ugly. He’s merely average, but he carries with him a passion most will be able to connect to and appreciate. Even his girlfriend, who is frustrated by his lack of commitment and becoming increasingly unhappy with their relationship, supports him in his comic endeavors, which are far more likely to fail than succeed. These are really interesting characters with complex personalities that are unfortunately coasting through a weak and inconsequential story.

Still, the movie does provide the occasional insight or emotional moment. One sequence in particular is simultaneously sweet and crushing as it flashes back to when Matt and Abby fell in love in the midst of a current relationship that is falling apart, but other transitions aren’t quite as seamless. Matt’s own metamorphosis from fledgling comedian to popular funnyman is rushed and unconvincing, as is his sudden attractiveness to the opposite sex, but I suppose at only 80 minutes, there isn’t much time for lollygagging. This short runtime also fails to allow enough time for Matt and Abby to be together (as Matt is out on the road for the majority of the movie), so what eventually happens to their relationship is both expected and narratively extraneous.

With so many structural problems and an ego that thinks it says more than it really does, Sleepwalk with Me is nothing more than a serviceable time waster. It succeeds (if only slightly) on a few decent laughs and the charm of its characters, but because it rarely gives them anything interesting to do, the film feels dull and lifeless. The final product from a stand-up comedian turned first time screenwriter and director could have been a lot worse, but Birbiglia will need to expand on his ideas next time if he hopes to succeed as something other than forgettable.

Sleepwalk with Me receives 3/5

Wednesday
Aug082012

Hope Springs

It’s not often movies aim at winning over the above 50 crowd. We have movies for children, adrenaline fueled young men, overemotional teenage girls and nearly everyone in between, but the older crowd is continually shafted when it comes to the movies. Where are the thoughtful, mature films starring older actors in a story about problems that detail the struggles they have to endure? They’re pretty rare, the last mainstream one I can think of coming in the form of 2009’s It’s Complicated starring Meryl Streep. This week’s latest, Hope Springs, which also coincidentally stars Meryl Streep, is more in line with that film than most that have come out in recent years. It’s for older folks, those who have lived a long enough life to know what real troubles are and what true love is. Being a male in my 20’s, I can’t say how well it captures such a life, but I can say we need more movies like it. Hope Springs is contemplative and deliberate, taking its time to tell its story in an age of fast action and frenetic edits. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s worth seeing.

Streep plays Kay, a housewife who is in a rut. Every day it’s the same routine. She wakes up, makes eggs and bacon for her husband, Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones), and has dinner ready when he arrives back home, which he eats before falling asleep in his La-Z-Boy watching the Golf Channel. She has become increasingly unhappy with her marriage since her kids moved out and she wants to fix it, so she books a flight to Maine where noted couples therapist Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) works. She has paid for a week’s worth of his consultation hoping it will save her marriage, but first she has to contend with her unwilling husband.

Despite inevitable comparisons to the aforementioned It’s Complicated (especially considering both are aiming for the same demographic), Hope Springs is quite different. It’s Complicated tried to spice things up a bit, shoehorning in internet lingo and references to MTV shows in a desperate attempt to be hip. In this regard, Hope Springs is more adult, even if it does sacrifice much of its energy and laughs in being so. This isn’t a movie about a woman who’s sleeping around and juggling multiple men like It’s Complicated. It’s about a woman who wants to reconnect with the one love of her life after having grown distant.

The film rightfully refuses to take sides, showing that Kay and Arnold have both been compliant in allowing their marriage to crumble and they both behave as you would expect. Kay wants to express her feelings while Arnold wants to keep them inside. He’s nervous about the whole situation and is embarrassed to talk about their sex life, something he considers to be deeply personal, with Dr. Feld, which could be any random person for all he cares. Throughout the film, Arnold complains about what they’re doing, using sarcasm and general meanness as a defense mechanism to hide his true fears about losing his wife, which is both the strongest and weakest aspect of the film. He and his wife are in a serious situation, one that threatens to destroy everything they know, but these one-liners and sarcastic quips are the central comedic aspect of the film. It’s hard to make the dialogue be both meaningful and humorous. Hope Springs never fully succeeds in doing so.

Still, their evolution is convincing. Even as Arnold slowly comes out of his shell, his reservations still show through. In time, he realizes he must do something if he wants his wife to stay with him, but he doesn’t know what. Neither character ever fully figures it out, but they change anyway in an attempt to make things better, which, in a sense, is really what love is all about. By the time it ends, Hope Springs has delved deeper into that topic than what many will expect. It’s profundity isn’t necessarily apparent as you’re watching it—perhaps our brains are more tuned to less grounded, Hollywood manufactured takes on love—but upon recollection, it shows its beautiful face.

Hope Springs receives 4/5

Friday
Jul272012

The Watch

The idea of a comedy centered on a neighborhood watch group isn’t a bad one. Some wild and unpredictable things can happen in a small town on a quiet night, but a premise alone is not enough to sustain a film. Despite a mostly likable cast of actors, this week’s newest film, The Watch, is hopelessly unfunny. It struggles to gain even the slightest bit of momentum, a strange problem in a movie that amps up the unpredictability by throwing invading aliens hell bent on destroying Earth into the mix. The film is only 98 minutes long, but it feels at least double that. It’s a waste of time and talent, both in front of and behind the camera (at least in terms of writing) and it’s sure to be one of the lamest and flattest comedies of the year.

Evan (Ben Stiller) is a nice guy. He’s active in his community and forms a number of groups to better it. He’s also the general manager of the local Costco, a job not many people would find fulfilling, but one that he adores with all his heart. He’s ever the optimist and loves those around him, but one night, his overnight security guard is murdered. Determined to get to the bottom of it, he forms a neighborhood watch with local thrill seekers Bob (Vince Vaughn), Franklin (Jonah Hill) and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade). They quickly discover that the murderer isn’t human, however, and that an alien race has landed on their planet that intends to wipe them out. Despite the danger, the men vow to stop that from happening.

The Watch does some things you expect and some things you don’t, but it does nearly all of them wrong. For example, in the film, Jonah Hill plays a toughened wanna-be cop, one that has no problem eyeing people down and whipping out his switchblade. He charges headfirst into battle unafraid of the consequences. This goes against our created perception of who this person is as an actor, but the problem is Hill can’t pull this type of roll off. He’s at his best when he’s vulnerable, nerdy and outspoken, not acting like he’s tougher than tough. Vaughn, on the other hand, essentially plays himself. He’s still obnoxious, crude and loud (does he really need to yell every line?) and he overpowers everyone else in the film, especially poor Richard Ayoade, who is given hardly a line to speak at all for the first half of the film and is mostly relegated to sitting their prettily while the rest of the cast plays off each other. Vaughn’s shtick has become tiresome, wearing out its welcome sometime around when the credits for Wedding Crashers ended. He hasn’t had a hit (or even a decent movie) in at least six years and there’s a reason for that. The man needs to switch things up a bit.

Vaughn needed to go against typecast and Hill needed to remain the same. This is just one example of the film having the right idea, but then ignoring it and doing the exact opposite. It correctly puts the group into some precarious situations, but it telegraphs them so far in advance that they’re hardly a surprise when they finally roll around. One of these scenes revolves around a new neighbor who acts suspiciously and may or may not be an alien, but his mannerisms are so sexual that what’s really going on in his basement is obvious. The late movie twist is similarly transparent, but it’s not its predictability that’s the problem; it’s that a certain character’s actions and motivations are called into question once it happens. There’s no real reason behind any of what happens. It just coasts along straining for jokes, never really grabbing any, and then it ends.

But it doesn’t end before a giant action scene so reminiscent of James Cameron’s 1986 sequel Aliens that I’m a little surprised it didn’t reference it. The only thing that separates this alien action scene from others is where the aliens’ weak spot is (I’ll give you one guess), but such immaturity is not inherently funny. After watching this dreck, you’d be surprised if anyone involved in its making has even heard the word “funny.” I’m so vehemently against this brain killing film that I have no qualms telling you to skip it, though the product placement is so egregious, it probably won’t matter. In what amounts to essentially a cinematic fellation of the wholesale store, Costco could have conceivably covered the film’s entire budget. It will most likely be a success, but nevertheless, comedies like this are not okay. Lazy, dull and stupid only begin to describe it. Most real life neighborhood watches are uneventful and boring, but it’s hard to imagine any are more boring than sitting through The Watch.

The Watch receives 0.5/5