DAYS OF THE BAGNOLD SUMMER (2021)

February 20, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. If most people realized how obnoxious they were as teenagers, we’d likely have far fewer folks opting to be parents. Actor-turned-director Simon Bird, in his first feature film, portrays the awkward, frustrating, and sometimes bitter relationship between a confused and directionless teenage boy and his divorced, well-meaning, single mom. The screenplay was written by Bird’s wife, Lisa Owens, and adapted from Joff Winterhart’s 2012 graphic novel.

Daniel (a terrific Earl Cave) is a 15 year old boy who is obsessed with heavy-metal music and resents pretty much everything else in life. He’s a droopy boy who can’t be bothered to shampoo his hair, and the only energy he expends is with snarky comments to his devoted mother, Sue (an outstanding Monica Dolan), who is clueless on how to connect with a son who bears little resemblance to the younger boy she fondly recalls raising. Sue is diligent with her work as a librarian, and tries to instill some ambition in Daniel by having his seek employment.

Daniel sinks into an even lower funk when the dad he worships cancels the boy’s much anticipated trip to Florida for a visit. Of course, Sue subtly points out that dear old dad may not be the best idol for her son, but those cautions fall on deaf ears. Instead, Daniel labels Sue, “the most boring person in the world”. Their time together is cringe-inducing, as Sue does her best to convince Daniel they can have fun, despite his disappointment.

The interesting aspect of the film is derived from its structure as a comedy, while the undercurrent of sadness and isolation is ever-present. Sue is thrilled when Douglas (Rob Brydon), a history teacher, asks her out on a date. At the same time, Daniel’s best (only?) friend Ky (Elliott Speller-Gillott) encourages him to pursue his dream as a front man for a local metal band … resulting in one of the film’s funniest and strangest segments. Neither Sue’s date, or the aftermath, nor Ky’s attempt to help his friend go according to plan.

Much of the soundtrack comes courtesy of Belle & Sebastian, and the uses of musical montages actually takes away from the otherwise realistic interactions between these characters. In addition to Brydon and Speller-Gillott, Alice Lowe has a welcome supporting role as Sue’s more socially-inclined sister, but this film belongs to Mr. Cave and Ms. Dolan. Most parents can relate to Sue’s challenges, and most adults who can be honest with themselves in retrospect, will likely recognize some of their own behavior in Daniel. The nuanced behavior and witty humor is handled well, and that deeper emotional level elevates the film for those who care to dig in.

Available in theatres, Virtual Cinema, and streaming platforms on February 19, 2021

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BLITHE SPIRIT (2021)

February 20, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. Contrary to what one might assume, bringing entertaining, silly slapstick comedy to the screen is actually quite difficult. This is director Edward Hall’s first feature film, as his career has been mostly in TV series work and on stage. That stage work is likely what attracted him to this long-time favorite from Noel Coward. Adding to the difficulty is that Coward’s work was previously brought to the screen by legendary director David Lean in 1945, in a project that featured Rex Harrison, Constance Cummings, Kay Hammond, and Margaret Rutherford. Lean’s film won an Oscar for Special Effects.

Director Hall is working with a script adapted from Coward’s play by Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard, and Nick Moorcroft. Rather than embrace the witty dialogue of a sophisticated upper class screwball comedy, this one seems committed to a level of silliness that intentionally overshadows the supernatural story line. It’s 1937 England where we first meet crime novelist Charles Condomine (Dan Stevens) in an angry, whisky-laced state of writer’s block. He’s trying to adapt his own novel into his first screenplay, and the pressure is mounting since the movie’s Producer is also his father-in-law. Charles’ second wife Ruth (Isla Fisher) enjoys her life of luxury and can’t understand why her successful husband can’t do it (in more ways than one).

Date night at the theatre inspires Charles to invite the spiritualist medium Madame Arcati (Judi Dench) to their house to conduct a séance. This despite Madame Arcati being exposed as a fraud. He’s simply desperate to break his writer’s block. The story takes a turn when the séance conjures Charles’ first wife Elvira (Leslie Mann). However, he’s the only one who can see her, and neither Elvira nor Ruth are pleased with the presence of the other. On the bright side, Elvira assists Charles with his writing – it turns out she was long his muse (and maybe more).

Leslie Mann and Isla Fisher are two of the most talented comic actresses working today, but even they can’t save this nonsensical barrage of motion. Judi Dench is an Oscar winner, and at 86 years old, she still excels at working a scene. On the other end of the spectrum, Mr. Stevens has neither the charm nor the comedic chops to pull off the Charles character as written. And it does seem the script, and the approach to the material, is what turns this into a vacuous affair, seemingly devoid of any cleverness save what the trio of talented actresses deliver. There are plenty of movies that deal with life after death in various ways, but whether serious or farcical, the best are entertaining. Unfortunately, this one has little to offer, and actually turns from not very funny to downright mean by the end.

Opening in theaters and VOD on February 19, 2021

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BEFORE/DURING/AFTER (2021)

February 8, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. There is no “normal” process for the break-up of a marriage or any relationship. Sometimes it’s even be a relief to both participants. But that’s not what happened to Finnerty Steeves, and she’s written an insightful and grounded script that could hit home (or maybe too close to home) for many. Co-directors Stephen Kunken (who also appears briefly on screen) and Jack Lewars bring the story to life, accentuated by a terrific performance from Ms. Steeves herself.

Jennie (Finnerty Steeves) is a New York stage actress, and one particular audition is used as somewhat of a structural device for the story. The play is (ironically) entitled “To Have and To Hold”, and the scene she is reading cuts right to the core of what Jennie has gone through in her life. Her husband David (Jeremy Davidson) has had an affair. After 15 years of marriage, a lack of communication and differing goals, the couple finds their relationship crumbling. Flashbacks are used to show us different points in the relationship – from their wedding reception, to the arguments about his affair, and to the painful ordeal with her pregnancy. The flashbacks are the ‘replay’ in the mind that anyone would go through in her situation.

We tag along as Jennie and David work their way through a steady stream of frustrating couples therapists, played in order by familiar faces Kate Burton, Richard Masur, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Deborah Rush, and Stephen Kunken (the film’s co-director). We are also in the chair with Jennie as she’s “drilled” on the relationship by her dentist (the always entertaining Austin Pendleton) and his assistant (Kathleen Chalfant); and then again at Ladies Night Out with her friends – as they provide support for each other and exchange horror stories on past relationships.

There is an authentic feel to the situations and the characters, right down to Jennie’s supportive parents played by John Pankow and Kristine Sutherland. On Jennie’s first post-divorce date with Clark (John Ellison Conlee), she provides an example of how adults should act in a scenario that doesn’t go as planned. It really shouldn’t be that difficult to do the right thing, but real life tells us that it evidently is. Divorce often leads one through multiple phases: anger/sadness – acceptance – grief – rebuilding of a life. Noah Baumbach’s Best Picture nominee MARRIAGE STORY (2019) showed us a split that shook the Richter scale, and this film conveys something different.

Ms. Steeves has written a terrific script, and her distinctive hangdog facial expressions are perfectly suited to emotional turmoil, yet some of her best acting here is done in the scenes when she’s not necessarily sad. The number of familiar faces in the cast is quite impressive, and the gentle infusion of humor helps offset some of the pain Jennie feels. The film deserves bonus points for creating ‘hein-hole’, a label you’ll appreciate once you hear the root explained. On an unrelated, trivial side note that might be of interest to fans of the Harlem Globetrotters, Jeremy Davidson’s father, Mickey, played for the Washington Generals.

Available On Demand beginning February 9, 2021

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BABY DONE (2021)

January 21, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. “I don’t want to not have a baby.” This is just one of the zingers Zoe rattles off during this charming, and often quite funny film from director Curtis Vowell and writer Sophie Henderson. Fellow New Zealander Taika Waititi is an Executive Producer, and his influences are apparent (and always welcome). In a light-hearted way, while still maintaining plenty of heart, the film explores the fear of losing or compromising one’s true self when parenthood strikes.

Rose Matafeo delivers a terrific performance as Zoe, a tree-climbing arborist by profession, and a thrill-seeking adventurer by choice. Her partner in life, and in the tree-trimming business and in the thrill seeking, is Tim (Matthew Lewis). They are the type of couple who go to a friend’s baby shower and peek into the gender reveal box before dominating the party games. Zoe is fed up with losing friends, and describes the life cycle as “Married, house, baby, done”, implying that people aren’t the same after having completing these steps and no longer want to hang out with free-wheelers and the unencumbered like her and Tim.

Denial. That’s the best description of how Zoe reacts to finding out she’s pregnant. Besides not telling Tim (a major relationship gaffe), she continues on with tree-trimming and pursues the “Tree Climbing Championship” she has qualified for (I still wonder if that’s really a thing). When Tim and her friend Molly (Emily Barclay) find out about the secret, feelings are hurt and emotions wreak havoc. Comedy is provided through the prenatal/antenatal class instructor, as well as through Zoe’s new acquaintance Brian (Nic Sampson) whom she connects with online. See, Nic … well, he, uh … has a thing for pregnant women. Not babies, mind you. But pregnant women – which by definition seems to limit the prospects of a long-term relationship.

The always-great Rachel House makes a brief appearance as the headmaster at a local school, and much of what we see is a mess created by pregnant Zoe as she attempts to stay focused on her “bucket list”. The film excels at presenting two versions of anxiety with Zoe and Tim, and it’s loaded with relatively small moments that are quite relatable – some funny, some more serious. Like it or not, parenthood creates life changes, and the topic benefits from New Zealand wit, and a cast that perfectly complements the sharp and insightful script.

In select theaters and VOD on January 22, 2021

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SOUL (2020)

December 30, 2020

Greetings again from the darkness. With their first 22 feature films, Pixar excelled at balancing the eye candy and action kids favor with the second level intellect needed to simultaneously keep adults entertained. As proof, one need only think of such classics as TOY STORY, CARS, and THE INCREDIBLES. Surprisingly, film number 23 is the first Pixar film aimed directly at adults. It’s a marvelous companion piece to the brilliant INSIDE OUT (2015), but be forewarned, there is simply nothing, or at least very little, for kids to latch onto.

The film is co-directed by 2 time Oscar winner Pete Docter (INSIDE OUT 2015, UP 2009) and Kemp Powers (the screenplay and stage production of ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI, 2020), and they were joined on the screenplay by Mike Jones. And yes, it’s a brilliant script to go along with the always stunning Pixar visuals and effects. Brace yourself for a metaphysical exploration of the meaning of life and finding one’s purpose. As we’ve come to expect on Pixar projects, the voice cast is deep and filled with well-known folks such as Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Angela Bassett, Questlove, Daveed Diggs, Wes Studi, and June Squibb. Leading the way is the dynamic duo of Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey.

Mr. Foxx plays Joe, a junior high band teacher still chasing his dream of performing jazz and experiencing the feeling that only music can provide … “the zone”. Instead, the school offers him a full-time teaching job, and his mother demands he seize the stability (and insurance) and give up his silly dream of jazz. As seen in the preview, shortly after an audition lands him his dream jazz gig, a freak accident occurs and Joe finds himself in “The Great Beyond”, where a conveyor belt takes those souls whose time has come to that giant bug zapper in the sky. Joe’s not willing to accept his plight and finagles his way into being a mentor for Soul 22 (Tina Fey) in “The Great Before” where unborn souls search for their “spark”. It’s all very existential.

After a look back at his life, Joe takes 22 to “The Hall of Everything”, which is the one segment in the film which felt underplayed … much could have been done with 22 looking for a reason to live. Instead, it’s a few great punchlines, including a Knicks gag that will surely play well among basketball fans. We learn of the fine line separating “lost souls” from those “in the zone”, and mostly we take in the banter between Joe and 22, as purpose and passion become the subjects of chatter.

As with most Pixar movies, multiple viewings are required to catch all the sight-gags, one-liners, and Easter eggs, however, the first viewing is like unwrapping a giant Christmas present. The opening Disney theme is hilariously played by a junior high school band, and the score is courtesy of Oscar winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 2010). Director Docter claims Pixar good-luck charm John Ratzenberger makes a vocal appearance, but I didn’t catch it. The film leaves us with the message that the meaning of life is simply living life … and keep on jazzing.

Available on Disney+

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PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020)

December 23, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” The protagonist in writer-director Emerald Fennell’s (“Killing Eve”) feature film debut is a woman on a mission to avenge not just what happened to her friend, but also change the mentality of predatory men … one “nice guy” at a time. She is a #MeToo heat-seeking missile.

Carey Mulligan stars as Cassie, and when we first see her, she appears to be nearing blackout mode while drinking alone on a bench inside a bar. Most people have hobbies like crochet or golf. Cassie’s hobby, or maybe mission is a better word, is to lure men, with the appearance of a drunken easy score, and then scare them straight into respecting boundaries. She’s a non-violent vigilante (as opposed to Beatrix Kiddo) for morality and respect towards women.

As the film progresses, we pick up bits about what traumatized her to this extent. It turns out her best friend Nina was victimized by a group of men from their law school class. See, Cassie is the titular ‘promising young woman’ whose career dreams were dashed over what happened to her friend. Now, Cassie works in a coffee shop with a supportive and wise-cracking friend Gail (Laverne Cox, “Orange is the New Black”), who knows nothing of Cassie’s hobby … and neither do Cassie’s parents (Jennifer Coolidge, Clancy Brown) who can’t help but wonder what happened to their bright, ambitious daughter, and why she still lives at home with them.

Cassie’s mission gets momentarily de-railed when former classmate Ryan (an excellent Bo Burnham, THE BIG SICK) pops in to the coffee shop and awkwardly proclaims his long-time distant crush on her. The two are clumsy and believable together, and their relationship has more ups and downs than a pogo stick. For most movies, this would be enough to hold our attention, but not for ambitious filmmaker Fennell who has much more to offer. There is a cleverness to the presentation with four specific segments: a friend who didn’t believe her (Alison Brie), the law school dean who didn’t want to ruin a boy’s future (Connie Britton), a regretful defense attorney who took the money (Alfred Molina), and a bachelor party that gathers those who make up her nightmare.

Ms. Fennell is also an actor (and has a cameo in this one), and it’s clear she has a real feel for putting actors in the best position to maximize a scene. Of course, Ms. Mulligan is an outstanding actor on her own, but the actors benefit from Ms. Fennell’s work. Other supporting work is provided by Adam Brody, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Molly Shannon, Max Greenfield, Chris Lowell, and Sam Richardson. The color palette is similar to an early Tim Burton movie, and in fact, Cassie’s home looks like a museum or possibly a middle-class Liberace setting.

There is a lot going on here, and some of it is quite uncomfortable – and sprinkled with dark humor in unexpected moments. Advice like “move on” and excuses like “we were kids” ring hollow to Cassie, who carries some guilt over what happened to Nina, and remains focused on attacking a system that enables inexcusable behavior. Ms. Mulligan embraces a character who possesses raw nerves and emotions she sometimes hides, while other times flashes in neon. This isn’t about a guy here or there who takes advantage, but rather a faulty system that protects these guys at the expense of victims. The ending is unusual and unexpected, and kudos to an exciting new filmmaker.

In theaters December 25, 2020

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FIRST COW (2020)

December 19, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. A modern-era woman (Alia Shawkat) is hiking along an Oregon river with her trusty dog. Something catches her eye and she begins tentatively brushing away decades of leaves and soot. Ultimately it turns into an excavation of two human skeletons nestled together. How many years since these two laid down for the last time? Why in this spot?  It’s a terrific way to begin a story, and does justice to what follows … all of which takes place in the early 19th century.

Director Kelly Reichardt has already made her mark with such standouts as CERTAIN WOMEN (2016), MEEK’S CUTOFF (2010), and WENDY AND LUCY (2008), and this time she adapts the screenplay with Jonathan Raymond from his 2004 novel, “The Half-Life”. Cookie (John Magaro, also seen in this year’s SYLVIE’S LOVE) is initially seen traveling west with a band of trappers. Skirting the law as they make their way in this new world, the men act as bullying brutes towards Cookie, a quiet and sensitive man. During one stop for camp, Cookie is rummaging the brush for food when he stumbles upon a naked Chinese man who is hungry and running from Russians (aren’t we all?). Cookie provides King-Lu (played by Orion Lee) with food and shelter, a Golden Rule act that comes full circle not long thereafter.

Cookie and King-Lu begin establishing something more than a friendship. It’s a life bond (but probably not in the way you might be thinking). It’s more natural instinct – a ‘two heads are better than one’ partnership. Despite the hardships of early frontier days, the two men share their version of the American Dream, and it’s about this time that our titular bovine makes her entry stage left. The cow belongs to Chief Factor (Toby Jones) who is eager to create a more refined life in this untamed wilderness. Cookie views the cow’s milk as the key to creating tasty biscuits (a rare treat), and King-Lu immediately recognizes the possibility of profit. The nightly heist features Cookie’s one-directional conversation with Evie the cow … presumably making her first screen appearance.

Ms. Reichardt’s film is not nearly as simple or slow moving as it appears. She fills it with a slow-build tension, especially in the second half. The film requires patience and attention to detail from viewers. How can something so quiet and peaceful be filled with such danger and difficulty? That’s the brilliance of the film. Supporting work is provided by Scott Shepherd as a military officer Factor tries to impress, the late Rene Auberjonois (whose presence seems a tip of the cap to Altman’s classic MCCABE AND MRS MILLER), Ewan Bremner (whose accent requires subtitles for comprehension), and Lily Gladstone as Factor’s Native American wife.

This is the first film I recall where a clarfoutis plays a key role, and there are sprinkles of dark comedy throughout … which plays well off the rugged characters and environment. William Tyler’s score and Christopher Blauvelt’s cinematographer mesh well with the fine performances throughout.  Ms. Reichardt opens the film with a William Black quote, “The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship”. We witness the friendship, and by the end, we wonder if it’s also a web.

Available on Showtime and streaming outlets

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THE STAND IN (2020)

December 11, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Few would understand the pressures of celebrity better than Drew Barrymore. She’s 45 years old and has been in front of the camera for 40 years. Most of us recall her as young Gertie in Spielberg’s ET: THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL (1982), and of course, her family tree spans much of Hollywood’s history – for instance, she’s the great-niece of Lionel Barrymore who played Mr. Potter in the Christmas classic, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. This time out, she takes on dual roles, but Drew’s fan base deserves fair warning … it’s not the fluffy, light-hearted comedy you might be expecting.

Director Jamie Babbit (known mostly for her TV work, including “Silicon Valley” and “Gilmore Girls”) and screenwriter Sam Bain (creator of “Peep Show”) explore career success and fulfillment in life, especially as it relates to balancing celebrity status and having a meaningful personal relationship. Ms. Barrymore plays Candy Black, a pratfall comedy actress who has made a career with her catchphrase, “Hit me where it hurts”. Simultaneously, and under pounds of makeup, Drew also plays Candy’s stand-in/double, Paula, who dreams of one day being an actual actor in her own right. Candy is a high-strung addict who barely functions, while Paula is a wallflower whose income is dependent on Candy’s career.

One day on the set, Candy throws a tantrum. It’s a complete meltdown that results in an injury to a fellow actor. Of course it’s caught on video and goes viral. Just like that, Candy’s career screeches to a halt, and so does Paula’s. We then flash forward 5 years, and Candy has isolated herself inside her mansion, taking up woodwork and anonymously bonding online with fellow woodworker Steve (Michael Zegan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”). After being charged with tax evasion, Candy is sentenced to a rehab facility and cons her trusty stand-in Paula to go in her place. Once released, Candy’s much nicer stand-in continues the gig on an “apology tour” where soon she is welcomed back into the industry’s good graces (as Candy), and slowly takes over Candy’s life, including a non-virtual meet up with Steve.

Supporting work is provided by TJ Miller, Holland Taylor, Elle Kemper, Andrew Rannells, and Lena Dunham (in what’s basically a quick cameo). Things get a bit convoluted with the old Candy, the new Candy, and Steve, the guy stuck in the middle – who has secrets of his own. Despite the relatively few laughs in what is billed as a comedy, there are some pointed observations and commentary on the industry and for those whose ambition is to be famous. Soul searching and ‘finding one’s true self’ is never easy, and often our dreams may not be in sync with who we are. Drew Barrymore does a nice job in both roles, but it’s likely her fans will be expecting a different style movie. It’s also likely the message here could have been better delivered by choosing either a comedic approach or a dramatic one, as the blend doesn’t quite work on either front.

AVAILABLE IN SELECT THEATERS, ON DEMAND, AND DIGITAL ON DECEMBER 11, 2020

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LA RESTAURACION (2020, Peru)

October 15, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. We don’t typically look to Peru for observant black comedy filmmaking; however this first feature film from writer-director Alonso Llosa (story co-written with Gustavo Rosa) is one of those pleasant surprises we usually only get from film festivals or a spontaneous streaming selection. It’s yet another reminder that an entertaining film doesn’t require a massive budget or a mega-movie star. A terrific story with relatable characters and heartfelt performances will do just fine.

Shots of Lima’s towering and shiny new skyscrapers open the film as we hear from the narrator who describes the booming economy, as well as Peru being “a country of builders that peaked during the Inca period”. That narrator is Tato Basile (played by Paul Vega), a 50-ish failure at life. He dropped out of school which kept him from pursuing his preferred career as an architect. His marriage didn’t last. He has no job, lives with his mother, is addicted to cocaine, and claims he is ‘psychologically incapable of working”. His mother Rosa (Attilia Boschetti) is bedridden and near death, and is fairly disgusted with her grown man son who should have figured out life by now. Still, she grudgingly gives him money for his habit. Her long-time trusted housekeeper and personal assistant Gloria (Delfina Peredes) has protected Rosa from the fact that the family funds are nearly depleted … and the once glorious mansion is crumbling.

One day Tato runs into old friend Raymond (Pietro Sabille), who is now a real estate tycoon cashing in on Lima’s boom market. Their conversation leads Tato to concoct an ingenious and devious plan that requires the assistance of Gloria, as well as Eladio (Luis Fernando Ananos Raygada), the family friend-gardener-handyman-driver, and Inez (Muki Sabogal), Rosa’s young caregiver. The idea is to sell the family house to Raymond for top dollar, and to keep the transaction a secret from Rosa by telling her the family home is being renovated. To pull this off, the co-conspirators will re-create her bedroom in a remote location, and pipe in construction noise and the familiar aroma of the neighbor’s stew. Of course the plan is ludicrous, but desperation for money often leads to poor decisions.

Llosa includes humorous moments and memorable characters, in addition to the life lessons that Tato learns about 3 decades later than he should. Rosa has a recurring acute punchline about disliking “social climbers”, and the score has a 1980’s “Miami Vice” vibe that complements the retro look and feel of the film (including the credits). Llosa’s film is sweet, funny, and sad, and is an example of excellent story-telling. Mr. Vega perfectly captures adult Tato as he finds the soul and love that he’s been lacking. This one might take some effort to track down, but you’ll likely find it worthwhile and entertaining. I sure did.

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2 HEARTS (2020)

October 15, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. We’ve seen it before. Two stories, seemingly unrelated, yet parallel. Only this time it’s based on a true story, and the 2017 book “All My Tomorrows” by Brian Gregory. Director Lance Hool and co-writers Veronica Hool and Robin U. Russin serve up a touching and inspirational story of how the lives of families can intersect, and how triumph can come from tragedy.

Admittedly, the film has a bit of Lifetime Movie Channel look and feel. It even begins with some conventional philosophy on life courtesy of our narrator: it’s either a miracle or it’s not, and life either happens to us or for us. These are neither particularly thought-provoking nor deep, however, they do set the stage well enough for the story. We first see an unconscious Chris Gregory (Jacob Elordi, THE KISSING BOOTH) being wheeled on a gurney into the surgical area of a hospital. His loved ones are obviously concerned. We then cut to a period many years earlier as a young Cuban boy passes out on a soccer field. We learn Jorge Bolivar has a lung disease, and has been told at various stages that he wouldn’t live past 12, 20, or 30 years old.

Despite the different time periods, we see the symmetry with the romantic interests of the men. Modern day college student Chris (also the film’s narrator) literally bumps into Sam (Tiera Skovbye, “Riverdale”), and the two become ‘Safety Buddies’ on campus – offering a ride to those students in need. An older Jorge (Adnan Canto, “Designated Survivor”) locks eyes with flight attendant Leslie (Radha Mitchell), which kicks off a whirlwind globe-trotting romance. Chris is a middle-class boy whose parents (Kari Matchett, Tahmoh Penikett) are loving and demanding. Jorge is part of a wealthy Cuban family forced to relocate to Miami due to political pressures under Castro.

Keeping up with the time period for Jorge and Leslie involves spotting the clothing styles and technology hints, and very few viewers won’t know where this is headed well before it gets there. The two staged weddings provide all kinds of cuteness, as does goofy, easy-going Chris. Life perspective is one of the key takeaways here, as is a fact that most people should already be well aware: organ donors make a difference and mean the world to those impacted. The film ends with a note on the Gabriel House of Care, a non-profit worth researching.

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