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

watch the trailer

 


THE PROM (2020)

December 3, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. The success of his TV series “Glee” and “American Horror Story” has delivered Ryan Murphy the creative freedom to explore other projects. This time out he directs the cinema version of a Tony-nominated musical, and blends star power with newcomers in an extravaganza meant to fill the gap left by the darkened stages of Broadway during the pandemic. Created by Jack Viertel, with a book and screenplay from Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, it’s a story of homophobia and narcissism, and the battle to defeat both.

Meryl Streep stars as Dee Dee Allen, and along with James Corden as Barry Glickman, their opening night exuberance for “Eleanor! The Eleanor Roosevelt Musical” fades quickly when the reviews hit. Licking their wounds at Sardi’s, the two are told by the producer that nobody likes narcissists. Joined by chorus girl Angie Dickinson (played by Nicole Kidman) and Julliard-educated actor/bartender Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells), they decide what’s needed to revamp their careers is a ‘cause celebre’. Thanks to Twitter trends, they locate the plight of Emma Nolan (newcomer Jo Ellen Pellman), whose Indiana High School PTA has just voted to cancel prom rather than allow Emma to bring another girl as a date.

As you would imagine, becoming an activist for the wrong reasons (publicity) can make things messy. These flamboyant city slickers aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms by Midwestern folks. Plenty of touching moments occur between Barry and Emma, Barry and Dee Dee, Angie and Emma, Dee Dee and school Principal Mr. Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key), and mostly, Emma and her closeted girlfriend Alyssa (Ariana DeBose, who will also star in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming remake of WEST SIDE STORY). PTA leader and leading homophobe Mrs. Greene (a fiery Kerry Washington) does a nice job as a bigot and caring parent.

So while a story exists and messages are conveyed, this is, more than anything, a glitzy musical covered in primary colors as only Ryan Murphy can. Each of our main players gets a featured song, with Ms. Streep’s campy “Not About Me” a highlight, along with Ms. Kidman’s Fosse-esque “Zazz”. Mr. Corden probably gets more than his fair share of screen time, while Ms. Pellman and Ms. DeBose shine brightly in their numbers, and both possess lovely voices. Young Ms. Pellman is especially impressive holding her own on screen with Oscar winners Streep and Kidman.

There likely aren’t many gay teen rom-com musicals set in middle-America, especially ones with a Tina Louise reference, but leave it to Ryan Murphy to make it work. There is some quality humor, though it’s likely the song and dance segments are what will draw the audience. Choreographer Casey Nicholaw takes full advantage of the athletic youngsters and fills the screens with backflips and leaps – complimenting the dance moves of the stars. It’s a shame inclusivity must still be addressed, but at least it can be battled in a fun and colorful way.

Opening in theaters December 4, 2020 and on Netflix December 11, 2020

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THE INTERN (2015)

September 24, 2015

intern Greetings again from the darkness. A feel-good mainstream movie featuring two big time movie stars will likely have box office success and cause a lot of people to laugh out loud. In other words, the latest from writer/director Nancy Meyers should be celebrated for its entertainment value, rather than picked apart by film critics. Ok, I’ll give it a try.

Robert DeNiro stars as Ben Whittaker, a retired 70 year old widower, who just can’t seem to find meaning in hobbies and the leisure life. He applies and is selected for the “Senior Intern” program at About the Fit, a fast-growing online clothing company run by its founder Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway). In addition to being a Type A driven and obsessed-with-details company leader (the type that rides her bike through the office to save time), Jules also has a husband, a young daughter and a fabulous brownstone. What she doesn’t have is enough sleep, any friends, or enough time to enjoy any of the good stuff.  You aren’t alone if a buddy flick with DeNiro and Hathaway seems unusual to you.

At the same time Ben arrives on the scene, Jules is struggling with her investors’ decision to hire a more experienced CEO so that the company can maintain its phenomenal growth. That’s about as deep as the business talk ever gets (but just try to keep track of all the Apple product placements). Jules initially spurns Ben, but of course, he soon becomes invaluable around the office, and while blinking his eyes, becomes her most valued confidant and adviser.

Much of the comedy is derived from Ben’s interactions with the young employees. It’s quite simply a ‘generation gap comedy’ that makes all the points it needs to make without really breaking a sweat: senior citizens are a wealth of knowledge and can bring value to an organization or relationship, young people can learn from elders (it’s OK to shave everyday and dress for success) … and vice versa (computers are our friend), there still exists some animosity between stay at home moms and working moms, stay at home dads face challenges of their own, running a company is hard work both physically and mentally, communication often requires more than a text or email, and staying true to one’s self is not always easy.

Ms. Meyers has brought us other mainstream films such as It’s Complicated (2009) and Something’s Gotta Give (2003), and she has a feel for presenting the upper-middle class as a punchline for the masses. She likes showing successful people in uncomfortable situations … leaning heavy on awkward, while avoiding dangerous altogether. Her latest is a feel good movie that makes you laugh, without causing you to think about anything in your life that might bring you down. And there is real value in that.

Ok, I tried, but there are some things that must be pointed out. There was so much of Ms. Meyers’ script that was begging to be pushed to the edge and analyzed from a societal aspect. Her specialty is rounding off the corners so that no one gets hurt, and because of that the film is bereft of conflict … the single most important element for a meaningful scene. For example, the conflict between Jules and her husband occurs in a hotel room, which would be fine except … only one of them is there!  Also, we never really get any of the story from Ben’s perspective. Instead, we are just to believe that his Gandhi-like influence on co-workers is the only reward he seeks. I also found myself bothered a bit in the quick glimpse we get into Ben’s personal life. He blows off the advances of Linda Lavin and pursues Rene Russo … understandable, but a bit off-putting given that this female writer chose to have him hook up with the 11 years younger character, rather than the one closer to his own age.  There are many other similar type issues that warrant discussion, but that’s why it’s best to just sit back and enjoy this one, rather than asking “what if?”

watch the trailer: