Greetings again from the darkness. It seems society has reached a point where most of us are at least a bit skeptical of someone being nice. We assume there is an ulterior motive for acts of altruism. Writer-director-actor Cooper Raiff won a SXSW award for his first feature film (a title I can’t print here), and he follows that up with this feel-good dramedy that may very well inspire us to have a bit more faith in humanity … well at least some of humanity.
When we first meet Andrew (Mr. Raiff), he’s attending the Bar Mitzvah of a classmate, and finds himself attracted to Bella (Kelly O’Sullivan, who was so good in SAINT FRANCIS, 2019), the older ‘party starter’. What really hits home with Andrew is how Bella takes an obviously unsettling phone call in the stairwell before flipping her smile back on and returning to her hosting duties. We then jump ahead 10 years, and Andrew has just graduated college. His girlfriend heads off to Barcelona while he moves back in with his mother Leslie Mann) and stepdad (Brad Garrett), sleeping on a blow-up mattress in his younger brother David’s (Evan Assante) room. As he contemplates his next step in life, Andrew works the counter at ‘Meat Sticks’, a shopping mall based fast food stop that forces him to wear a royal blue vest and bright red visor. Talk about motivation for transitioning into adulting.
This ties back into the early scene of young Andrew because when he accompanies David to a Bar Mitzvah, Andrew is attracted to the beauty Domino (Dakota Johnson), mother of autistic Lola (VanessaBurghardt). We watch as Andrew’s charm convinces to Lola to dance for the first time, a friendly gesture that intrigues her mother. Things change quickly for Andrew. Other Jewish moms take note of Andrew and hire him as a ‘party starter’, Domino hires Andrew to periodically babysit Lola, David starts eliciting romance advice from big brother, and Domino and Andrew begin their “will they or won’t they” flirtations.
Of course, things aren’t as simple or rosy as they might seem. Domino has a lawyer fiancé (Raul Castillo), and she’s burdened with emotional pain that she barely acknowledges – though she does admit to Andrew that she struggles with depression. There are also mental health issues associated with Andrew’s mother, and we infer that plays an important part in his own makeup and desire to help others. It turns out Andrew and Domino are both defined (perhaps burdened) by their need to help others, while ignoring their own well-being. Neither are saints, as both have flaws. An engaged Domino battles her urges with Andrew, while he drinks too much, has a jealous streak, and snaps at loved ones when upset.
Filmmaker Raiff benefits from a terrific and fully engaged performance from Ms. Dakota. Raiff himself is not a polished actor, but this is an advantage for his role as Andrew – a young man drifting at a time he should be focused. The film takes a sincere approach to characters we know. The cringe-factor rarely, if ever, pops up. The most cynical might find it saccharine, but most will appreciate the sweetness Andrew displays as he fumbles around with what love means. He may be somewhat goofy, but he’s also good-hearted, and enjoys making a difference and helping others. Raiff’s film may be as eager to please as its protagonist, yet that’s not such a bad thing. And yes, the “Cha Cha Slide” does feature in a dance scene, so the film’s title isn’t totally off the wall (but almost).
Greetings again from the darkness. Having previously mentioned my general annoyance at the frequency of which the ‘Americanization’ of World Cinema projects occur, I was initially dismayed to hear about the remake of the excellent Chilean film GLORIA. That 2013 featured a terrific performance from Paulina Garcia, and provided a grounded look at life of a single woman of a certain age. However, when it was announced that the American version would be directed by Sebastian Lelio, who also directed the earlier version, and that it would star Julianne Moore in the lead role, the idea became much more palatable.
Oscar winner (and 4 time nominee) Julianne Moore has been one of our more interesting actors since she jumped off the screen (in a supporting role) in 1992’s THE HAND THAT ROCKED THE CRADLE. She’s now approaching 60 years of age, and is a true master at capturing the essence of a character. She brings Gloria Bell to life in the most believable and grounded manner possible. Rather than a movie caricature, Gloria is a real woman. She plugs away at her daily work in the insurance business. She belts out the songs on the radio as she drives her car. She gets annoyed at the stray cat who sneaks into her apartment. She smokes and drinks. She tries to be part of her adult kids’ lives. She tries to ignore, but ultimately reports the loud noises from her upstairs neighbor to her landlord. She loves dancing in clubs with men she doesn’t know, or even alone. In conclusion, Gloria lives her life.
Much of the film focuses on the odd developing relationship Gloria has with Arnold (John Turturro). Their eyes meet across the dance floor, spend some time chit-chatting, and soon, his Velcro-back brace is being ripped off. As with many folks, Arnold’s baggage is more burden than history. He seems to be in an unhealthy marriage with ultra-dependent grown daughters and a wife who can’t get through a day without his help. The cell phone ring becomes a running gag … one Gloria finds little humor in.
Supporting work is provided by Sean Astin (a Las Vegas mistake), Brad Garrett (Gloria’s ex), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Garrett’s new wife), and Holland Taylor (Gloria’s mom). Each of these characters get a brief sub-story, as do Gloria’s grown kids, played by Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius. With the son’s marriage in shambles, and the daughter heading to Sweden to live with a man, Gloria experiences the trials and tribulations of life while still looking for meaning and companionship … each a search worth pursuing.
Alice Johnson Boher adapted the screenplay for this version from the original by director Sebastian Lelio and Gonzalo Maza. She refrains from the usual American melodrama or corniness, and instead delivers something to which the actors and viewers can easily relate. The fine line between independence and loneliness is in a delicate balance, and one that’s deftly handled here. And of course, there are scenes that are elevated thanks to the brilliance of Julianne Moore’s performance. All in all, fans of GLORIA will not be disappointed … just lay off the post-yoga cigarette.
Greetings again from the darkness. “It’s always a sunny day when Christopher Robin comes to play.” You know when it’s not a sunny day? When grown man Christopher Robin ignores his wife and daughter to work every waking hour at his job as an Efficiency Manager for a struggling luggage company. Whatever made the filmmakers spend so much time here on the gloominess of adulthood is beyond me, but oh my, when the friends all reunite in the Hundred Acre Wood, it’s truly a joy to behold.
It was only last year when GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN hit the theatres, and while that was more of a biopic of A.A. Milne and the origin of Winnie the Pooh, this version focuses instead on the adult Christopher Robin, and how responsibilities can rob us of all the joys of childhood if we aren’t careful.
Ewan McGregor plays the grown-up Christopher Robin, and we see him back from WWII as a boring workaholic who has little time for his wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) or daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael). The story begins with young Christopher Robin (Orton O’Brien) sharing a farewell lunch with his friends just before he heads off to boarding school, leaving his childhood far behind. In addition to Pooh bear, we also see Rabbit, Piglet, Owl, Kanga and Roo, as well as a bouncy Tigger and classically mopey Eeyore. It should be noted that these aren’t the animated creatures you and your kids are accustomed to. These are stunning CGI stuffed animals modeled after the early drawn images of Ernest Shepard. They are lifelike … as much as talking stuffed animals can be … and kid viewers are likely to fall quickly for them.
There are three screenplay credits: Oscar winner Tom McCarthy (SPOTLIGHT), Oscar nominee Allison Schroeder (HIDDEN FIGURES) and Alex Ross Perry (LISTEN UP PHILIP). Their work is based on a story from Greg Brooker (STUART LITTLE) and Mark Steven Johnson (SIMON BIRCH), and of course the characters from AA Milne and Ernest Shepard. It might not surprise you that the director Marc Foster also directed the excellent FINDING NEVERLAND, but it’s a bit eye-opening to think he also directed MONSTER’S BALL and QUANTUM OF SOLACE, neither of which have a single scene that kids should watch!
Despite the heavy gloom of the portion of the story dealing with Christopher Robin’s family and job, the film (and the kids in the audience) lights up when all the friends are on screen. Playing the “Say what you see” game on the train emphasizes that creativity sprouts from nothing (doing nothing is a recurring theme in the Pooh stories), and of course, the ever-present red balloon plays a role (much different than the red balloon in IT), as does the familiar “Winnie the Pooh” song from 1977, which most everyone in the audience hummed along with in its various pop-ups during the movie.
The voice acting is necessarily superb, and credit goes to Jim Cummings as both Pooh and Tigger – roles he also voiced in the animated series and previous animated films. Of course the great Sterling Holloway was the original Pooh voice, and he passed away in 1992. Nick Mohammed is Piglet, Peter Capaldi is Rabbit, Sophie Okonedo is Kanga, while Sara Sheen is Roo. Toby Jones is Owl, and Brad Garrett gets some of the film’s best and funniest lines as everyone’s favorite downtrodden donkey Eeyore.
Pooh, the ‘silly old bear’, states “People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.” This type of humor and philosophy goes on throughout the film, whenever the friends are on screen. The moral of the story is that it’s crucial that we maintain some sense of childhood wonder and joy, even as adult responsibilities close in on us. If you can wake up each morning and say “Today is my favorite day”, you are likely not a bear of little brain … plus you’ll avoid Heffalump traps!
Greetings again from the darkness. As I sat in a theatre with approximately 80 others, it took me awhile to realize that the only audible laughs were coming from a couple of teenagers near the back. Until that point, I had just assumed that my grumpy old man syndrome had reared its head as I managed only a couple of chuckles.
The best comparison I have for this “comedy” from director Don Scardino (“30 Rock”) are the Will Ferrell sports-themed spoofs Blades of Gloryand Semi-Pro. If you found those to be hilarious, then this one might provide you some laughs. Rather than picking on a sport, the movie focuses on the world of Las Vegas magic shows … big-budget stage productions (David Copperfield, Siegfried & Roy) vs. streetwise illusionists (Criss Angel, David Blaine).
Childhood friends Albert and Anton evolve into Vegas superstars Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Steve Buscemi). The influence of Siegfried and Roy are obvious, right down to the costumes, hair and tans. After 10 years of the exact same act, Wonderstone is a pompous womanizer who cares little for the magic act, and Anton is the epitome of the invisible sideman. Casino owner Doug Munny (James Gandolfini) threatens to end the act if the duo doesn’t come up with something new to compete against the daring and popular street illusionist Steve Gray (Jim Carrey).
Gray’s “Brain-rape” act is supposed to compare to Criss Angel’s “Mind-freak”. Instead, Gray comes across more like cheap reality TV with masochistic tendencies. Of course, Burt and Anton collapse under the pressure and their friendship and act splatters to a painful end. Burt spirals out of control and ends up performing in a nursing home … a fortuitous turn that introduces him to his childhood idol (Alan Arkin).
All you really need to know is that this comedy offers few laughs and only shows a pulse when Arkin and Carrey are on screen. Carell seems miscast as a pompous womanizer, so neither trait plays particularly well. Additionally, his bounce back is not believable since his rock bottom lasts about 30 seconds. Buscemi’s only real gag is his poke at celebrity humanitarian crusades. Otherwise, he and Olivia Wilde are bystanders with little to do, which is a shame. Really would have liked to see Carrey’s character with a better, more believable act so that the rivalry might have proved more interesting.
There is an underlying message of friendship and maintaining a passion, but this is no message movie. Heck, it’s barely even a comedy … unless you are one of those teenagers in the back row.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF:you long for a glimpse of the past from Jim Carrey or the scene-stealing wonder known as Alan Arkin
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are seeking an insightful, funny comedy that takes advantage of a strong cast