BRIDESMAIDS

May 29, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Kristen Wiig is everywhere these days! If you don’t know the name, you certainly know her face. She is credited with 26 projects since 2009 – and that doesn’t even count her weekly work on Saturday Night Live. She is the new Tina Faye … even though the “old” Tina Faye is still going very strong.

While I have little doubt that the success of The Hangover was a driving force behind the green lighting of this film, Ms. Wiig’s writing and acting talent elevate this mixture of chick-flick and comedy into one of the finest female film comedies in quite awhile. That’s probably not strong enough praise since the category is a bit sparse, but as a guy who gets really tired of the formulaic chick-flick rom-coms and sappy dramas, I found the film to be quite refreshing and entertaining.

 Sure, there are many similarities between this and The Hangover, but the difference is that the key element of female friendship is never far away from the often raunchy comedy we are witnessing. Women so value their BFF’s and Ms. Wiig and her writing partner Annie Mumolo (seen as a nervous plane passenger) never lose sight of this.

Also key to any group of female activity is the competitive nature and envious mutterings. They try so hard to appear happy for their friends, when often they are blinded by the current funk in which they find their own life. And look out when a beautiful, rich “new” friend enters the picture. The real fireworks begin … even in the battle for the last word on the mic at the engagement party! I am not going to give away any of the punchlines or set-ups, but I will highlight the cast. Maya Rudolph is Lillian, the bride to be and lifelong friend of Annie (Wiig); Ellie Kemper (The Office) is Becca, the goody-two shoes newlywed; Wendi McLendon-Covey (Reno 911) is Rita, the bitter, frustrated long-time mother and wife looking for inspiration; Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly, Gilmore Girls) is Megan, the slapstick, gross-out comedy relief; Rose Byrne is Helen, the aforementioned seemingly perfect “new” friend; Chris O’Dowd (Blind Swordsman in Dinner for Schmucks) is Officer Rhodes, the nice guy who has a crush on Annie; Jon Hamm (Mad Men) as Annie’s Porsche driving bootie call; and Jill Clayburgh (her final film role) as Annie’s mom.

The film is produced by comedy expert Judd Apatow and directed by Paul Feig.  Mr. Feig was the creator of “Freaks and Geeks” and has been involved in most of the best TV comedies over the past 7 or 8 years.  Oddly enough, he also wrote and directed one of my favorite lost gems from 2003 called I Am David.  It’s a drama, not a comedy, but I recommend it.

Here is hoping Ms. Wiig continues to push the boundaries of creative comedy for women. I for one look forward to seeing women on screen as more than just love interests and femme fatales.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are starved for a real comedy with real women characters (written by women) OR you always wondered what a female Zach Galifianakis would look like

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you hated The Hangover OR you prefer your chick flicks to be melodramatic and sappy, rather than raunchy and real

 

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LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS (2010)

November 26, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Based on Jamey Reidy‘s book “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman”, the film bounces around between rom-com, disease-drama and an editorial on the medical profession and drug companies. The single best reason to watch the mashed-up film is the performance of Anne Hathaway, who surprisingly, has developed into an excellent actress.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a hot shot, charming, womanizing, always “on” pharmaceutical rep who will stop at nothing to eclipse his quota and achieve a promotion to Chicago, the promised land for Pfizer. Struggling a bit to make a name for himself selling Zoloft, Jake’s destiny seems pre-disposed when Pfizer introduces Viagra. Talk about a pitch in the batter’s wheelhouse! However, as so often happens in life, a speed bump appears. The best laid plans …

When Jake’s character meets Anne’s character (Maggie), things change for both of them – despite the less than perfect introductory scenario. Turns out, her character suffers from Stage One Parkinson’s, while he is a Stage Four jerk. Actually, that makes for the perfect couple … for a short while. You can guess what happens.

When the film transitions from rom-com to heavy handed drama, many of the best scenes occur, but overall the movie suffers. The scene at the un-convention for sufferers of Parkinson’s is undoubtedly the film’s best. Furthermore, when Jake meets the husband of a Stage Four Parkinson’s patient, he gets the one minute down and dirty along with the advice to just walk away.

Rarely will a love story have so many moments of the couple trying so hard to push the other away. Speaking of Love Story (my attempt at a smooth transition), it is important to note that despite the drama and dark tones, this film never delivers the expected sobbing out loud moment … like the bedside payoff in Love Story. Instead, it actually does a terrific job of treating the disease with respect and directness. A nice change for Hollywood.

Directed by Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond), the film rests squarely on the shoulders of Ms. Hathaway, who doesn’t disappoint. Supporting work is not as effective or important. That includes Gabriel Macht (phamaceutical competitor), Hank Azaria (the only doctor who needs help with women), Judy Greer (the eager office assistant), Oliver Platt (Jake’s boss in the film’s most confusing role), and Josh Gad (in the Jonah Hill knock-off role), plus George Segal and Jill Clayburgh as Jake’s parents. A sad note: Ms. Clayburgh died on November 5th this year. She had a varied and important Hollywood career and will be missed.

What’s odd about this film is that I have actually many good things to say about it despite my overall disappointment. I love some of the fast quips from the early part. The points made against drug companies, insurance companies and the medical profession are spot on (though a bit obvious). The serious portion of the program is handled with dignity and pulls no cheap punches. Much of the interaction seemed accurate and real. But for whatever reason, the film is just not very cohesive and comes across as choppy … a series of scenes, rather than a full story. That said, it’s worth seeing for the continued growth of Anne Hathaway as an actress.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF:  you want to see Parkinson’s disease treated with dignity OR you just enjoy watching beautiful movie stars roll around in bed

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer a cohesive, clear story OR you are looking for this year’s “big cry” (ala Terms of Endearment or Love Story)