Greetings again from the darkness. Romantic Comedies and Political Parodies are staples in the film industry, and have been for many decades. The combination of the three – a political romantic comedy – is a bit rarer, though we have seen it in such films as DAVE (1993), THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995), BULLWORTH (1998), and LOVE ACTUALLY (2003). This latest from director Jonathan Levine (50/50, 2011) has elements of those well-known movies, while incorporating a very high level of raunchiness in a gender-reversed template of PRETTY WOMAN(1990).
We first meet Fred Flarsky (played by Seth Rogen) at a neo-Nazi/white supremacist gathering. He’s actually a left-wing journalist for an alt-weekly publication, and he’s so intent on getting the story that he’s willing to get a swastika tattoo and leap out of a second story window. Standing firm on his idealism, Fred quits his job when informed that his magazine has been bought out by Wembley Media … a right-wing organization in the vein of Fox News. It’s an odd opening for the film, but sets the stage for Fred to be reunited with his one-time babysitter Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) who is now the U.S. Secretary of State.
When President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) summons Charlotte for an Oval Office meeting, we get our first glimpse of the filmmakers’ parody of the actual current office holder. Chambers is a former TV star who was Golden Globe nominated for acting like a President on his show, and now wants to capitalize on his popularity by transitioning to a more prestigious career … movies. He’s willing to endorse Ms. Fields for the nation’s highest office in the next election, and she’s all in.
Charlotte’s reconnection with Fred leads her to hire him to “punch up” her speeches with some humor. See, testing has shown that she scores high in most categories with voters – but not for her sense of humor. Despite the protests of her staff, Maggie (June Diane Rafael) and Tom (Ravi Patel), Fred comes on board and quickly works his way into Charlotte’s favor – to say the least.
Yes, on top of the political jabs and typical Rogen stoner humor, there is an inherent comedic element placing glamorous Charlize Theron and schlubby Seth Rogen in a blossoming romance … together. The idealism of their characters play a role in the story (she truly believes in her environmental initiative), and the supporting cast is terrific, but this is mostly a show for Ms. Theron and Mr. Rogen to go full-force comedy (including a Molly-trip). We have seen this from him many times, but the real gem here is Oscar winner Theron, who is likely the only actress who could pull off such diverse films as MONSTER (2003), MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015), ATOMIC BLONDE (2017), TULLY (2018), as well as this crowd-pleasing political raunch-fest with a political bent.
Additional supporting work is provided by Lisa Kudrow, Randall Park, and Alexander Skarsgard (who excels as the awkwardly funny Canadian Prime Minister, in a direct spoof on Justin Trudeau). There is also an unrecognizable Andy Serkis as a frumpy Steve Bannon type, and O’Shea Jackson Jr (Ice Cube’s son) is a standout as Fred’s best friend … one with some terrific one-liners and a secret that nearly crushes Fred’s idealism. The campaign travels the world (though the film barely takes advantage), and the script from Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah serves up a clever Jennifer Aniston joke, a sight gag to rival THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, and enough bawdy sex comedy that the political satire sometimes fades (but never for long). It’s meant to be a crowd-pleaser and it seems to succeed on that; although its greatest strength may be in showcasing another side from the immensely talented Charlize Theron.
Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been 45 years since George Romero introduced us to Night of the Living Dead, which he followed 10 years later with Dawn of the Dead. In 2004, humor was injected into the zombie genre by Shaun of the Dead, and then in 2009 Zombieland kept it alive, so to speak. Now, thanks to the success of “The Walking Dead”, zombies are the new vampires in Hollywood. Writer/director Jonathan Levine (50/50, The Wackness) turns Isaac Marion’s young adult novel into the first true Zombie Rom-Com … or Zom-Com, if you will.
Many of us were introduced to Nicholas Hoult a decade ago when he was the youngster alongside Hugh Grant in About a Boy. In his latest, Mr. Hoult plays “R”, a self-admitted conflicted zombie in a post-apocalyptic society. In this new world order, there are three distinct groups: Humans, Corpses, and Bonies. Humans are the paranoid types who build a wall and aggressively hunt down the two non-human groups. Corpses are the traditional zombie types who sniff and slog their way through while trying to avoid deadly shots to the head. Bonies are those corpses who have given up all hope and now are indiscriminate in their search for meals.
So all of that sounds quite typical and expected, but what gives this movie its charm is the manner in which we as the viewer connect with R the zombie. His narration provides insight into his ever-present optimism, despite his need to feed on humans. In the film’s turning point, he actually rescues Julie (Teresa Palmer) during a corpse-human battle. Taking her back to his jet liner-condo, they communicate through simple gestures and R’s vintage vinyl collection.
A romantic comedy through the POV of a zombie is a bit unusual, and so is the wit and humor displayed by R. There is minimal actual gore in the film, though you should be prepared for R’s keeping a brain-snack in his pocket in a manner not unlike Napoleon Dynamite’s tot stash. The tip of the cap to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is obvious in the character names, and the similarities to Twilight are inescapable. Still, there is quite a bit new here and most of it is quite enjoyable.
Hoult and Palmer’s on screen dynamics are key to the story, and there is excellent support work from Rob Corddry, JohnMalkovich and Analeigh Tipton. It would be easy to give away too much here, but instead let’s say that it is surprisingly clever, funny, witty, sweet and entertaining … especially for a Zom-Com that features tunes from Springsteen and Dylan.
**NOTE: despite my surprisingly favorable reaction to this movie, I was a bit shocked by the poor CGI on the Bonies. It’s probably due to budget constraints, but special effects that look outmoded by two decades are tough to overlook.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you don’t mind a surprisingly entertaining romantic comedy half populated by zombies.
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: suspension of disbelief is not your strong suit.
Greetings again from the darkness. The great Richard Pryor had a portion of his act dedicated to having a heart attack, based on his real life experience. I guess if he can generate laughter from a coronary, there is no reason writer Will Reiser and director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) can’t treat Cancer as Comedy. There is little doubt that the subject matter of this film will limit its audience, but for those brave souls who give it a shot, I believe you will find it funny, touching and insightful.
The film introduces us to Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is a very nice, very normal, very low-key guy who works at a radio station as a writer … a very conscientious radio writer. Adam experiences a nagging pain in his back, which is unusual for a healthy 27-year-old. After a few tests, the emotionless doctor informs him that he has a rare spinal cancer … also very unusual for a healthy 27-year-old. From this point forward, the film borders on brilliance at times.
Adam’s girlfriend is played by Bryce Dallas Howard; his mother by Angelica Huston; and his best friend by Seth Rogen. Each reacts in different ways to Adam’s diagnosis, but what’s really interesting is not just how these people react, but also how Adam reacts. He moves forward in his meticulous manner, but all the while we know the emotions are brewing. We see this in his sessions with his therapist-in-training played by Anna Kendrick.
Seth Rogen’s character is basically a carbon copy of his act in 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. He spews profane one-liners faster than our ears can process. Usually I find myself quite put off by anything Rogen is involved with, but his character here provides the far-fetched balance that this story requires. Despite the aggressive front, Rogen’s character is a true friend with a heart … and one who doesn’t hesitate to share his medicinal marijuana.
So while Rogen’s character generates much of the laughter, the real treasure of this film is in the subtleties of each character in certain moments … and each character has their moment. Many will compare this to Adam Sandler‘s film Funny People, which also starred Seth Rogen. But this movie has infinitely more depth and substance than that one offered, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a significantly better actor than Sandler.
My warning: brace yourself. The theatre was filled with tears and sniffles, with significant laugh out loud moments mixed in. This is an emotional, self-reflective film that will confound you as you inexplicably laugh while listening to cancer talk.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you would like to see a totally different take the devastating effects of cancer … on health, emotions, relationships, etc – all done in a very personal, believable style.
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you just can’t get your head around the idea of Cancer as Comedy