SLOW LEARNERS (2015)

August 19, 2015

slow learners Greetings again from the darkness. One of the staples of Romantic Comedies is that the two key players are the only ones who don’t realize they are “right” for each other. This is often accomplished through one of two methods: either two characters who “despise” each other, or as characters who are “just good friends”. This little film manages to blend those two approaches … and make us laugh in the process.

The first 15 or 20 minutes of the film are packed with very sharp comedy writing and acting. Adam Pally (“Happy Endings”) plays Jeff, and Sarah Burns (“Enlightened”) plays Anne. These two misfit adults get along very well together both as co-workers and friends who quote literature at (not to) each other. Anne’s opening visit to the doctor (played by Peter Grosz of Sonic ad fame) is outright hilarious, while Adam’s book club features some real zingers from Bobby Moynihan, Gil Ozeri, and Reid Scott (“Veep”).

It’s not until Jeff and Anne make a pact to change their public personas in an effort to be “cool” and more attractive to the opposite sex that the film takes kind of a nasty – well at least unlikable – turn. Becoming alcoholic d-bags does help them experience a summer of wild escapades, but predictably, neither is especially happy. Anne picks up pointers from some trashy reality TV show called “Prisoners of Love” … a knock-off of “The Bachelor” that deals with convicts and the women who would love them.

Adding to the comedic elements are quick scenes with Cecily Strong, Catherine Reitman (daughter of Ivan) and Kate Flannery, along with a couple of sequences with Jeff’s parents (Kevin Dunn, Marceline Hugot). More interactions with the parents would have been a welcome respite from the extended d-baggery of Jeff and Anne.

Mr. Pally is a master of the deadpan delivery, while Ms. Burns can best be described as a Kristen Wiig starter kit (that’s a compliment). Co-directors Don Argott and Sheena Joyce, and co-writers Matt Serword and Peter Swords lost sight of what delivered such a strong beginning for the film, and instead focused on reminding us to “embrace the darkness” and to “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken”. Good lessons indeed, but maybe not the comedy gold mine that was expected.

watch the trailer:

 


HELICOPTER MOM (2015)

May 21, 2015

helicopter mom Greetings again from the darkness. Just when it seems everything we say or do is offensive to someone and most every topic is considered politically incorrect, a movie shows up that seems to say it’s ok to be offensive if you are trying to make a worthy point. It’s kind of like someone defending their actions by saying “I’m not a racist – I have an African-American friend.”

Helicopter parenting is defined as an overly involved parent who thinks they are best serving their kid by staying involved in every detail of life – from homework to activities to love life. As sad as this phenomenon is, this movie from director Salome Breziner and writer Duke Tran is so exaggerated, a more appropriate title would be Chainsaw Mom. Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) stars as the clueless and relentless single mom obsessed with her son … especially the uncertainties of his sexual orientation.

Ms. Vardalos seems to have patterned her approach to the role after some of the wide-eyed over-the-top characters of Keenan Thompson from “SNL”. This is beyond caricature and it’s also beyond annoying. The character is not believable in any sense, and is fortunately offset by more grounded performances from Jason Dolley, who plays her unfortunate son, and Mark Boone Junior, who plays her ex-husband and his father.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking on a topic like teenage sexual ambiguity/confusion with a comedic approach; however, much of this comes off like a cheesy sitcom. The only thing missing is the laugh track … and maybe Vardalos hiding behind a potted plant while wearing Groucho glasses and mustache. I say maybe, because it’s possible the latter occurred during one of the many segments where I was rolling my eyes or shaking my head in disbelief.

Fortunately, there were some genuine father and son moments between Dolley and Boone. In fact, Boone’s performance is so good, it’s like someone changed the channel every time his character appears. Dolley and Skyler Samuels (The Duff) also have some very sweet and believable scenes together. It’s just a shame that a moment as poignant as the confused son asking his father “When did you know you were straight?” is offset by mom publicly humiliating her kid and herself in yet another unimaginable display of inappropriate and cartoonish behavior.

The supporting cast also includes Kate Flannery (TV’s “The Office”), Gillian Vigman (The Hangover), and Dallas’ own Hockaday girl Lisa Loeb – who has a role as a teacher, and wrote the song for the opening credits.

Confusion over sexual orientation in teenagers is certainly a topic worthy of film treatment, as is the cultural phenomenon of helicopter parenting. The slapstick comedy approach seems to overwhelm the first message, while the 1980’s sitcom style destroys any commentary on the second.  The only person who thinks a boy’s best friend is his mother is Norman Bates. And Hitchcock showed us how that turns out.

watch the trailer: