HAPPILY (2021)

March 19, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. Most frequent movie-goers have complained about the over-supply of sequels, remakes, and superhero movies. The battle cry is typically something like, “We want some creative new movie ideas!” Well, the feature film debut of writer-director BenDavid Grabinski (writer-producer of TV series “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”) serves up a unique and creative premise in which Act 1 really gets us excited for new experience.

There’s a party at a very nice house. A woman makes inviting eye contact with a man across the room. Their spontaneous sex romp forces Arthur (Al Madrigal, “I’m Dying Up Here”) to find an alternative place for relief. Soon the hosts are explaining to Arthur that the bathroom is tied up by Tom (Joel McHale, “Community”) and Janet (Kerry Bishe, “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels”), a couple who has been married for 14 years, yet they can’t keep their hands off each other. Skeptical Arthur states it must be an act, and “they are as miserable as everyone else.”

We quickly discover that Tom and Janet are neither acting nor miserable. Dinner with the hosts of that ‘bathroom’ party, Karen (Natalie Zea, “Justified”) and Val (Paul Scheer, “The League”), brings a disinvite to a planned couples weekend getaway, along with the brusque enlightenment to Tom and Janet, “everybody hates you.” The next day, a stranger shows up at their front door. Goodman (Stephen Root, OFFICE SPACE, 1999) basically explains the couple is defective and missing the genetic DNA that creates the law of diminishing returns. Fortunately, he has the vaccine that will bring them normalcy. A dramatic turn of events leads to panic and a phone call from Karen re-inviting the couple to the weekend getaway.

That initial set-up is brilliant and played to perfection. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to that standard. Things begin to falter once the couples begin showing up at the luxurious Airbnb booked by Patricia (Natalie Morales, BATTLE OF THE SEXES, 2017) and her husband, Donald, (Jon Daly, MASTERMINDS, 2016). The other two couples include Carla (Shannon Woodward, ODE TO JOY, 2019) and Maude (Kirby Howell Baptiste, “Barry”), and Gretel (Charlene Yi, THIS IS 40, 2012) and Richard (Breckin Meyer, ROAD TRIP, 2000). Until this point, we kind of liked Tom and Janet, and got a kick out of the annoyance shown by Karen and Val. However, once everyone is under the same roof, we realize just how unlikable these people are and how screwed up each relationship actually is. The smart dark comedy of Act 1 devolves into a party that we wish we weren’t at, with a twist that makes little sense.

It’s fun to see the familiar faces, and McHale and Biche are fun, but the hope we felt for that creative beginning never pays off. There is a “Twilight Zone” vibe to the premise and the Stranger, but even that is a letdown. The message the movie leaves us with is that people aren’t all good. It’s a message we live every day, not one for a comedy.

In theaters, on digital, and On Demand March 19, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER

 


MAX ROSE (2016)

September 6, 2016

max-rose Greetings again from the darkness. It’s pretty rare that an actor goes twenty plus years between lead roles, but such is the case for the legendary comedian and Muscular Dystrophy telethon host Jerry Lewis. Writer/director Daniel Noah’s film was shown at Cannes Film Festival in 2013 as part of the tribute to Lewis, but it’s taken about three years for it to gain any type of United States distribution.

The film begins with a grief-stricken Max Rose (Lewis) dealing with the death of Eva, his wife of 65 years (played by the great Claire Bloom). We see Eva in flashbacks to little life moments, and also as an apparition and conversation partner as Max tries to solve the mystery of a 1959 make-up case … it’s a mystery that could destroy Max’s memories and the accepted version of his life.

Max is being looked after on a regular basis by his doting granddaughter (Kerry Bishe) and periodically by his son (Kevin Pollack), who has more than enough stress in his own life. Max, a retired jazz pianist, has clearly never been the warmest or most open of gents, and the eulogy he delivers at Eva’s funeral can best be described as self-centered.

Soon enough, Max has moved into an assisted-living facility and the best scenes of the film find him re-discovering life with the likes of Rance Howard, Lee Weaver and Mort Sahl. Unfortunately this sequence is short-lived and Max is back on the trail of the mystery make-up case … which leads him to the mansion of a movie producer named Ben (or BS, if you’re looking for a punchline). Dean Stockwell and Jerry Lewis are two screen veterans who know how to work off of one another, but just aren’t given much to work within their time together.

And that’s probably the film’s greatest weakness … it leans heavily on nostalgia. Seeing Jerry Lewis (age 90 today) back on screen generates a warm feeling – as do Ms. Bloom and the other old-timers, but the story is just too simple to provide any real insight or commentary on aging, loss, or family stress or secrets. The combination of nostalgia and sentimentality can work provided there is more depth – something that’s simply lacking with our story and characters.

Mr. Lewis gamely plays an unsympathetic character, and does capture the cantankerous nature that we’ve all witnessed in some elderly folks. There is even a laugh out loud moment featuring knitted pot holders, and we do get Lewis in a red clown nose – fortunately without his “Hey Lady!” voice. What’s missing is the depth required if one plans to tackle a theme like making peace with the past … especially when the past isn’t there to defend herself.

watch the trailer: