THERE THERE (2022)

November 18, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s understandable why we ended up with so many Pandemic-based movies. Writers need to write. Actors need to perform. Filmmakers need to make movies. Even the trickery can be accepted given the unusual circumstances. With his latest, writer-director Andrew Bujalski, the father of Mumblecore, delivers an unusual ensemble piece – one where the actors share scenes, but not the set.

The opening sequence is easily the film’s best and most interesting. Lili Taylor and Lennie James awaken in the afterglow of their first hook-up. Things obviously went well … and plenty far … and now two grown-ups are trying to figure out the next step. He seems to be upbeat and optimistic about their spending more time together, while she sports her battle wounds by assuming things won’t work out … going so far to ‘joke’ about him murdering her. With very little effort, it’s obvious to see the two actors are not in the same room despite the cleverly edited shots blended to pretend otherwise. The interaction between the two characters says much about ‘no-longer-youngsters’ and their attitude towards new relationships.

It’s in the next scene where we begin to catch on to Bujalski’s approach. Lili Taylor meets up with her AA sponsor (Annie LaGanga) for some tough love and some awkward conversation. It happens this quickly … the film begins to veer off and leave us wondering about the characters we are meeting. Our fears are solidified in the next sequence when Ms. LaGanga confronts her son’s teacher (Molly Gordon) in what comes across as an inhumane manner. And Ms. Gordon’s reactions are equally unlikely. So through three vignettes, we have met four characters, and now we don’t much care for three of them. By the end of the film, we find ourselves not really liking anyone we’ve come across.

Jason Schwartzman plays sketchy attorney to an equally-sketchy tech guru played by Avi Nash, and Schwartzman’s character is later visited in the night by his mentor-ghost (Roy Nathanson). What we have is a series of interconnections that overlap and tie-in the lives of multiple characters. Between each segment, there is a musical interlude where we see Jon Natchez performing the music. It’s an odd, experimental, extremely talkative approach to COVID cinema that seems to play on our many insecurities and frustrations. It’s difficult to imagine too many finding this entertaining now that so many new features are being released, so it’s best to keep in mind that the actors, crew, and filmmakers all continued to work in spite of the many challenges.

Available in theaters and On Demand beginning November 18, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


BOOKSMART (2019)

May 23, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Every generation tends to get the high school movie (the movie about high school life) they deserve. Going back to James Dean in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) and Sidney Poitier in TO SIR WITH LOVE (1967), what followed were such memorable films as CARRIE (1976), GREASE (1978), FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982), most every John Hughes movie from the 80’s, FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986), SAY ANYTHING (1989), DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993), CLUELESS (1995), 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU (1999), MEAN GIRLS (2004), HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL (2006), JUNO (2007), and SUPERBAD (2007). It’s that last one on the list that this directorial debut from Olivia Wilde is likely to draw the most comparisons to.

Kaitlyn Dever (“Justified”) and Beanie Feldstein (LADY BIRD, and sister of Jonah Hill) star as Amy and Molly, two best friends and high school seniors who have sacrificed a social life (i.e. partying) for academics in order to position themselves for the best colleges. Amy has decided to take a gap year doing charity work in Botswana, while Molly wears her intelligence and class ranking on her sleeve and sits in judgement of her less disciplined classmates. She is headed to Yale with her ultimate life goal being an appointment to the Supreme Court (she has an RBG poster up in her room).

Imagine their shock when, the day before graduation, Amy and Molly discover that many of their less-disciplined (i.e. hard partying) classmates will also be attending elite schools. The besties immediately scheme to make up for 4 years of nose-to-the-grindstone by attending the biggest party of the year … and showing others how much fun they can be. Plus, the party affords each the opportunity to pursue their crush: skater-girl Ryan (Victoria Ruesga) for Amy, and athlete Nick (Mason Gooding) for Molly.

Although (full disclosure) I was never a high school girl, the one thing that stands out about the film is how the kids seem like real kids. That’s not to say most every aspect isn’t slightly exaggerated, because it is. The level of gayness in the Drama club is a bit difficult to take, and the teenage body is objectified in more than one shot; however, director Wilde has a knack for making high school look cinematic. Two sequences are particular standouts for the way they are filmed: the swimming pool scene with Amy underwater, and the house party as the characters weave in and out of rooms in the large house

Supporting roles add depth to the comedy thanks to Jason Sudeikis as the school Principal/Lyft driver; Billie Lourd (daughter of Carrie Fisher) as Gigi, who is always popping up and stealing scenes; Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte as Amy’s parents; Molly Gordon (“Animal Kingdom”) as the misunderstood ‘Triple A’; the aforementioned Victoria Ruesga and Mason Gooding; and star-in-the-making Diana Silvers as Hope – the aptly named rebel who clicks with Amy.

Co-written by Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman, the film presents a realistic friendship between two teenage girls, and mines some common and recognizable personalities for comedy gold. Smart and funny female characters are interesting at any age, and “no one knows me” is the anthem of most every high school student since caveman days. The inevitable comparisons to SUPERBAD will likely be favorable to this film, and it will probably be the perfect fit for this generation – even if we hope most students avoid many of the happenings. With Will Ferrell and Adam McKay as producers, you should prepare for the harsh language high school kids are known for, as well as that ‘brazen, yet insecure’ blend so common to the age. Of course, we can’t help but find the timing of release quite interesting, given the recent college admissions scandal. It won’t replace AMERICAN GRAFFITI for me, but with Olivia Wilde having been known as an actress, we now recognize her as a legitimate director.

watch the trailer: