This is a movie in which a very small cast rises to the occasion. Sophie Hyde’s dramedy Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (B) tells the story of a retired school teacher and widow (Emma Thompson) who hires a twentysomething sex worker (Daryl McCormack) to help her catch up on what she’s been missing during years of the marriage and motherhood routine. Most of the story take place in one single hotel room, which sometimes feels like a two-hander stage play, but the themes and acting elevate the material considerably. Thompson is superb, all nerves while striving to be proper amidst a situation she didn’t imagine herself engaging. In the thankless role opposite such an acting titan, McCormack holds his own and gets a chance to open up as well. There are some dubious choices adding tension to the final act, but ultimately this talky film is a delight. The movie does a good job exploring what it’s like to achieve intimacy, even when everything one has learned up to this point builds up walls around close relationships. It’s a poignant and often funny tale and tackles issues which aren’t often addressed onscreen.
Sometimes DIY extends to people, and this latest twist on the Jerry Maguire archetype doesn’t give its prickly prince too far to rise to get out of his rut and assume his comic crown. Judd Apatow’s dramedy The King of Staten Island (B-) is a splendid showcase for slacker comedian Pete Davidson, who plays a 24-year-old stoner tattoo artist doing little with his life while cohabitating with his widowed mother (Marisa Tomei). The millennial protagonist’s world is upended when mom gets a new boyfriend (Bill Burr), which leads to a steady climb toward clarity and consciousness. Despite Apatow’s leisurely pace and uncertain tone, Davidson shines in the role of a character ascending to independence, with a sometimes sarcastic and occasionally soulful perspective. His wide eyes, stick figure physique and zany body art make him a perfect “rejuvenile” in search of a raison d’être. Tomei is also a delight with humor to match her obtuse offspring, but Burr is kind of a nothing-burger of a character as the newfound father figure. The function of surrogate dad as a way to stimulate the film’s man-child into a new awakening is less interesting than Davidson’s sequences bantering with pothead friends, his misanthropic exploits in odd jobs and his witty interactions with kids who are largely alien to him. There are dollops of wry jokes and fun pranks, but much of the film feels like it’s on an anti-depressant with few peaks and valleys. Still, the film has heart and is often quite amusing. Prepare for another inexplicably protracted Apatow running time, and just enjoy Davidson’s sprawling new rise to reels of royalty.
One of the best examples of investigative journalism at Fox News was actually the investigation of the journalist organization itself, as chronicled in Jay Roach’s ripped-from-the-headlines sexual harassment drama Bombshell (B). Charlize Theron brilliantly channels alpha anchor Megyn Kelly, who follows the disturbing trail of manipulative behavior by the news network’s top brass (a terrifying John Lithgow in pancaked prosthetics as the late Roger Ailes). The film is consistently engrossing even though often surface level. Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie are also effective in their roles as news purveyors who find themselves the news subjects (I wish the central trio were on screen together!), and Kate McKinnon is solid as an unexpected ally. The parade of real-life lookalikes gets a bit distracting as central characters are given short shrift (look, it’s someone playing Geraldo!), but the film will go down in history for showcasing a fascinating formula for how a #MeToo movement could take hold even in the most insular of places.
James Franco directs and stars in the lead role as a real-life filmmaker of a notorious contemporary cult movie in The Disaster Artist (B). It’s not necessary to have seen the source material (I have, and right now getting a DVD or watching rogue clips on the Internet is the only way to see it) – the colossally bad 2003 romantic drama The Room – but it helps to have a general idea of why it’s one of the worst movies ever made (namely, a loopy leading man/director, preposterous characters, staggering continuity errors and an inexplicable plot, not to mention some of the most oddball antics ever committed to film – including a really awkward three-way bedroom romp and “football in tuxedos”). Franco imbues the behind-the-scenes dramedy with an insider’s look at the abject miracle it is to find success in Hollywood, and the valiant attempts, even those that are foolhardy. Partnered with his own brother Dave Franco, the film is largely a buddy film about two misfits on a mission. James is at his unhinged best as the lanky auteur with a mop of a haircut and a Lothario swagger (it’s not completely clear what he wants or how he got the money to bankroll his film or even the origins of his unusual accent). Dave is quite charming as the more conventional leading man and does a credible job standing by his main man despite the train wreck that ensues from script to screen in the movie-within-the-movie. The inside Hollywood quotient is high with small parts for Melanie Griffith and Sharon Stone as well as contributions from comedic comrades such as Seth Rogen, Josh Hutcherson, Zac Efron and Ari Graynor. It’s breezy fun, and the reenactments of incredibly bad sequences from The Room are precise and priceless. Alas it doesn’t add up to complete masterpiece status in its own right, but strong production values and the dynamic brotherly duo at the film’s center make it an enjoyable romp.