Casting Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a neurotic New Yorker hardly seems novel, but the brassy comedienne’s latest starring turn emerges as an enjoyable lark with ample doses of heart and hilarity beneath the hard edges. Writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s dramedy You Hurt My Feelings (B+) features the high-strung star in a winning, old-fashioned comedy of manners with a funny ensemble of lesser-known collaborators also effective in their roles. First world problems are front and center as the delicate characters endeavor to tiptoe around contemporary challenges without getting sucked down an emotional spiral. Louis-Dreyfus plays Beth, an author who struggles with a lack of self-confidence, and her marriage with an unsuccessful therapist portrayed by Tobias Menzies is thrown into a tizzy when she overhears he’s not a fan of her new work of fiction. Before this revelation, the couple had a peaceful but co-dependent relationship, which makes their only child (Owen Teague) uncomfortable. As Beth’s interior designer sister, Michaela Watkins is a hoot, and she helps Beth cope with her angst, possibly because of her own struggles with an underemployed actor husband (Arian Moeyed). Holofcener is skilled with wry, observational humor and captures breakthroughs in the banter, especially in the margins and knowing looks of disbelief between the two sisters. The relationship between Louis-Dreyfus and Watkins as siblings is marvelous to behold as they balance trying to be good people in a brittle world, accentuated by the appearance of their prickly mom, played with dry wit by Jeannie Berlin. Themes about micro-aggressions and the sweet lies lovers tell one another to blunt the pain are highly relatable. Awkward therapy sessions, debates about v-necks and leftovers and frequent attempts to smooth the rough edges of uncomfortable situations caused by other people abound in this talky, remarkably brisk and recommended film.
Tag Archives: Comedy
Movie Review: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (2023)
Kelly Fremon Craig’s joyfully innocent adaptation of the Judy Blume young adult novel Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (A) is the book club conversation a generation has waited a half century to manifest. And it’s a modern-day film classic. Raised by a Christian mother (Rachel McAdams) and a Jewish father (Benny Safdie), a 12-year old girl (Abby Ryder Fortson) embarks on a series of questions about religion and faith while averting the preteen perils of life in the sixth grade. Craig magnificently evokes the 1970s milieu of the source material, with a spin the bottle smorgasbord of funny and heartwarming episodes ranging from fitting into a curious club to fitting into a bra. Fortson is a natural as the titular character at the center of her own set of crushes and crashes; she anchors the film with fortitude and nary a false move. She’s worthy of all accolades. Graduating from her own mean girls mentality, McAdams is exquisite as the eternally plucky mom, and Kathy Bates is a hoot as the family’s wry paternal grandmother. The film maintains sublime seriocomic delicacy as it balances glimpses at various belief systems and plumbs some taboos on the verge of adolescence. It’s heartwarming throughout, without a dash of cynicism. See it with someone you cherish.
Movie Review: Little Brother (2023)
The grand tradition of the dramatic road trip movie, so splendidly rendered in films such as Rain Man and Y Tu Mamá También, can add a new sentimental two-hander to its ranks in Sheridan O’Donnell’s Little Brother (A-), an intimate and inspiring indie that world premiered at the Atlanta Film Festival. Jake, portrayed by Daniel Diemer, has been tasked by his father (J.K. Simmons) to reluctantly transport his suicidal older brother Pete, played by Philip Ettinger, home for a family intervention. The dynamic between the central brothers in motion through a brittle journey to face their sometimes fractured bond, is thoroughly captivating, alternately heartbreaking and hilarious; and their pathway through the gorgeous West in locations such as Albuquerque and Twin Falls makes for an enjoyable and enlightening ride. As Pete, Ellinger diffuses the effects of mental illness with humor and regression to juvenile highjinks to mask his inner tumult. He’s consistently absorbing and magnetic in the tricky part. As the sometimes stoic straight man, Diemer has a tough role too and slays it with steely restraint. His tender depiction of abiding brotherly love is also sublime. When the siblings come to breakthroughs in how to confront and reconcile mental distress that’s not likely to vanish from looming large, O’Donnell continues to nourish the story with direction and dialogue which is rarely reductive or overly sentimental. This is the kind of movie that can save lives, and its notions of making the most of one’s lived experience and savoring the familial bonds to lift us when most needed have the power to deeply move.
Movie Review: The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)
Plumbers mysteriously vanishing into an unknown universe isn’t just the scenario homeowners find themselves in when their toilets are backed up; it’s also the premise dogging video game siblings Mario and Luigi for damn near four decades. Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie (B-) animates Brooklyn’s cunning craftsmen with Chris Pratt spryly voicing heroic Mario and Charlie Day endearingly embodying his timid fraternal twin brother Luigi. Partnered with feisty fighter Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), Mario must save his brother from the clutches of Bowser (Jack Black) who threatens to topple an idyllic Mushroom Kingdom the guys discover in an underground pipe lair. The movie is full bounce off the walls energy with kaleidoscopic colors and clever details dotting every horizon. But the uninspired script often throws a wrench in the good time with lackluster color by number plot points and groaner catch phrases. The highlight is Black’s Bowser chewing the scenery with relish and even tickling the ivories. He’s clearly in on the joke. Ultimately it’s hard not to be swept up in the parkour and pinball wizardry of the action sequences, and it’s largely good clean fun for the family. Despite some rather obvious needle drops on the soundtrack, Brian Tyler composes rousing music inspired by classic game play. The nostalgia factor is strong, and as Donkey Kong barrel battles and kart races on rainbows commence for the film’s mercifully brisk run time, you simply surrender and take the plunge.
Movie Review: Scream VI (2023)
All the joys of the Scream franchise – surprise slayings, fun rules, sly cinephile references, newbies and nostalgia, all in a wily whodunit package, come together effectively in Scream VI (B+) co-directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. Characters who seemed tentative in the last go-round come of age with self-assurance in this installment with an invigorating change of venue to New York City. Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega are dynamite as the central sisters smarting from the events of the 2022 film, and Jasmin Savoy Brown, Liana Liberato, Courteney Cox and Hayden Panettiere are among the standouts in the ensemble. The co-directors make great spectacle of Manhattan’s alleyways, brownstones, subways and even a movie palace as their topsy turvy series entry stylishly careens to effective showdowns. The whole movie is about subverting expectations with ample surprises up its sleeve. There’s a highly effective sequence to tickle the fancy of horror movie fans with a near-fancon of spooky cameos plus an array of genuinely suspenseful action scenes and a lot more gore. This energized entry brings some glory back to Ghostface.
Movie Review: Cocaine Bear (2023)
Director Elizabeth Banks and her game ensemble let loose with a devil-may-care bear tale and keep their powder dry with a sustained sassy stoner tone in the 1985-set action comedy Cocaine Bear (B-). O’Shea Jackson, Jr. and Alden Ehrenreich are a hoot as talky henchmen in search of a duffel bag full of drugs fallen from the sky and partially ingested by an American black bear in a Georgia forest. Margo Martindale is splendidly on brand for this lark as a ranger who “blow”-viates and practices her uneasy aim with a gun. The late Ray Liotta is sinister as the baddie who wants his stash returned and isn’t afraid to fight a sky-high mammal to retrieve it. As far as concerned moms go, Keri Russell and her kids are generally upstaged by the CGI bear and her cubs. The film keeps upping the ante with fun and frivolous tongue in cheek antics and an assortment of severed limbs. Bonkers comedic misadventures abound. It’s a silly premise well executed. Certainly no one forgets their lines!
Movie Review: Magic Mike’s Last Dance (2023)
All this tease from a tepid trilogy has revealed Tampa’s titular hero has simply been a frustrated theatrical choreographer all along. Steven Soderbergh is back at the helm for the third and hopefully final outing, Magic Mike’s Last Dance (C-). The director smashes his endowed everyman Channing Tatum against a proposal from a wealthy businesswoman played by Salma Hayek Pinault to direct a West End London adult entertainment revue disguised as a comedy of manners. It’s a convoluted plot when one isn’t really needed, plus it’s punctuated with observational voice-over narration as if it’s an academic exercise tracking the taxonomies of exotic dancers for a medical journal. Since there really is a British live stage show based on the dancing characters from this series, it’s also one of cinema’s most naked commercial cash grabs since Mac and Me and Million Dollar Mystery, ‘80s films that hawked fast food and trash bags, respectively. There’s a nicely shot smooth dance sequence at the beginning and another at the end, and the central romance between the charming leads has a swirl of sweet moments, but most of the film is either dull or misbegotten. A full proscenium of pole dancers still can’t conjure a respectable spectacle. Unlike the first two films when the ensemble is a winning part of the formula, this time the talented dancers are hardly given any speaking parts at all. Of course Soderbergh is trading in fantasy wish fulfillment, but the plot strains credulity and logic in too many ways to be taken seriously or even to function as campy guilty pleasure. The tones are so wildly different in this trio of thong and dance films that they might as well be classified as an anthology loosely based on a similar notion with one common cast member. What started with a g-string and a prayer has packed on so many layers, the series has almost forgotten it’s supposed to be about strippers. This film strains for the graceful exit.
Review of previous film in the trilogy
Movie Review: Karaoke (2022)
An empty nest couple caught in a rut experiences the truth serum of a lifetime when a charismatic stranger moves into the penthouse of their Israeli high rise and lures them into his hedonistic lifestyle in Moshe Rosenthal’s Karaoke (A-), a sly and sentimental story about coming of age later in life. Sasson Gabay and Rita Shikrun are a delight as the introverted husband and ebullient wife both irritated and intrigued by their new neighbor, suavely portrayed by Lior Ashkenazi. Questions of identity and fidelity ensue when the central characters experience a triangle of mild madness as they endeavor to march to the sonic sounds of an unexpected vocoder. Rosenthal orchestrates the observational comedy with finesse as his sixty-somethings embark on a rebellious detour and a rage against the FOMO. There are some tender sequences involving music and dance which add to the expression and character exploration. This international film is a solid companion piece to Parasite, as middle class mores become trumped and tested by those at the top. It’s a marvelous and affecting work worthy of a mic drop., as middle class mores become trumped and tested by those at the top. It’s a marvelous and affecting work worthy of a mic drop.
Movie Review: White Noise (2022)
The future in plastics once predicted in the ‘60s comes full circle in Noah Baumbach’s absurdist ‘80s-set dark comedy White Noise (C), in which airborne toxic events, misbegotten drug deals and the power of suggestion in consumerist culture swirl in the whirling dervish of a day-glo college town. This is far from linear or logical stuff, and it only works in spurts despite lots of creativity. Based on Don DeLillo’s notoriously unadaptable postmodern novel, this go-for-broke movie introduces all sorts of intriguing ideas which are equal parts fascinating and face palm worthy. Adam Driver is the assured oddity at the center of the proceedings as an eccentric professor of Hitler studies, surrounded domestically by a bunch of loquacious, precocious offspring from multiple marriages. His current wife played by a wryly funny Greta Gerwig is largely defined by a penne pasta meets poodle inspired haircut and a possible secret. Another talky teacher friend played with relish by Don Cheadle harbors awe for Elvis and supermarkets. The plot is a series of strange events, some that linger too lovingly long on their source material roots. The ensemble’s commitment to a hilariously heightened vibe is admirable though and makes for an uneven but readymade cult sensation, a bonkers love child of Robert Altman, Steven Spielberg and Kurt Vonnegut. Perhaps the film should be accompanied Rocky Horror style with a survival kit baggie of edibles. If you make it to the end, enjoy a closing credit musical sequence that’s somewhat more thematically cogent than the feature overstaying its welcome preceding it.
Movie Review: Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (2022)
Flickers of self-reflection and self-loathing dot the terrain of Alejandro Iñárritu’s Mexico-set semi-autobiographical seriocomedy Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (C-) as it leisurely meanders through its bloated running time. There are many ambitious ideas and a few lovely and dreamlike visual flourishes, but this film rarely transcends its bursts of inspiration. Daniel Giménez Cacho is a stand-in for the director, who is often quite passive in his own morality tale. Just as this tepid protagonist is caught between the worlds of his Mexican homeland and the Hollywood/America where he has immigrated, the film alternates between meta realism and smug fantasies. It’s all quite self-indulgent and mostly hangs like a punishing squawking albatross. The film feels a little bored with its own gimmickry and may have the same effect on audiences.
Movie Review: Spirited (2022)
The overlong runtime could make one think this Charles Dickens adaptation is more inspired by the author’s prolific publishing house word counts (£400+ for just a few more pages of script?) than the bones of his novella A Christmas Carol, but while stuffed like plump holiday poultry, Sean Anders’s Spirited (B-) is largely a lovable lark. This holiday comedy centers on Will Ferrell as a wide-eyed Ghost of Christmas Present who works in a league of modern-day “spirits as a service” opposite Ryan Reynolds as a cynical earthbound purveyor of humbugs and shady public relations campaigns. Both comic actors shine in their tailor-made roles and prove their musical chops since the film possesses a new songbook by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Octavia Spencer is also a solid songstress and contributor to the fantastical proceedings, along with Broadway journeymen such as Patrick Page and Joe Tippett. Many of the musical acts are rousing and fun, especially a throwback to 1800s England. The first act gets bogged down in procedure and unsure meta jokes plus a little Cop Rock deja vu, but once the emphasis lands squarely on how Ferrell and Reynolds flip the script on the classic story and start to rehabilitate each other, a litany of laughs and deserved emotion come center stage. It’s not a perfect addition to the holiday movie oeuvre but often a fun sprinkling of confetti from the Christmas canon. The hearty let’s-put-on-a-show vibe pairs well with the film’s trippy troupe and could very well propel this into the Yuletide movie pantheon.
Movie Review: Ticket to Paradise (2022)
Reports of the death of the multiplex romantic comedy have been greatly exaggerated, with Ol Parker’s Ticket to Paradise (B) a prime example of a frothy frolic gracefully executed. This formulaic film is a semisweet bonbon set in the sumptuous getaway environment of Bali with gorgeous central duo Julia Roberts and George Clooney as embittered divorcees trying to sabotage their daughter’s quickie wedding and possibly rekindling their own flame. These classic marquee stars are undoubtedly the draw, and they are largely a delight balancing bickering with charm. They are magnetic and magnanimous in spreading their glee, although no one will mistake their acid-tongued repartee for the lost work of Billy Wilder. Kaitlyn Dever is a little stiff in an underwritten part as the couple’s love struck offspring, although Maxime Bouttier as her solemn betrothed and Billie Lourd as her loopy best friend are game in supporting roles. There’s a good deal more rom than com afoot in this enterprise, but it’s hard to argue with the escapist thrill of these actors re-meeting cute in tropical splendor.