Tag Archives: Alexandra Shipp

Louder Than Words

tick, tick…BOOM!

by George Wolf

What’s an aspiring writer to do when his first major work is bypassed for the eager anticipation about what he’ll do next?

He takes his agent’s advice to “move on to the next one. And write what you know.”

Broadway trailblazer Jonathan Larson – Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and composer of Rent – agonized for 8 years over Superbia, a futuristic musical that never earned a full production. When Larson did move on to the next one, it became tick, tick…BOOM!, his autobiographical story of a composer named Jon whose final days as a twentysomething bring feelings of rejection and inadequacy.

ttBOOM! made it to off-Broadway in 1990, with revivals beginning in 2001,15 years after both the phenomenal success of Rent and Larson’s tragic death from an aortic aneurysm at the age of 35.

Now, director Lin-Manuel Miranda brings Larson’s story of struggling artistry to the screen with an infectious exuberance and undying respect for those committed to the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd.

Andrew Garfield stars as Jon, who waits tables in a New York diner, works on his musical and worries about how much other people have accomplished before turning 30 (“Sondheim wrote West Side Story at 27!”)

While Jon struggles to find enough money to keep the lights on, his longtime girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) mulls a tempting job offer in the Berkshires, and his best friend Michael (Robin de Jesus) decides it’s finally time to give up the Broadway dream and get a real 9 to 5 gig.

While everyone – including Sondheim himself! (a terrific Bradley Whitford) – tells him Superbia needs one more big song in the second act, Jon rebuffs any need for a life “backup plan,” even as his tenuous relationship status and a co-worker’s HIV diagnosis remind him of each precious tick of the clock.

Miranda and screenwriter Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hanson, Fosse/Verdon) effectively layer the musical segments with real-life inspirations and one-man show beginnings that build to workshop performances and Broadway fantasies. From the birthday defiance of “30/90” to the pleading interplay between Garfield, Shipp and Vanessa Hudgens (as Susan’s stage persona) on “Come to Your Senses,” Miranda’s staging is lively and stylish, peppered by plenty of Easter eggs and cameos saluting years of musical greats (including Chita Rivera, Bernadette Peters, Bebe Neuwirth and two of Hamiton‘s Schuyler sisters in the show-stopping “Sunday” alone).

Garfield delivers an electric, committed performance, singing well and absolutely selling the manic, no-sleep-til-curtain-time tunnel vision that Larson clings to instead of admitting that there might be any other way to live.

And as a tribute to this life, the creative process and one man who personified both, tick, tick…BOOM! is a runaway hit. But in the process, it forgoes a sense of intimacy that might have brought us closer to Larson himself. That’s a trade-off the film ultimately seems comfortable with. Miranda, Garfield and company are going big here, and end up reaching the balcony with crowd-pleasing panache.

Phone Shaming

Jexi

by Hope Madden

Jexi is the Captain Obvious of comedies.

We’re on our phones too much. We’re failing to take in the beauty around us. We’re not making human connections. We’re more comfortable isolating ourselves. The online world we create is false and sad.

Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the insightful filmmaking team skewering society with cultural commentaries like Bad Moms and Bad Moms Christmas, wants to help you see the absurdity of living this phone-dependent life. They drag poor Adam Devine, Alexandra Shipp and Rose Byrne down with them.

Devine is socially isolated Phil—good guy, smart, but incredibly uncomfortable socially. He’d rather cozy up afterwork with take-out and Netflix, all of it brought up via voice commands. Then he meets gorgeous Cate (Shipp) who works with her hands, likes the outdoors, owns a brick-and-mortar shop and finds Phil’s cowardly self-deprecation charming. He’s so distracted he breaks his phone.

The defective operating system on the new phone promptly ruins his life, thereby setting him free. Jexi is like Spike Jonze’s 2013 masterpiece Her, only dumb.

Devine gives his all to a minor twist on his familiar character, the lovable dumbass. As the lead in the film, his edges are softened this go-round, and he settles into a nicely amiable schlub you can root for. Shipp doesn’t get to do much beyond be the girl you wish you were or you wish you were dating, but Byrne delivers some laughs.

Rose Byrne is one of the most reliable comic actors working today. Here she’s basically a jealous, controlling, psychotic Siri and her deadpan delivery is priceless. It’s just not enough to salvage the film.

Get off your phones. Kiss a girl. Ride a bike.

Duh.

Secret Love

Love, Simon

by George Wolf

Some of the most tired young adult cliches – narration, idealized characters, the dreaded climactic essay reading – show up in Love, Simon. 

So why is it such a winner?

Heart, smarts, and humor for starters. But it’s also the rare movie that earns points just for being here in the YA crowd, and for rightly assuming there’s no reason it shouldn’t be.

Simon (Nick Robinson) is an upper middle class high schooler in Georgia, with some awesome friends (Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.), awesome parents (Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel) and a big gay secret.

But then another kid at school comes out anonymously online, which leads Simon to adopt a fake name and reach out by email. So while much of the student body is guessing who the “secret gay kid” might be, two online pen pals bond over the uncertainties of being themselves.

Director Greg Berlanti (Life as We Know It) keeps the film moving, wrapping it with a clean, welcoming shine that would be just too peachy-keen if not for the smartly self-aware script from veteran TV writers Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker.

Adapting Becky Albertalli’s novel, the duo delivers some solid laughs (don’t mess with the drama teacher!), but more importantly, a knowing vibe that refuses to wallow in self-absorbed teen angst. Current events have reminded us that many teens are more than ready to meet harsh challenges with strength and wisdom, and Love, Simon gives them some refreshing credit.

It can’t go unnoticed that the film treats homophobic taunting as more mischievous than dangerous, but even that misstep feels ironically right. Everything about Love, Simon, from the casting to the set design, is effortlessly likable and comfortable, feeding the notion that this is nothing more or less than another teen romance.

It becomes a sweet, entertaining one, and it just might make some audience members feel a little less alone.

That makes Simon pretty easy to love.

 





Save Your Tears

Tragedy Girls

by Hope Madden

Heathers meets Scream in the savvy horror comedy that mines social media culture to truly entertaining effect, Tragedy Girls.

Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) are looking for more followers to improve their brand, and they have been doing a lot of research to make their content more compelling. The Tragedy Girls plumb their small Ohio town’s surprising death toll with more insight than the local police seem to have. Where do they get their knowledge?

Provocative.

Tyler MacIntyre directs a screenplay he co-wrote with Chris Lee Hill and Justin Olson. The trio wade into the horror of a social media generation with more success than anything we’ve seen to date. A great deal of their success has to do with casting.

Hildebrand and Shipp (both X-Men; Hildebrand was the moody Negasonic in Deadpool while Shipp plays young Storm in the franchise proper) nail their characters’ natural narcissism. Is it just the expectedly shallow, self-centeredness of the teenage years, or are they sociopaths?

Mrs. Kent (Nicky Whelan) would like to know. The spot-on teacher character offers the film’s most pointed piece of social (media) commentary when she points out the traits encouraged in a snapchat world, where shallowness and parasitic, even psychotic behavior is a plus.

The film is careful not to go overboard with its commentary, though, and the final product is the better for it. MacIntyre’s affectionate, perhaps even obsessive, horror movie nods receive at least as much of his time and attention.

The result is both mean and funny. Josh Hutcherson’s small, image-lampooning part is an absolute scream proving that MacIntyre and company have pop cultural insights to spare, and proper comedic timing to boot.

McIntrye loses his snidely meta tone briefly with a lengthy sidetrack focusing on Craig Robinson, which becomes more zany and broad than anything before it. The director can’t entirely find his footing again, as the resolution of the film gets mired a bit too much in the genre tropes.

Still, the details are priceless (she lends him a copy of Martyrs! Dig that ringtone!), the performances impress and the whole thing is a hoot.