Tag Archives: Aubrey Plaza

Ritchie Stew

Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre

by Hope Madden

Guy Ritchie’s latest, Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, is neither the crisscrossing schemery of 2019’s The Gentlemen, nor the dour action plodder of 2021’s Wrath of Man. Although it has elements of both.

Like the former, the film delivers an incredibly talky tale of flippant action shenanigans undertaken by varying teams at cross purposes and boasts a delightful turn from Hugh Grant. Like the latter, it’s not very good and stars Jason Statham.

Statham plays Orson Fortune, a cantankerous special agent whose skillset is the only thing standing between some unknown item recently stolen and, you know, whatever it might do to the world.

That is the fun part. Fancy lad Nathan Jasmine (Cary Elwes) pieces together the team tasked with finding and returning the missing “handle” although no one knows what it is, so determining that bit will be useful as well. Figuring out who took it, why they took it and what they mean to do with it, then stopping them from doing it, whatever it is, represents the balance of the job.

Who’s to help Mr. Fortune? Bugzy Malone (rapper and regular Ritchie contributor) and Aubrey Plaza (the only truly new flavor in Ritchie’s crockpot of leftover ideas).

Plaza contributes that uncomfortable comedy she does so well, although it sometimes feels like she’s actually performing in a different film that has somehow broken into Ritchie’s movie. Still, she’s at least a lively and amusing distraction, although I can’t say she has real chemistry with anyone onscreen besides Grant.

Grant’s a hoot no matter whose scenes he is stealing, and Josh Hartnett surprises in a comedic role that would be more fun if it didn’t feel borrowed directly from (the entirely superior) The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.

There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, and some scenes that push the film toward parody, although Ritchie and crew cannot land on a tone. Everything feels more like a brainstorming session than a finished film. Nobody gels, nothing hangs together. The action is just this side of exciting, the humor lands about 40% of the time, and one scene pulls directly from Team America: World Police.

Mainly Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre just made me wish I was watching Team America.

Love In the Time of Breadsticks

Spin Me Round

by George Wolf

A madcap reminder that what seems too good to be true probably is, Spin Me Round finds Alison Brie and an engaging ensemble looking for love in the time of endless breadsticks.

Brie co-writes the screenplay and stars as Amber, the manager of the Bakersfield, CA branch of Tuscan Grove restaurants, an Olive Garden-type Italian chain. Single and not loving it, Amber’s luck turns when her supervisor (Lil’ Rel Howry) tells her she’s won a spot in the company’s “Exemplary Manager’s Program.” And that means a free trip to the Tuscan Grove Villa in Pisa, Italy!

Ciao, suckers, think of me when you’re rolling silverware!

Okay, so the hotel isn’t quite as nice as expected, and her fellow winning managers are a little eccentric (including the great Molly Shannon as a woman really needing the meds that were lost with her luggage), but Tuscan Grove CEO Nick Martucci (Alessandro Nivola) is here in person!

Nick’s suave and handsome, and when his assistant Cat (Aubrey Plaza, perfectly condescending but curiously underused) delivers an invite to Nick’s private yacht, it’s Amber’s head that starts swimming. Could her BFF’s (SNL’s Ego Nwodim) predictions of amore be coming true, or is this too much too soon?

Bet you can guess.

But director and co-writer Jeff Baena (The Little Hours, Horse Girl, the I Heart Huckabees screenplay) is eager to take the film off the expected rom-com path. Just when you think you’ve got it pegged, there’s wild boars, kidnapping, shady characters and plenty of suspicion.

Brie is always likable, and her wide-eyed and accommodating Amber is the perfect tour guide through this land of tonal shifts and total weirdos (including Fred Armisen, Ben Sinclair and Tim Heidecker). And while the film is never uproarious, it’s consistently amusing and never a bore.

But what’s the end game here? Pointing out how many rom-com’s find romance in sexual harassment? How day to day drudgery can easily breed unrealistic fantasy? The consistent appeal of bland comfort food?

There’s a dash of all that in Spin Me Round‘s entree. It’s light but filling, with a pleasing aftertaste. Just don’t spend too much time wondering what’s going on in the kitchen, and dig in.

Gig Economy

Emily the Criminal

by Hope Madden

The American Dream is a myth at best, a nightmare at worst in first-time filmmaker John Patton Ford’s lean indictment of capitalism, Emily the Criminal.

There’s a fearlessness born of anger in both Ford’s script and his lead’s performance. Aubrey Plaza flexes dramatic muscle as Emily, a savvy, hardworking young woman beset on all sides by forces crafted to keep the poor, poor—women in particular.

We meet Emily mid-interview, caught in a lie about her criminal record. Plaza’s roiling emotional reaction to the interview — a brilliant piece of acting — tells you all you need to know about the character’s character, backstory, and future.

Seventy grand in debt from art school, working catering gigs that barely put a dent in the loan interest, still holding out hope for a good, honorable, mainstream gig with an advertising agency, Emily’s on the ropes. Does she want to make a quick $200? The job’s illegal, but no one will get hurt.

Of course she does, and she’ll also take tomorrow’s $2000.

Ford’s tight script reveals only what’s necessary and rethinks nobility. Even as Emily begins to embrace and hone her criminality, she never loses sight of the true goal: comfy, secure, posh employment. But that’s as big a set up as college was.

It’s great to see Plaza not only playing a dramatic role but shouldering lead responsibilities. She’s in every scene —nearly every shot of every scene—and carrying that weight with grit. In her hands, Emily is defensive, cagey, and unafraid to be unlikeable. Plaza’s electric.

Theo Rossi provides a surprising, tender presence in a role where you wouldn’t expect it. He and Plaza sparkle together. You root for them, regardless of their occupation.

Emily the Criminal delivers the realistic inverse to a Tarantino or Scorsese. There’s no glamour to the criminal life. It’s a gig. And sometimes you gotta take the gig.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Bear?

Black Bear

by George Wolf

As slippery as it is inviting, Lawrence Michael Levine’s Black Bear is an intoxicating trip through the inspirations and indulgences that take root in creative minds.

It feels intensely personal, and yet – once Levine delivers his midstream shape shift – malleable enough to bend to myriad perspectives and interpretations.

We first meet Allison (Aubrey Plaza) as an actress and director facing a crisis of inspiration. She’s hoping to ignite the creative spark at a remote lakeside property overseen by Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and his pregnant girlfriend, Blair (Sarah Gadon).

As the three get to know each other, we learn that Gabe inherited the property from his family. Beyond that, there isn’t much Blair and Gabe seem to agree on. The couple’s little barbs become more intense, as does the attraction between Allison and Gabe, and we think we have a pretty good handle on what’s soon to be up.

And then we don’t.

The opening scene repeats, but Allison and Blair are co-stars on the set of the new film directed by Gabe, who is also married to Allison. The shoot is chaotic, Gabe’s motivational methods are questionable and now Allison is the one jealous of Gabe and Blair’s cozy relationship.

Knowing that Levine’s own history includes films with his wife (actress/director Sophia Takal) adds a layer of intimate intrigue, and knowing even a little about the workings of a movie set will add relatable humor.

But Black Bear isn’t a comedy – except when it’s funny. It’s also dramatic and slightly horrific, depending on your viewpoint.

Most of all, it’s emotional, propelled by career high performances from Abbott, Gadon, and Plaza. The glee each performer takes in upending character expectations is evident, with Plaza seamlessly moving from a cool, casual customer to the emotionally frayed flashpoint of a volatile triangle.

After such fireworks play out, Levine’s payoff may seem a bit underwhelming, but his film is more about the trail than where it ends. Black Bear‘s got plenty to say – about creativity, ego, insecurity, sexual politics and more – but its resonance comes from not demanding you take a side.

The Screening Room: Dreaming and Connecting

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Single White Follower

Ingrid Goes West

by George Wolf

Oh, look, some Hollywood elitists want to wag a finger in our general direction and lament how our obsession with social media connections keep us from making real ones. Can’t wait.

Hold on, Ingrid Goes West is smarter than your average wag, and the feature debut from director/co-writer Matt Spicer sports a welcome swagger that holds the film’s satirical bite just when you think it’s going soft.

Aubrey Plaza is Ingrid Thorburn, a shall-we-say “high strung” young woman in Pennsylvania who earns some mental health evaluation after an unsavory incident at a friend’s wedding. Ingrid’s spirits are lifted when she comments on a post by Instagram star Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), and Taylor actually responds.


Newly motivated, Ingrid is off to California, where she finds a way to insert herself into Taylor’s perfect life, maybe make a boyfriend out of her Batman-obsessed landlord Dan (Straight Outta Compton‘s O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) and definitely live out her social media fantasies.

Though Spicer freely uses contrivance to set up and maintain his narrative, the comedy is deliciously dark and the characters keep us invested even when they’re far from likable. Plaza (earning another producing credit) easily makes Ingrid an appealing mix of sympathetic and psychotic, while Olsen crafts the perfect embodiment of insufferably attractive hipster.

The metaphors aren’t always subtle, but Ingrid Goes West finds a delicate balance in its travels, one that understands the allure of a volatile facade.







Get Thee to a Nunnery

The Little Hours

by George Wolf

Two nuns lead a wandering donkey back home to their convent in the 1600s. The groundskeeper offers them a quiet, respectful good morrow. In response, the sisters promptly unleash a torrent of f-bomb filled abuse his way, with an aggressive command to keep his perverted eyes to himself.

Welcome to the The Little Hours, a desert-dry sendup of one of the classic tales in The Decameron, a 14th century Italian novel.

This update from writer/director Jeff Baena (Life After Beth, script for I Heart Huckabees) keeps the original text’s basic premise. Servant Massetto (Dave Franco) is running for his life after being caught canoodling Francesca (Lauren Weedman), the wife of Lord Bruno (Nick Offerman). Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) offers Massetto refuge as the new groundskeeper at the convent, but only if he pretends to be a deaf/mute.


The handsome Massetto is fresh meat to the ladies of the convent, many of whom are not there from a Godly calling. In short order, Massetto is juggling the sweet Alessandra (Alison Brie), the crazy Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza, also one of the film’s producers) and the sexually confused Ginerva (Kate Micucci).

The Holy Grail scene with Sir Galahad in Castle Anthrax will come to mind, and not just for the lustful young ladies. The entire affair has the feel of a Monty Python setup that just never turns a silly corner. The extremely talented ensemble (which also includes Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen and more) plays it nearly stone-faced all the way, just daring you to think there is anything humorous about their anachronistic sex farce.

Some of it is screamingly funny, and other times the film falls flat. Through it all, though, there runs a sly comment on the treatment of women (specifically in the Church) that’s smart and well-played.

It’s never a consistent gut-buster, but The Little Hours is inspired, ambitious lunacy that is always entertaining.



Altar Boys

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

by Hope Madden

Back in 2012, Aubrey Plaza starred in an eccentric little SciFi adventure based on a Craigslist ad. Safety Not Guaranteed was a surprised (and welcome) hit, partly because of writer Derek Connelly’s fertile imagination, partly because of the genuinely bizarre ad: Wanted: Somebody to go back in time. This is no joke. You’ll get paid after. Bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have done this once before.

That is ripe.

Since then, two all-American bros took to Craigslist to get dates to a wedding they were forbidden to attend stag for fear they would harass all the female guests and become generally unruly. That particular ad has already been milked of every conceivable bit of interest, with TV spots AND a book. A book! And yet, Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien (writers behind the Neighbors franchise) have adapted the ad for the new film Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.

It also stars Plaza, alongside Anna Kendrick, Zac Efron and Adam Devine as the destination-wedding-bound foursome.

Jake Szymanski directs the raunchy comedy that pits two lovable losers trapped in their never ending adolescence against the equally immature but more scheming young women just looking for a free trip to Hawaii.

Efron and Plaza co-starred in the very-R comedy Dirty Grandpa earlier this year, with Devine and Kendrick sharing the screen in both Pitch Perfect films. The four of them are likeable and – to varying degrees – talented. They’d have to be comedic lightning bolts to get this off the ground, though.

With a plot this thin, the film has to lean too heavily on shock situations and over-the-top language to generate any energy. Expect moms to call sons “assholes,” sisters to bare some pelt, and Aubrey Plaza to demonstrate sexual technique using texting as the metaphor.

The cast offsets the raunch with character earnestness (except for Plaza, who’s all in), but the film always feels too slapped together to hold water and a bit to mean-spirited to merit more than a smile here and there.

The whole thing is so thin, so desperate for content, it’s as if some idiot based an entire screenplay on a 400 word Craigslist ad.


Yeah, It was Great..Really.


by George Wolf


Fifteen minutes in, The To Do List has the feel of something assembled from one. That list must have been titled “teenage girl sex comedy,” with the filmmaker checking off the elements required to get her point across.

It is the debut feature for writer/director Maggie Carey, a TV and web series veteran. Twelve years ago, in one of her first credited projects, Carey directed Ladyporn, a documentary about making porn films that center on female sexual fulfillment.

Clearly, women’s sexuality in film is an issue close to her heart, which is justifiable, but The To Do List only proves weak sex comedies can go both ways.

It is the summer before college for uptight, brainiac Brandy (Aubrey Plaza), and meeting a hot older guy at a party prompts her to make a list of sexual acts she needs to experience before finally losing the V card.

Those acts, save for one scene of She Boppin‘, aren’t overly graphic, but the language gets down and dirty.  That’s expected of a sex comedy, but alongside the cliched characters and their obvious situations, it all reaches a point of protesting too much, trying too hard to prove that a women’s point of view has been neglected in these types of films.

Not that Carey isn’t right, she is. But the best of the male centered “virgin” films, such as American Pie or Superbad, featured memorable characters that were at the very least funny and a bit unpredictable. The To Do List features none of that.

The film’s timing isn’t much help, either, as Brandy takes a lifeguard job at a pool with an older, unconventional boss (Bill Hader). That’s also a pivotal setting in The Way, Way Back, a far superior coming of age film that hit theaters just last week.

Maybe the biggest surprise is Plaza, fresh from her terrific breakout performance last year in Safety Not Guaranteed. She can’t seem to make Brandy much more than a caricature, but seeing the same fate befall the always solid Connie Britton and Clark Gregg (as Brandy’s parents) leads the trail right back to weaknesses in script and direction.

Pardon the pun, but Carey may have been trying too hard the first time.