Tag Archives: comedies

Caution: Low Flying Poo

Sasquatch Sunset

by George Wolf

After the completely enchanting Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter in 2014 and the whimsical Western Damsel four years later, you might not expect writer/director David Zellner to next film a year in the life of a Sasquatch family.

And Yeti did.

Sorry, but that joke is just silly enough to fit in with Sasquatch Sunset, if only the movie had any dialog at all. It doesn’t, instead letting the ‘Squatches’ grunts, screams, moans and various other bodily noises speak volumes.

Jesse Eisenberg, Riley Keough, Christophe Zajac-Denek and co-director Nathan Zellner portray the furry family underneath hair and makeup that renders the performers unrecognizable. But we have little trouble catching on to what the family is up to, which often strikes an absurdly funny tone that’s only compounded by this absurd setup that seems sprung from 1970s Saturday morning TV..

They hump, they fling poop, they get high off wild berries and act like idiots, and they are forced to confront the serious consequences of mankind’s intrusion on their habitat.

Wait, are we getting real here?

We are. As the seasons pass, harsh lessons are learned, and the Zellners layer this nutty romp with some thoughtful, touching, and yes even heartbreaking moments. It’s a small miracle that it all works, one bolstered by the fact that you really haven’t seen anything like this before, so rules seem up for grabs.

Why would you cast name actors for roles that hide their faces and don’t allow them to speak? I dunno, maybe these actors have experience marking their territory with urine.

And if you want to make heartfelt points about family bonds and the delicate balance of nature, why surround them with a barrage of bathroom humor?

Let ’em live!

What’s certain is that there is commitment evident in every choice the Zellners make, right down to the wry bombshell delivered by the final shot. So take a load off your big feet, and give Sasquatch Sunset the chance to charm you.

You’ve Got Hate Mail

Wicked Little Letters

by George Wolf

Long before you could hide behind a keyboard and avatar, a small English village was scandalized by some expert-level anonymous trolling. Wicked Little Letters tells us that story is “more true than you’d think,” and rolls out a stellar ensemble to elevate the tale at nearly every turn.

It is the 1920s in Littlehampton, England, where unmarried Edith Swan (Oscar winner Olivia Colman) still lives with her parents (Timothy Spall, Gemma Jones). Edith is known to be a dutiful daughter and devout Christian, so town tongues are wagging when she begins to receive hateful and profanity-laced “poison pen” letters in the mail.

Who could be behind such unwarranted vitriol?

Whaddya bet it’s that filthy Irishwoman Rose Gooding (Oscar nominee Jessie Buckley)?

Rose is frequently loud, drunk and vulgar. Plus, she’s a war widow (or is she?) with a young daughter (Alisha Weir from the upcoming Abigail), a “reputation” and a live-in boyfriend (Malachi Kirby).

Throw in the recent falling-out with Edith, and that’s enough for the town Constables (Hugh Skinner, Paul Chahidi), who arrest Rose and quickly schedule a show trial.

But “Woman Police Officer” Moss (Anjana Vasan) isn’t convinced, and she risks her position by continuing to investigate the letters on her own.

Director Thea Sharrock (Me Before You, The One and Only Ivan) and first-time screenwriter Jonny Sweet don’t craft a “whodunnit” as much as they do a “whoproveit” and a “whydunnit.” The real culprit is revealed fairly early on, and the film tries to balance some British wit atop heavier themes of repression, equality, and the sanctimonious crowd who are all preach no practice.

It’s historically interesting and well-meaning enough, but it reveals Sweet’s TV background through a light and obvious romp that’s rescued by heavyweight talent.

Colman, Buckley and Spall are all customarily splendid, each making up for the lack of nuance in their characters with some livid-in conviction and natural chemistry. Plus, Vasan stands out in the winning supporting group as the overlooked and underestimated W.P.O. Moss.

So while it’s lacking in the bite needed to leave a lasting impression, think of Wicked Little Letters as an extended cat video, one just amusing enough to take your mind off of all those nasty comments from the keyboard warriors.

The Deadest of Pans

Lousy Carter

by George Wolf

“Lousy” Carter (a terrific David Krumholtz) is a college professor, currently teaching a grad level seminar on The Great Gatsby.

One book? Even his “best friend” and colleague Kaminsky (Martin Starr) is nonplussed.

“Maybe you should teach a pamphlet,” he says with the deadest of pans, underscoring the entire tone of writer/director Bob Byington’s sardonic slice of life and death.

Carter got his titular nickname from being bad at golf, but he’s not exactly ace-ing this life thing, either. Lousy’s students don’t like him, his ex (Olivia Thirlby) calls him a “baby man,” and his sister (Trieste Kelly Dunn) would rather not call him at all. His fellow teachers are embarrassed for him, his therapist (Stephen Root) mocks him, he’s thousands in debt, and he’s sleeping with Kaminsky’s wife (Jocelyn DeBoer).

Great. Anything else?

He just got some very bad news at the doctor’s office.

But hey, he does have a fan in Dick Anthony (Macon Blair), a weird guy who loved the animated film Lousy made “back in the aughts,” and who might be giving off stalker vibes.

If you’re familiar with Byington’s work (Somebody Up There Likes Me, RSO), you’ll be ready for how dryly Byington attacks this clash of narcissism against the merciless march of time. And though you can probably count on one hand the number of times any character smiles, that doesn’t mean there aren’t laughs to be found here.

The biggest may be the “based on true events” tag that Byington hangs up at the start, right before he lets Krumholtz loose on this journey of indignation. It’s not so much an arc as it is a sinking ship, but Krumholtz excels in finding sympathetic moments that draw us in.

And even if this bark has too much bite for you, it’s hard not to respect Byington’s masterly command of tone. His commitment to that tone is unwavering, with Krumholtz leading an unmerry band of misanthropes through a series of events that are never at a loss for darkly funny cynicism.

I mean they’re just lousy with it.

Freeze Frame

Scrambled

by George Wolf

There’s an old adage about comedians making up jokes to hide real pain. It’s clear that for writer/director/star Leah McKendrick, there’s a very real struggle at the heart of Scrambled, and her film is better for not letting us forget that.

McKendrick plays Nellie, a 34 year-old perennial bridesmaid who clings to the “single bitches 4 life!” mantra, even as more members of her crew (including SNL’s Ego Nwodim and the always welcome June Diane Raphael) start settling down and getting pregnant.

Nellie has to face up to some harsh biological facts. Her mind and body can remain ready to mingle – but her fertility has a shelf life and the clock is ticking. So while she auditions a string of suitors from “The Nice Guy” to “The Prom King” to simply “Nope,” Nellie consults a amusingly deadpan doctor (Feodor Chin) about freezing her eggs.

Or, as Nellie’s Dad (a priceless Clancy Brown) calls it, “millennial feminist voodoo.”

McKendrick scores some big laughs with the family’s reaction to Nellie’s family planning, but this is an an issue that is very real for the first time feature director, and plenty of women like her. And beneath the jokes about Nellie’s dating habits and her parents’ longing for the return of her ex, McKendrick makes sure we see Nellie in fully formed terms.

She’s a grown ass woman choosing when and how she may want to have children. And in doing so, Nellie’s forced to navigate the social, physical, and financial barriers that can leave her feeling punished for embracing her own journey.

But Nellie moves forward – with both smiles and middle fingers. McKendrick’s recipe for Scrambled finds a nice balance of flavors, and we get a full-flavored dish of empowering humor.

Merely Players

The Innocent

by George Wolf

With The Innocent (L’innocent), director/co-writer/co-star Louis Garrel takes Shakespeare’s declaration that “all the world’s a stage” to some clever and literal ends.

Or, he mines madcap laughs from a man trying to catch his mother’s new husband in a lie.

Or, he builds tension from a “sure thing” heist sure to go wrong.

Or maybe he’s just trying to comment on the needless games we sometimes play for love.

Really, the film’s biggest hurdle is keeping the whiplash at bay as it juggles all of these tones for just over 90 minutes. And for the most part its balancing act is successful, crafting a breezy and amusing take at all the untrue stories we tell.

Sylvie (Anouk Grinberg) teaches drama to prison inmates (as Garrel’s own mother did for many years), and falls in love with the incarcerated Michel (Roschdy Zem). They marry, which doesn’t thrill Sylvie’s adult son Abel (Garrel, who you may remember as Theo from The Dreamers), and once Michel is released, Abel sets out to prove to his mother that Michel is still up to no good.

Meanwhile, Abel and Clémence (Noémie Merlant, so good in Tár and Portrait of a Lady on Fire) stand delicately on the last rung of the friend zone, each seemingly waiting for the other to jump off.

Garrel blurs the line between acting and lying (to others and ourselves) with a slyly comical hand, amid pauses to remind us how crucial sincerity is to successful relationships.

Okay, that’s enough, now back to this zany caviar robbery!

American audiences may find The Innocent to be more of an acquired taste than those in Garrel’s native France, but anyone who dives in shouldn’t bail too quickly. Give this splendid cast time to pull all the threads together, and they’ll build a stage big enough for comedy, drama, romance and heart.

Donna Corleone

Mafia Mamma

by George Wolf

So a suburban L.A. mom named Kristin (Toni Collette) is handpicked to be the new boss of a mafia family in Italy? Man, that’s crazy. How’d that happen?

“They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

It’s actually surprising Kristin doesn’t say that in Mafia Mamma, a film that’s built on exactly that same type of obvious, forced humor.

Kristin has barely had to time to cry about her son leaving for college when she catches her husband Paul (Tim Daisch) in the act with a younger woman. Then, while her head is spinning about the future of her marriage, Kirstin hears from the mysterious Bianca (Monica Belluci).

Turns out Kristin’s estranged grandfather was head of the Balbano crime family, and was just assassinated by the rival Romano clan. But Kristin (maiden name: Balbano) is only told grandpa is dead, and she must come to Italy to settle his affairs.

As Jenny (Sophia Nomvete), the oversexed best friend (c’mon, you knew there’d be an oversexed best friend) implores Kristin to have an “Eat, pray, f@#k” vacation, she’s quickly juggling suave suitors and surprising truths.

Bianca was General for Don Guiseppe Balbano (Alessandro Bressanello), and she’s committed to carrying out the Don’s last order: that Kristin take over the family.

Fish-out-of-water hijinx ensue, with director Catherine Hardwicke weakly juggling the mob tropes amid some well-intentioned but heavy handed reminders about how workplace culture disrespects aging women.

Collette is likable as always, and Belucci is smoldering as always, but the script they’re given can’t rise above the TV backgrounds of the writing team. Convoluted, nonsensical and never more than mildly amusing, Mafia Mamma is about as lively as Luca Brasi.

They Don’t Like Me, They Really Don’t Like Me

Official Competition

by George Wolf

Who’s more full of it: The cinema snob who dismisses whatever’s popular, or the escapist fan wary of any whiff of highbrow? Awards shows, or those who protest them too much? Film festival agenda twisters, or film festival attention whores?

Official Competition is here to nominate them all. Co-directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat (both also co-write with Andrés Duprat) come armed with plenty of knives, and their mischievous and wonderfully witty satire has them out for pretty much everyone involved in movie making.

When an 80 year-old millionaire (José Luis Gómez) decides his legacy should involve producing the film version of a Nobel prize-winning novel, critic’s darling Lola Cuevas (Penélope Cruz) gets the call to direct. But Lola insists on adapting “La Rivalidad” with a unique vision, one that starts with casting polar opposites in the lead roles.

Félix Rivero (Antonio Banderas) is the worldwide box office star, while Iván Torres (Oscar Martinez) is the legendary thespian. They will play warring brothers, while their own philosophical clashes grow more volatile – and more dryly hilarious – by the day.

And don’t bother looking to Lola for cool-headed problem-solving. She’d rather provoke the tension with a variety of creative exercises – such as wrapping her two stars in restraints and threatening to destroy their most prized awards right in front of their panic-stricken faces.

Subtle it ain’t, but funny it is.

And even when a joke or two lingers a beat past its expiration, this sublime trio of actors makes nearly every frenzied interaction a joy to behold.

Is Lola a motivational genius or a complete fraud? Does Félix have the chops to go toe-to-toe with the prestigious Iván? And does Iván secretly admire Félix’s success? Cruz, Banderas and Martinez are clearly having as much fun acting it out as we are trying to sort it out.

And like much of the best satire, Official Competition is talking about one thing, but saying something else. Its barbs aimed at the movie business may be silly, acerbic and insightful, but none can hide the respect this film has for the entirely mad nature of the creative process.

Call it a love letter, with a completely entertaining ‘smidge of hate.

Sex, Truth and Videotape

Ride the Eagle

by George Wolf

Small casts working on limited sets with wide open spaces. We’ve seen plenty of these films lately, and we’ll see plenty more. Because even under pandemic rules, creators adjust and create.

Director/co-writer Trent O’Donnell and star/co-writer Jake Johnson adjusted to the tune of Ride the Eagle, a lightly sweet lesson in living your best life while you still can.

Johnson is Leif, a harmless California stoner who plays bongos (oh, sorry, “percussion”) in a band called Restaurant. Leif’s been estranged from his mom Honey (Susan Sarandon, in a role that seems tailored to her) since she left to join a cult when he was 12.

But now, Honey’s dead, and she’s left behind a couple things especially for Leif. The first is her sweet mountain cabin up near Yosemite, which he can take possession of only if he pays close attention to the other thing Mom left.

It’s a VHS tape, filled with a to-do list that comprises Leif’s “conditional inheritance.”

“Is this legal?” Apparently, it is.

And luckily, Mom’s VHS player isn’t dead. So Leif dutifully goes about the tasks that Honey hopes will teach him things she regretfully did not: express yourself, eat what you kill, call the one that got away.

Sarandon’s on tape, and ex Audrey (a charmingly flirty D’Arcy Carden) is on phone and text, so this is nearly a Johnson one man show. Good thing he’s in his likable comfort zone, using his talks with dog Nora as an endearingly organic way to both inform and crack wise.

It’s all perfectly warm and amusing, but in need of precisely the jolt delivered by Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons as Carl, Honey’s ex-lover who’s not shy about detailing their love life.

“That’s probably not what her son wants to hear, I guess.”

No probably not, but we do. Simmons’s cameo punctures the bubble by putting two humans in the same room to reflect on the passing of another human. It’s funny and it’s fuzzy and it goes a long way toward making sure these ruminations on forgiveness and regret actually resonate.

The Honey do list isn’t preaching anything new, but Johnson and O’Donnell never pretend that it is. Ride the Eagle is a casual, come as you are and wherever you are affair, like some comfort food two guys thought was worth another serving during a worldwide crisis.

And they’re not wrong. Some golden rules are always worth a rewind, even on VHS.

Ride the Eagle comes to theaters, VOD and digital July 30th

The Rubber Meets the Road

Plan B

by George Wolf

Even before theaters shut down, there was no shortage of solid R-rated comedies getting woefully ignored. One of those was the wonderful Booksmart – which put a female friendship at the center of a Superbad-type coming-of-age romp.

Hulu’s Plan B takes the Booksmart model, mixes in some trusty road movie hijinx and even more sexual honesty than Blockers to concoct a teen sex comedy with plenty of smarts and sustained laughs.

South Dakota teens Lupe (Victoria Moroles) and Sunny (Kuhoo Verma) are best friends on slightly different social levels. The confident, outgoing Lupe is, ahem, “dating,” while the reserved Sunny has zero prospects and just pines for her crush to come over for a “Disney Plus and thrust.”

But then Sunny’s Mom goes out of town, so party! After Lupe’s cheery advice to “make good choices!” an impatient Sunny wants to get it over with already, leading to a very awkward bathroom hookup and an unfortunate condom accident.

Trading puke buckets and talking it over the next morning, the girls decide the best thing to do is get Sunny the morning after pill. This turns out to be a lot harder than they expect.

Moroles and Verma are both terrific, each finding distinct ways to give their characters authentic levels of the angst, curiosity, self-doubt and cautious confidence that are perpetually bouncing off teenage walls.

Once the search for Plan B involves a road trip to Rapid City, the script from Joshua Levy and Prathiksha Srinivasan delivers welcome surprises alongside inspired silliness and moments of outright hilarity (like the bit about Footloose and a doll museum).

There are some dry stretches along the way, but director Natalie Morales shows good instincts for when to pivot, and for making sure this teen sex comedy ends up speaking to some mighty serious issues.

So expect Rachel Dratch teaching abstinence by way of driver’s ed, but also young women exploring their sexuality amid an onslaught of mixed messages, double standards and threats to their freedom of choice.

Don’t let the dick jokes fool ya, there’s heart and brains here, too, and a sweet friendship illustrating the importance of unconditional love from your family, as well as the ones that feel like family.

And also dick jokes.

Funny How?

Here Today

by George Wolf

Billy Crystal is a likable guy, and frequently funny. Tiffany Haddish is a likable gal, and often funny.

So there are possibilities for some odd couple fun in Crystal’s Here Today, but almost all of them are wasted in an overlong, self-indulgent, misguided and unfunny misfire.

Crystal, in his first big screen directing effort since 95’s Forget Paris, also co-writes and stars as Charlie, a legendary comedy writer currently working on a TV sketch show. Haddish is Emma, a singer whose boyfriend wins lunch with Charlie in a charity auction. But when the boyfriend becomes an ex, Emma shows up at the restaurant instead, and an unlikely friendship is born.

Charlie’s memory problems are quickly becoming an issue, as are the flashbacks to a vaguely traumatic event involving his ex-wife (Louisa Krause). Frequent visits to the doctor (Anna Deavere Smith) help Charlie hide his condition from his grown children (Penn Badgley, Laura Benanti), so the speed with which Emma sniffs it out is just one example of the falseness that plagues the entire film.

From phone conversations to reaction shots to skits on Charlie’s TV show, there’s hardly an ounce of authenticity to Crystal’s direction. And because none of these characters feel real, Charlie’s dismissive attitude toward the younger writers’ brands of comedy – complete with an embarrassing riff on Network‘s “mad as hell” speech – comes off as sour grapes from Crystal himself.

The script, based on co-writer Alan Zweibel’s short story “The Prize,” has only enough humor to elicit some scattered smiles. The bigger goal quickly becomes telling us how Charlie comes to grips with his condition and his past, and more disappointingly, showing us how Emma puts her own dreams on hold to pursue her magically healing effect on this white family.

Crystal has enjoyed many high points in a long and legendary career. He may very well have more, which would help everyone forget the lowlight that is Here Today.