Tag Archives: comedy movies

Greece Is the Word

The Trip to Greece

by George Wolf

“Exhausting? Me? You should meet you!”

Yes, the boys are at it for the fourth time on the big screen, enjoying exotic locales, savoring sumptuous cuisine, and critiquing the finer points of each other’s celebrity impressions.

Since taking The Trip around England ten years ago, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have also toured Italy (2014) and Spain (2017), reviewing restaurants and juggling their slightly fictionalized lives while director Michael Winterbottom documents it all.

This time out, they’ve also adopted more of an interest in history. They journey from Troy to Ithaca, following in the footsteps of the Odysseus, checking the tour book when they aren’t quizzing each other on historical timelines or Bee Gees tunes (Brydon’s bit with “Stayin Alive” is a scream).

The sarcasm is thick and the barbs sharp per usual, but while the overall hilarity level may be down a notch, this film boasts the most impressive vistas and enticing recipes of the entire series. Sure, it might be the quarantine talking, but less than an hour in I was ready to call either a travel agent or a Greek restaurant. Maybe both.

And in what might be a nod to the end of the franchise, the whiff of mortality pierces the air. Steve calls home often for updates on the health of his dad, and the levity of the “at our age” references carries an added layer of wistful resignation. You get the feeling these guys are finally giving up chasing youthful ghosts and embracing the time they have now.

These trips have always been about appreciating old friends, great food and often uproarious conversation. But while this isn’t the franchise high point, there’s a poignancy here in Greece, underneath Aristotle’s ashes and all the painful falsetto harmonies, that would make it the most satisfying finale.

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.

College Prep

Booksmart

by Hope Madden

Every generation has its pivotal high school graduation film: Superbad, Say Anything, 10 Things I Hate About You, Grease, High School Musical 3.

I mean, not all of them can be classics. Making her feature debut behind the camera, Olivia Wilde hopes to join the ranks of the classics with her smart, funny, raunchy yet quite loving tale of two besties preparing to go their separate ways, Booksmart.

Amy (Kaitlyn Denver) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) approach the last day of high school with a certain earned swagger. Both have been accepted into the Ivy League by dedicating their previous four years to little more than study and each other.

And every other soon-to-be graduate? As Molly’s morning ritual self-help tape says, fuck them in their fucking faces.

So, this movie is very definitely R-rated, FYI. But it never loses a sweet silliness, rooting its episodic adventures in a believable bond between two true talents.

The catalyst for their one wild night? Molly realizes at the last possible minute that her classmates all seem destined for just as much post-high school greatness as she, and they also managed to have fun. They had it all, while she had only study and Amy.

And there is just one night left to rectify that wrong.

From a script penned by four (Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman), Wilde spins a female-centric story without abandoning the fun, the idiocy or the laughs you hope to find in this very specific kind of film.

Wilde’s confident direction leans on her leads’ chemistry to drive what could otherwise be a string of sketches. Instead, taken together they provide a riot of color, laughter and misadventure that celebrates sisterhood.

She and her leads are helped immeasurably by one of the strongest casts assembled for a teen party movie. Billie Lourde (Carrie Fisher’s daughter) steals every scene she’s in. Meanwhile Skyler Gisondo and Molly Gordon are both very solid while adults Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte, Lisa Kudrow and Jessica Williams all deliver in small roles.

Some of the bits—Williams’s teacher trajectory, in particular—feel too random, an overall tone that occasionally threatens the narrative. But Wilde’s instinct to keep each situation invested more in the friendship than the sketch pays off.

There are definite missteps. For as much thoughtfulness as the film directs toward the emotional longing of its lesbian protagonist Amy, the movie’s gay male characters are exaggerated stereotypes. Disappointing.

Comparisons to Superbad are unavoidable, particularly since Feldstein’s brother Jonah Hill starred in Greg Mottola’s 2007 high water mark. And while Booksmart may not quite hit that target, Wilde’s comedy is the most fun flick to join the party since McLovin and the Lube.

All In

Family

by Hope Madden

On occasion, film reps send us links to preview their film for review. Often, these links are password protected. Once, the password was bouncehouse.

Yes, please.

The film in question is called Family, writer Laura Steinel’s directorial debut, and it plays like a fun update of Uncle Buck with Juggalos.

That’s right!

We open on an uptight executive sprinting, face painted, through an Insane Clown Posse gathering and reflecting, “It’s kind of like a fun county fair where you could also, potentially, be stabbed.”

That reflective exec is Kate, and Kate is maybe Taylor Schilling’s best cinematic character. She takes to Steinel’s dialog with a flat affect that’s entirely, awkwardly enjoyable.

Kate is Uncle Buck, basically. Only she’s not. She’s a driven businessperson who actually got where she is because she has literally nothing else in her life to draw her attention or energy. And then she has to babysit her 11-year-old niece Maddie (Bryn Vale, spot on) and next thing you know—right, life lessons. We’re all familiar with the John Hughes handbook, but Steinel updates it with less schmaltz and more belief in nonconformity. And juggalos.

When Maddie says, “Magic is my passion,” I had to hit pause because I was afraid my snorting would drown out the next piece of comedy gold.

There are problems with Family (besides that inanely generic title). It is funny, and its comical scenes are delivered by an entirely winning cast (which includes the unreasonably hilarious Kate McKinnon and the unreasonably talented Brian Tyree Henry). That’s not the problem.

Steinel also inverts and subverts the tropes of the genre. There are two upended “makeover” scenes that are both funny and insightful. It’s also just a savvy look at being socially awkward.

No, the problem here is that the many colorful and fun scenes are strung together more than they are foundational to a whole. And the keen insight Steinel uses to sharpen individual jokes softens when the time comes to finish the story.

She John Hugheses it.

But a well-placed “sorry for your loss” is surprisingly funny and there are at least a dozen scenes here that I kind of love. Family is smart, R-rated comedy that ultimately caves to the pressure to conform, but its struggle to be itself is laudable.

Plus, those juggalos. They have hearts of gold.

PS, this is what all my sisters thought I would be like as a parent. And I wasn’t. Entirely.

Let’s Get Small

Little

by Hope Madden

Based on a concept by 14 year-old executive producer and star Marsai Martin (Black-ish), the comeuppance comedy Little flips the script on the Tom Hanks Eighties adventure in manhood, Big.

We open with Martin as Jordan Sanders at 13, a science nerd who takes a chance at the talent show to win over the Windsor Middle School student body. When she fails, she pins her dreams on one day being an adult who bullies everyone else before they can bully her.

Flash forward 25 years. Jordan (now Regina Hall) is a monster boss, terrorizing the developers at her tech firm and making life especially miserable for her assistant, April (Insecure‘s Issa Rae). Can some carbs and a little magic return Jordan to her adolescent form so she can unlearn the lesson that sent her life in the wrong direction?

It’s a slight story, penned from Martin’s idea by director Tina Gordon and co-writer Tracy Oliver (Girls Trip). The two choose not to represent bullying as anything other than a fact of life to be tolerated, but they do layer in some silly fun and spots of surprising humor, mainly thanks to the strength of the two leads.

Rae charms throughout the film. Her smile and energy shine, and she offers natural chemistry with both adult and teen versions of her boss. Rae brings a reluctant but earnest sense of compassion to the role, and her comic timing is spot on.

Martin is the film’s real star. She carries scenes with a clever knack for portraying an adult brain inside a child’s form. The physical performance amuses, but it’s really the way she delivers sly lines with a saucy look or toss of the head that brings a chuckle.

It would be tough for this film to be more predictable, but several side characters—a social services agent (Rachel Dracht) and dreamy 7th grade teacher (Justin Hartley) work wonders with their odd characters and limited screen time.

The plotting is pretty sloppy and at no point does the comedy draw more than a chuckle, but Little is an amusing if forgettable waste of time. Martin is someone to remember, though.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5HdNhpeI1g4





School of Hart Knocks

Night School

by Hope Madden

The endlessly likeable Kevin Hart and the undeniably talented Tiffany Haddish join forces, which sounds like a solid plan except that Night School is a Kevin Hart movie, and when was the last time one of those was any good?

Sure, Jumanji had some laughs. In fact, Hart’s films almost always boast a few chuckles, mainly because of the actor’s infectious energy and self-deprecating humor. But they’re not good.

Neither is Night School which, even with Haddish and a handful of other proven comic talents, isn’t funny, either.

Hart plays Ted, a good-hearted hustler, talking big and spending bigger, pretending to be more than he is to compensate for his own insecurities. Of course he is, it’s a Kevin Hart movie.

Haddish is Carol, the overworked, underpaid night school teacher here to believe in Ted and the collection of losers in her class. It’s tough love, though, because Haddish is funnier when she’s mean.

What the film does well could have been packaged into an enjoyable 15-minute short. Hart gets off a few laughs working for a Christian fast food chicken joint, and the camaraderie among his late blooming classmates sometimes draws a giggle.

The actors portraying those night school chums work hard to establish memorable, funny characters with limited screen time and an even more limited script. Still, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Rob Riggle, Al Madrigal, Anne Winters and especially Romany Malco work wonders. Taran Killam amuses on occasion as the uptight principal with a grudge.

But there’s only so much they can do. Director Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip) drags every gag out about 8 minutes longer than necessary. The script, penned by Hart and five other writers, does Lee no favors. Even Haddish struggles to be funny with flat dialog and pointless, contrived physical comedy bits.

While you’re not laughing you might notice that Night School does make a few surprising choices. Its comedy is good hearted. This is a film that likes all its characters—the females, the losers, those with success and even the parents whose coddling and/or verbal abuse may or may not be to blame for the whole night school problem.

Those are small successes in a film that squanders a lot of talent and all of our time.





Money Changes Everything

Crazy Rich Asians

by Rachel Willis

When Nick Young (Henry Golding) asks Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) to be his date to a wedding in Singapore, she expects a nice, but simple trip to her boyfriend’s home. She’ll meet his family, and they’ll take an important step forward in their relationship. It’s what Rachel doesn’t know – that Nick is a member of a family known as “Singapore royalty” – that sets up the comedy and drama of Crazy Rich Asians.

Director Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel is an entertaining look at the culture clash that happens when Rachel attempts to fit in with Nick’s family.

“Crazy rich” is an accurate descriptor for Nick’s family and their class of friends. Born and raised in New York by a single, working mother, Rachel isn’t prepared for the ostentatious wealth that surrounds Nick’s family. Though proud of her life and career – economics professor at NYU – she realizes that she’s seen as an unremarkable outsider in this world of wealth and power, especially by Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh – outstanding as always). Efforts to sabotage their relationship begin before Rachel even leaves New York.

There are a lot of characters in the movie. Too many, really, and the important side characters suffer a lack of necessary development. A second narrative thread involving Nick’s cousin, Astrid (Gemma Chan), and her husband, Michael (Pierre Png), never hits the stride it deserves.

But there’s a lot to like about the movie. Nick and Rachel rank among the best – and most realistic – rom-com couples. As Rachel’s friend Peik Lin, Awkwafina provides the film’s funniest moments. She’s also the dose of reality Rachel needs when dealing with the crazy rich. And despite being 120 minutes, long for a romantic comedy, the film never drags.

Crazy Rich Asians is the kind of fluffy, fun, romantic summer fare that will leave almost everyone satisfied.