Tag Archives: comedy

Feel the Burn

Sorry to Bother You

by Hope Madden

The stars are aligning for Boots Riley. The vocalist and songwriter for The Coup—the funkiest radical socialist band you’re likely to find—has managed to produce a wild and relevant satire of capitalism that might possibly find a mainstream audience.

And that’s not because he whitewashed his message.

Sorry to Bother You uses splashes of absurdity and surrealism to enliven the first act “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” tale of a weary young man’s ascension through the ranks of telemarketing. It is a funny and pointed send-up of cubical hell that—unlike most office comedies—focuses quickly on a system that benefits very few while it exploits very many.

There is so much untidiness and depth to relationships, characterizations, comedy, horror, style, message and execution of this film that you could overlook Riley’s directorial approach. He expertly uses the havoc and excess, first lulling you into familiar territory before upending all expectations and taking you on one headtrip of an indictment of capitalism.

Led by Lakeith Stanfield (Get Out, Atlanta) and Tessa Thompson (star of Creed, Thor: Ragnarock and her own gleaming awesomeness), Sorry to Bother You finds an emotional center that sets the friction between community and individual on understandable ground.

Thompson offers bursts of energy that nicely offset Stanfield’s slower, more necessarily muddled performance as the “everyman” central character for a new generation.

And who better to embody everything a capitalist system convinces you is ideal than living Ken doll Armie Hammer? He is perfect—an actor who entirely comprehends his physical perfection and how loathsome it can be. He is a hoot.

Riley’s film could not be more timely. Though he wrote it nearly a dozen years ago, and it certainly reflects a trajectory our nation has been on for eons, it feels so of-the-moment you expect to see a baby Trump balloon floating above the labor union picket line.

Bursting with thoughts, images and ideas, the film never feels like it wanders into tangents. Instead, Riley’s alarmingly relevant directorial debut creates a new cinematic form to accommodate its abundance of insight and number of comments.

Does it careen off the rails by Act 3? Oh, yes, and gloriously so. A tidy or in any way predictable conclusion would have been a far greater disaster, though. Riley set us on a course that dismantles the structure we’ve grown used to as moviegoers and we may not be ready for what that kind of change means for us. Isn’t it about goddamn time?

A for Effort

Life of the Party

by Matt Weiner

One of these days we’ll finally get a Melissa McCarthy movie that deserves her talents and doesn’t just desperately depend on them. Even though Life of the Party is written by McCarthy along with husband and frequent collaborator Ben Falcone… well, the wait isn’t over quite yet.

McCarthy stars as Deanna Miles, a woman whose life is upended by a sudden divorce with her husband Dan (Matt Walsh). Realizing that she spent her adult life meekly going along with other people’s wishes, Deanna decides to finish her abandoned senior year of college. It’s a positive message, as far as mid-life crises go.

This brings her into embarrassingly close contact with her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon), who is also finishing her senior year at school, as well as Maddie’s sorority sisters. (All standard “not actually that weird” movie misfits, except for Gillian Jacobs, who injects some actual off-kilter menace as Helen.)

The idea of a former student getting into classes immediately (apparently without the need to re-take additional core requirements), and paying to live on campus despite living 20 minutes away raises some logistical questions. But McCarthy’s comedic gifts have saved staler setups. She turns Deanna into a woman to root for, not pity, as she completes her degree, relives her youth and gets over her spineless ex-husband.

Not that the film’s cringe comedy with a heart comes without a cost: the gentle nudges toward empowerment and inclusivity make for a welcoming message. But the steady laughs are all a bit defanged, especially for a setup about a woman whose husband has just divorced her after decades of building a life together (and who apparently still controls their finances in a way that makes her life materially difficult).

Given how much the story invests in the contrived college setup, the real missed opportunity feels like the uninhibited adult comedy nipping at the outer edges of what ended up on screen. Maya Rudolph is wickedly good as Christine, the best friend living vicariously through Deanna. And Walsh can tease out more notes than should be possible when given the room to work his sad sack variations.

It doesn’t really seem like the film is trying to connect with a younger audience anyway. The film is more homage to the triumphant ‘80s teen movies that McCarthy and Falcone would have eaten up as teens, with a “Save Deanna” finale and all.

This is a good thing when it comes to the sexual politics. (Have you re-watched Revenge of the Nerds lately?) But the predictable setup makes Life of the Party diverting yet wholly forgettable.

It’s a passing grade, but just barely.

 

 

Clowns Against Humanity

Game Night

by Hope Madden

Nobody does dry, self-deprecating humor as well as Jason Bateman. He’s such a natural as the put-upon husband/brother at the center of the Game Night tension, he becomes the action/comedy’s effortless center of gravity.

And the way this story orbits, circles back, veers around and comes back again, gravity is important.

Bateman plays Max who, with his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams), hosts a weekly game night at his house. But Max’s super cool brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) wants to host this week, and Max’s creepy neighbor Gary (Jesse Plemons, creepy perfection) wants to come. Well, things are spinning out of control, aren’t they?

A tight script by Mark Perez gives a game cast (see what I did there?) plenty of opportunity to riff on each other and nerd up the place. The chemistry onscreen, particularly between couples—each of which is given the chance to create believable unions—elevates the hijinks.

McAdams steals scenes with comic charm, reminding us again of her spot-on timing and ability to generate plausible relationship backstory with anybody. Meanwhile, funny bits from Sharon Horgan and Lamorne Morris, in particular, keep the larger Game Night ensemble from letting the storyline lag.

The easy humor spilling from this cast pulls the film away from absurd comedy and turns it into something more comfortable. Because, even though there may or may not (or may?) have been a kidnapping and they may or may not (or may?) be making things worse, they have actually trained for this moment for years.

Because what is it that will help these couples live through the bizarre and twisted mess their game night has become?

Teamwork.

Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Vacation) keep the action low key. This allows the entire effort to indulge in the “so this is happening right now, then? Ok, let’s deal with that” kind of humor that is so characteristically Bateman. The comedy is upbeat and fun (though sometimes surprisingly violent) and true to the characters and their relationships.

It’s consistently fun and ultimately forgettable. Like a game night.

Birdhouse in Your Soul

Lady Bird

by Hope Madden

Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, may be the most delightfully candid and refreshingly forgiving coming-of-age film I’ve seen.

The great Saoirse Ronan—because honestly, is there now or has there ever been a more effortlessly talented 23-year-old?—plays Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson. Uniformed senior at Sacramento’s Immaculate Heart, Lady Bird is a work in progress.

Ronan is surrounded by talent. Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) shines as a sweetly gawky budding thespian while, as Lady Bird’s devoted bestie Julie, Beanie Feldstein (Neighbors 2) is heart-achingly wonderful.

Tracy Letts, playwright turned go-to character actor, proves again his natural ability in his newer profession as LB’s softie father. But it’s Laurie Metcalf who matches Ronan step for step.

As Lady Bird’s tough, even scary, mother, Metcalf is near-perfect. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rosanne star nab her first Oscar nomination for a turn that’s brave, funny, hard to watch and painfully authentic.

Lady Bird’s greatest desire is to escape Sacramento—“the Midwest of California”—in favor of someplace, anyplace, with culture. Preferably a liberal arts college in NYC. But her grades, her mom and her family’s financial situation present some (often hilarious) obstacles.

Though the film is hardly a straight-up comedy, its irreverent humor is uproarious. I laughed louder and more often during Lady Bird than any film this year.

The plot and the comedy are less the point here than you might expect. They are really just a device Gerwig uses to explore adolescence and its characteristic stage of reinvention. She throws in the surprisingly accurate image of a family’s financial struggle to boot, just to make sure we never mistake this for a John Hughes film, or, God forbid, Perks of Being a Wallflower.

No, this is not a cheese-clothed indictment of all the ills facing adolescents. It’s Rushmore with less camp and more authenticity, and that’s got more to do with Gerwig than her formidable cast.

Though Lady Bird’s landscape is littered with coming-of-age tropes, there is wisdom and sincerity in the delivery. Gerwig offers genuine insight rather than nostalgia or, worse yet, lessons to be learned. The result ranks among the best films of the year.

Arts and Crafts

Dave Made a Maze

by Hope Madden

Maybe you’re not up for 80 minutes of existential dread, of traversing the subconscious of a stunted artist – a man who cannot complete a project because you don’t have to fail if you never finish anything.

But do you feel like wandering through a cardboard maze? Because, dude, it is so cool in here!

Dave Made a Maze takes its millennial angst seriously enough to construct a remarkably thorough metaphor through the creation of this remarkable cardboard labyrinth.

Frustrated artist Dave (Nick Thune) has countless great ideas, no follow-through. All he really wanted to do while his girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) was out of town was fix the doorknob.

Ooo! Origami!

Hey! Woodwork!

No, wait…that doorknob…look! An ant farm!

Inspired by the ant farm, Dave builds the world’s most elaborate and amazing labyrinth inside cardboard boxes taking up the bulk of his apartment. To Annie’s dismay, he won’t – or can’t – come out once she arrives home.

Plus, there’s a minotaur in there!

As Annie and Dave’s friends attempt a rescue, a charming, nerdy horror comedy of sorts emerges as a mash note to self-loathing and the creative process.

Adam Busch, playing Dave’s bearded bestie Gordon, is a delight, while the gang’s documentarian buddy Harry (James Urbaniak) and his crew (Scott Narver and Frank Caeti) are a self-referential hoot.

First time director Bill Watterson, working from a screenplay he co-wrote with Steven Sears, serves up a charmingly spot-on metaphorical intervention, with an amazing assist from production designers Trisha Gum and John Sumner with art director Jeff White.

Their cardboard world of Dave’s subconscious is endlessly fascinating, adorably dangerous and fun. Existential dread has never been so charming.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

Girl Tripping

Girls Trip

by Hope Madden

Here’s my guess: The first time you saw the trailer for Girls Trip you thought, didn’t I just see this movie? Isn’t Rough Night this same movie, only whiter?

Yes.

Well…Girls Trip is a bit raunchier, a bit schmaltzier, with characters a bit more broadly drawn.

You will laugh, though.

Regina Hall stars as Ryan Pierce, an Oprah-style life coach whose perfect marriage is a beacon of “having it all” to her throngs of fans and book buyers. Invited to keynote at Essence Magazine’s New Orleans conference, she sees a chance to reconnect with her three college besties – the Flossy Posse.

Uptight single mom Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith), trashy Dina (Tiffany Haddish) and true friend in a bad spot, Sasha (Queen Latifah) join Ryan for their first wild weekend together in years. Give this mostly veteran cast credit – they take underwritten characters and make them feel like flesh and bone.

Girls Trip bears the glossy look and feel of a Malcolm D. Lee film – enough camaraderie to keep you interested, enough syrup to make you want to brush your teeth. But Lee takes some chances and allows his cast some leeway with this film, and it pays off.

Despite its already tired premise, Lee’s movie takes some of its antics in extreme directions to draw shocked laughter and genuine entertainment.

I don’t mean polite chuckle funny, either. It’s “is that an old man dick?” funny.

Not a single plot point will surprise, and the film is too damn long. Way too long – 30 minutes too long at least. But, between the natural chemistry among the quartet of leads and wild scene stealing from the comically gifted Haddish, Girls Trip offers some fun.

It’s too bad the lessons learned have to be delivered with a sledge hammer blow, but if you’ve ever said, “This place smells like Hennessy and bootie sweat. We’ve found our tribe,” then Girls Trip may be your film.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

So That Happened…Local Wildlife

Local Wildlife

by Hope Madden

Did you hear the one about the Southern Ohio man who purchased a mountain lion at a flea market and promptly lost it?

The punchline is, that’s a true story.

There are so many things wrong with that sentence I don’t know where to begin.

I was writing a short magazine article on Ohio’s updated exotic pet laws. I got in touch with Terry because I was looking for some kind of counterargument to balance the seemingly reasonable limitations recommended by Columbus’s health department.

Terry sold exotic animals, so the new restrictions would limit his business. They also meant getting rid of his beloved pet Smiley, the 5-foot gator who roamed free through his store.

That wasn’t dangerous?

Terry guaranteed that captive-born animals were harmless, and that garden variety pet stores carried much deadlier wares than anything I’d find in his store. I glanced at the toothy, venomous, cold-eyed whatnot behind glass all around me.

“In fact,” he began, lifting a small box taped for shipping, “what’s in this box here is one of the most dangerous animals you’ll find in this state.”

He shook the box at me for emphasis. I’d had surgery on my left foot and was wearing an orthotic boot, so outrunning a predator seemed unlikely. This suddenly felt like a problem. Then Terry took out a pen and began to tear open the packing tape.

“You can buy these at almost any pet store, and I guarantee they do more damage to the human body than anything I sell.”

Again with the shaking.

Tape gone. Terror rising. Immobility problematic.

It turned out to be a small, non-venomous reptile, bright green and not un-gekko-like but prone to biting. A let down of sorts, but I’m not ashamed to say Terry had scared the living shit out of me.

I’d lost my train of thought due to the anxiety and relief cycle, and when I began paying attention again Terry was telling me that Ohio needed no laws at all to regulate the ownership of exotic animals.

Certain that I’d misheard, I tried to clarify with the most obvious question that sprung to mind.

“What about, like, lions?”

“Most zoos turn to private collectors when they want to acquire a rare exotic.”

“But certainly there are animals that people shouldn’t own.”

“Other people,” he answered. “I mean, you don’t even have to get a license to raise a child, but you need one to own an alligator.”

Wait, but…I mean…children rarely eat you.

Terry went on to tell me of a middle aged man with an intellectual disability whose mother died, leaving him alone with his 8-foot gator and 40 rabbits. The tragedy, in Terry’s eyes, was that the state intervened and made the man give up his gator as well as his rabbits.

Hold the phone – there was an 8-foot gator living in the city of Columbus? Inside city limits?

I’m sorry, did you say 40 rabbits?

What the hell?

Terry went on to share other pet owner misfortunes. In all Terry’s stories, the tragedy is that the owner is separated from his animal. Even in the case of an apartment manager who kept 10 gators in his 2-bedroom basement flat.

Ten.

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The other tenants were unaware.

And you couldn’t trust the state, the health department, the humane society, not even the cops. Terry told the tale of a Cincinnati man infected with rhino venom. I don’t even know what that is, but it sounds nasty, doesn’t it?

Terry maintained that the cop on duty knew of the only stash of rhino anti-venom in the state, and he neglected to share this information, rendering him the Cincinnati man’s murderer.

But the snake is really the killer, right?

“No. The cop knew where the anti-venom was.”

“But, what if he wasn’t the cop on call? Then would the snake have been the killer?”

“But the cop on call knew where to find the anti-venom.”

“But the man’s deadly poisonous snake bit him. Doesn’t that lead you to believe that he shouldn’t have had the snake in the first place? Maybe that poisonous snakes are too dangerous for ordinary citizens?”

“No Ohioan has ever died due to poisonous snake bite.”

“You mean, except that guy in Cincinnati?”

“The cop on call could have saved him.”

“But he did die.”

“But the snake didn’t kill him. The cop did.”

The real villains, as the spreadsheet taped to his stockroom door would prove were I only to hobble past the register to see its evidence, were not the exotics or the cops, but domestic animals. More Ohioans perish due to cattle, horses, and dogs than to venomous snakes, gator bites, or constrictors every year, said Terry.

I’m no rocket scientist, but isn’t that because they’re Ohioans? Cows outnumber people in some areas of this state. What’s the dog-to-constrictor ratio in Ohio, I wonder?

This guy is nuts, I thought to myself as I began the arduous limp-marathon from the front of the store to the door with the statistics. Then, as I passed the register, I met the pet who’d replaced Smiley.

I nearly stepped on an enormous yellow python, piled up on the floor.

Free. Loose. Open for business.

As I halted my one good foot just inches from pissing off a natural predator, my own rarely tapped survival instinct kicked in.

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Hobbling backwards was easier than I’d have guessed.

In fact, hobbling right the fuck out of the store took me basically no effort at all.

So that happened…a spider in the eye!

Oh No, Not Again

by Christie Robb

I’ve always had a thing about my eyes. Which is why having a small spider land on my left eyeball recently effectively ruined my day.

There’s a primordial memory floating around in my brain of my mother sitting on my toddler body, pinning my arms to the carpet with her knees while my father wrenches open my eyelid in an attempt to apply medicinal eye drops to combat a bad case of pinkeye.

I’ve loathed the concept of anyone’s wriggling fingers getting anywhere near my sockets ever since.

Unfortunately, this aversion was rather inconvenient as my eyesight started to deteriorate in elementary school. I knew what would happen if folks found out that I had trouble seeing the blackboard. They’d take me to that office where the people forced my head back against the chair and tried to wrangle stinging liquid under my clenched eyelid.

I became sneaky. When adults came into the room, I’d yank the book that I held three inches from my face out to a respectable distance and pretended to read until they left. I’d try to get into the classroom early and casually stand next to the blackboard to glean any information that was there. I’d get into fights with kids sitting next to me so that I’d have to be moved up to the front row, next to the teacher’s desk, so she could monitor my behavior. On vision test day, I’d memorize the eye chart while waiting in line and recite it as best I could when my turn came.

But, despite my best attempts at childhood subterfuge, I was eventually found out and by middle school I was outfitted with the thickest pair of glasses I have personally ever seen a human being wear. I’m sure there are people out there with stronger prescriptions. I assume they are legally blind.

In middle school I attempted to get contacts. Unfortunately, in order to get fitted for contacts you have to let someone touch your eyes to measure them. Despite my appearance-driven motivation and the assistance of several eye doctor staffers holding me down, I was unable to let anyone measure me for the contacts, much less put one in.

I attempted to train myself at home by putting a drop of water on my index finger and slowly trying to introduce it to my eyeball. The few times I managed to keep my eye open and accomplish this, the feel of the water against my eyeball caused me to fling my body across the bathroom and crash into the closet door. Eventually my parents asked me to stop, fearing for the structural integrity of their bathroom.

So, when the laser eye surgery option came along I was determined to get it. This was not only my chance at escaping the magnifying glasses permanently strapped to my face, this was an opportunity to avoid ever having to go to the eye doctor again. I made an appointment, asked them for a ton of valium, let five people pile on top of me to put the Clockwork Orange eye prier-opener on me, and then slice off the top of my cornea and shoot a laser into each eyeball for a full minute.

The next morning, I could see. A miracle. No one was going to need to get their fingers near my face for the rest of my life.

Until I somehow managed to get an arachnid under my eyelid.

I was trying to take the trash out back to the Columbus-issued trashcan. In order to do this, I needed to pass through the gate of my privacy fence and go around to the alley behind my house where the trash can lives.

I suppose an inexperienced juvenile spider must have been building a web in between the fence and the gate and I broke the web when passing. All I know is a black speck appeared to get slightly bigger as something sailed into my eye.

Dropping the garbage bag to the pavement, I shrieked and flattened myself to the walkway as if somehow assuming a prone position could possibly help. My hands cupped protectively over my eye socket as I rolled on the ground. Then I felt movement. Suppressing a desire to vomit, I sprang to my feet and bolted toward the house, screaming incoherent guttural sounds.

I raced into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Snot and tears everywhere. Screwed up left eyelid. Dragging in a ragged breath and, bracing one foot behind me so I wouldn’t fling myself backwards, I used both hands to pry open my eyelid.

Inside just peaking out from under my eyelid, I saw it: black and with entirely too many legs.

I screamed and shot back, falling over the edge of the bathtub and collapsing into it, my head striking the wall. I had a spider in my eye and was alone in the house and likely would be for hours. I had to remove it myself.

My first attempt at spider-extraction was to run tepid water into my cupped palms and lower half my face into it while straining to keep my left eye open, mumbling, “ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod,” over and over. This proved to be unsuccessful.

So I ran to the kitchen and grabbed a large stock pot and filled it with water. Pulling my hair back into a quick ponytail, I submerged my entire head in the pot. I shook my head from side to side to try to dislodge the persistent interloper. No dice. In an attempt to scream I inhaled some water.

Sputtering and now thoroughly damp, I surveyed my eye in the mirror. Spider was still there, appearing to wear my eyelid as a blanket.

By now the adrenaline of my initial series of panic attacks had metabolized. I was tired, defeated and disgusted. I raised my hands to my face, took a deep breath and on the exhale screamed and flipped my eyelid inside out. I flicked at the spider, sailed back into the bathtub at the feel of my finger grazing the sensitive inside of my lid, and prayed for death.

After a minute, I extricated myself from the tub, stood, and saw a tiny exoskeleton on the white bathroom tile.

I lifted my foot and stomped the shit out of it.

Later, I made a phone call I’d hoped never to have to make again. “I need an appointment,” I said. “Somehow I got a spider in my eye and I need the eye doctor to check it out.”

After the receptionist stopped laughing, I said, “And make sure a lot of people are working that day. It’s going to take at least a few of you to pin me down to get the eye drops in.”

So That Happened…Meet the Chirpers!

 

By Hope Madden

 

I edit college textbooks for a living, with all the associated hoopla, madness and zaniness you might expect to go along with that job. Exactly that much zaniness. My wing of the building is routinely referred to by our sales reps as The Mausoleum.

Yes, we’re quiet, we’re boring, we’re nerdy. We’re also under attack, forever harassed by the encroachment of the sales force. When I first started working here, our sales group’s wing ended about ten feet to the left of my office door.

But they constantly hire more sales people, and so began the cubical creep.

First, new cubicles lined the short wall across from my office.

Then they mushroomed in what was once the free space just beyond that wall.

Now they sit butt-up against the editorial assistants’ cubes.

If you look out my door, sales cubes are to my left, directly across from me, and to my right. I am surrounded.

With the sales force comes a different vibe than the one you find in editorial. There are a lot of happy hours, a lot of games, decorations and confetti and sometimes costumes. But mainly, with those cubicles comes sales people.

Like that one pod of cubes very near my door, and the new neighbors who work there: a revolving set of eager, young, shiny, chatty women. Very chatty. Chirpy, even.

And try as I might to ignore their constant chirping, sometimes it seeps through.

Like yesterday:

Chirper #1: Selena Gomez and the Bieb are back together

Chirper #2: Nuh-uh

Chirper #1: How do you spell ‘combination’

Chirper #2: C-O-M-B

Chirper #1: Is it C-O-M-B-O?

Chirper #2: No.

 

Aaah, Chripers. The adventure begins.