Tag Archives: Jay Duplass

Missed Connections


by Hope Madden

Jenny Slate is the perfect mix of raunchy and sweet to anchor an indie dramedy. Co-writer/director Gillian Robespierre tested that theory in 2014 with the character study and edgy rom/com Obvious Child.

Following on those proven results, Robespierre re-tests her theory with the 1995 family saga Landline.

Slate plays Dana, the older, almost-married sister in an upscale Manhattan family. But she and her ever-since-college beau Ben (Jay Duplass) are maybe not everything Dana hoped they’d be.

Her own entanglements with infidelity happen to exactly coincide with a discovery younger sister Ali (Abby Quinn) makes of their father’s (John Turturro) erotic poetry, written for someone who is definitely not their mother (Edie Falco).

Things begin to fall apart. Ali’s lived-in resentment toward her overbearing mother is tested and turned instead toward her sweet, laid back father. Meanwhile Dana embraces recklessness and begins hanging out with her boundary-pushing teenage sister, drinking during the day and sneaking away for clandestine sexual encounters with Nate (pitch-perfect Finn Wittrock).

So, crumbling family dynamics in a well-to-do Manhattan family. Not exactly as edgy as a romantic comedy written around an abortion.

Still, between its loving nostalgia for the pre-cellphone days of the mid-Nineties and its truly game cast, Landline keeps you interested and entertained.

Falco and Turturro are unfortunately underused. Both are spectacular talents, and their well-worn relationship offers each the opportunity to create moments of sudden, honest, everyday heartbreak.

The characteristically effervescent Slate charms, and her off kilter chemistry with Quinn serves the film well. They’re irritated and protective, bitching and admiring all in the same breath. They often feel unsure of their own feelings toward each other, which reads as very authentic.

Quinn is the real heartbeat of the film. Equally vulnerable and mean, she’s less the cinematic equivalent of a conflicted adolescent than she is a conflicted adolescent, and the film takes on a sharp focus whenever she’s onscreen.

Unfortunately, that’s not all the time, and Robespierre – writing again with Elisabeth Holm – loses focus too easily. Landline, for all its insightful moments and clever lines, feels a bit unwieldy and murky.


Just Desserts

Beatriz at Dinner

by George Wolf

Have you ever owned the worst car in the parking lot of some fancy event?

Then you’ll immediately identify with Beatriz.

Beatriz is a holistic therapist finishing up a massage at the elegant home of her friend Cathy, when her car won’t start. Cathy (Connie Britton), over the mild objections of her husband Grant (David Warshofsky), invites Beatriz to stay for the dinner party that evening. Alex (Jay Duplass) and Doug (John Lithgow), two of Grant’s business associates, roll up with their wives (Amy Landecker, Chloe Sevigny), and it isn’t long before Beatriz is mistaken for the hired help.

Writer Mike White and director Miguel Arteta, after teaming for Chuck and Buck and The Good Girl, reunite for the first time in fifteen years with a clearly defined purpose.

As the dinner gets increasingly awkward, Doug is revealed as a narcissistic billionaire mogul reveling in the obnoxious ass-kissing of his company. Beatriz, egged on by multiple glasses of wine, confronts him, and suddenly it’s Trump and the resistance taking dessert in the living room.

The comedy is dark and biting, the performances sharp and well-defined. Stumbling only when it trades sly observations for broader speechifying, Beatriz at Dinner is plenty satisfying.


Table of Misfit Toys

Table 19

by Matt Weiner

If you sit a group of strangers together at a wedding reception, you’ll find out that each one of them is a brain… a basket case… a criminal… and of course a perky princess to propel the story forward.

Yes, the romantic comedy Table 19 gets its something (heavily) borrowed from John Hughes, especially The Breakfast Club. After an unceremonious breakup with the bride’s brother, now ex-maid of honor Eloise McGarry (Anna Kendrick) gets banished to the table of rejects and outcasts at the reception.

Eloise, still pining for her Teddy (Wyatt Russell), is unsympathetic to the quirks and sad stories that bind their table together. But as backstories get revealed, the tablemates quickly learn they are united in their profound misery.

If this sounds a little bleak for a brisk (like, 87 minutes brisk) romcom, just wait until the themes take a sharp turn from cake-related slapstick to everyone’s favorite comedy subjects like unplanned pregnancy, infidelity and death.

The story, written by director Jeffrey Blitz with indie darlings Jay and Mark Duplass, gets into dark territory, in particular the cautionary tale of Bina and Jerry Kepp (Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson). The married couple don’t even care enough to hate each other anymore, and their apathy is like a jarring memento mori for a lighthearted wedding romp.

So many of the casual asides and throwaway lines are streaked with this sort of misanthropy, and it’s a shame that the movie lacks the audacity to see it through to the finish. It doesn’t help that the comedy part of the romantic comedy is light on laughs—with the exception of Stephen Merchant, who commits above and beyond to finding both humor and pathos in his thinly sketched character, cousin Walter.

Instead, we’re left with lessons learned and lukewarm nostalgia, complete with 80s covers from the wedding band. Sure, you could just stick with the original article and fire up a John Hughes marathon. But if your tolerance for formula is already that high, and you like watching a great cast make the most of an inconsistent premise—and you have 80-odd minutes to spare—you could slog through a lot worse. Like an actual wedding.


For Your Queue: Mumblecore Madness

If you’re a fan of the “mumblecore” then A) we’ll just call you “Mumble Cory” and B) a film you might have missed in its limited run is now on DVD, and we’ll pair it with one of the best of the mumblecore genre.

The Comedy is a character study about a character you will instantly hate. Swanson (terrifically played by Tim & Eric’s Tim Heidecker) is a trust-fund brat who spends his days drinking, boating, and embracing every chance to be offensive. Make it past the halfway point, and the ironically-titled film becomes strangely hypnotic.

Director/co-writer Rick Alverson is after a sort of subversive honesty, perhaps even grasping for answers to the types of questions raised whenever another white male goes on a shooting spree.

Hanging out with a guy like Swanson for 90 minutes isn’t easy, but you might be glad you made the effort.

If you’re looking for something slightly more accessible, Cyrus (2010) might the film for you. Still clearly a mumblecore flick (written and directed by the auteurs of the style, Mark and Jay Duplass), the film still follows a relatively well-established story arc and stars actors who actually act. John C. Reilly wants to date Marisa Tomei (who doesn’t?), but her relationship with her adult son (Jonah Hill, in a triumphant performance) is beyond complicated. One profoundly uncomfortable comedy follows.