Tag Archives: Leslie Mann

Everybody Clap Your Hands

Cha Cha Real Smooth

by Hope Madden

Dakota Johnson is the unquestioned star of indie darling coming-of-age drama Cha Cha Real Smooth, but it’s writer/director/co-star Cooper Raiff who’s shining bright enough to blind you.

The twentysomething filmmaker, fresh off his tender and insightful feature debut Sh*thouse, spins another yarn defined by vulnerability.

Raiff plays Andrew, a recent college grad sleeping on a blow-up mattress in his little brother’s bedroom and working at Meat Sticks until he figures something else out. A surprising opportunity arises at a bat mitzvah he attends with his brother (Evan Assante). Andrew has a gift for making sure everyone has a great time—including lonely single mom Domino (Johnson) and her daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). The other moms are so impressed, they all hire him to host their kids’ events.

Sure, it pays, but it’s silly. Harmless. Pointless. How fun, and also tragic. It’s an apt metaphor for Andrew, who was so good at being young and is now a little lost. Gen X had Lloyd Dobbler. Gen Z has Andrew.

Solid support from Leslie Mann and Brad Garrett offers Raiff opportunities to subvert tropes with surprising compassion. There are also more than enough laughs to balance the drama.

Johnson’s greatest strength as a performer is the almost preternatural chemistry she shares with everyone else on screen. That connection with Raiff aches with human tenderness, as does the entire film.

As an actor, Raiff’s performance is open — a strength his direction capitalizes on with long, breathing takes and intimate close-ups. The plot isn’t rushed or forced. Raiff’s writing weaves through complicated situations and emotions without the need to tidy up. The anxiety and pathos feel all the more honest because no one is safe from them. But the film empathizes thoroughly with its characters, applauding every brave and awkward act of intimacy.

Cha Cha Real Smooth, which won Sundance’s dramatic competition this year, overflows with charm and warmth. More than that, it points to a remarkable cinematic voice that’s just getting started.

Search for Tomorrow

The Croods: A New Age

by George Wolf

At least two things have happened since we met The Croods seven years ago. One, we’ve forgotten about the Croods, and two, Dreamworks has plotted their return.

A New Age gets the caveman clan back together with some talented new voices and a hipper approach for a sequel that easily ups the fun factor from part one.

The orphaned Guy (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) has become part of pack Crood, which is fine with everyone except papa Grug (Nicolas Cage), who isn’t wild about the teen hormones raging between Guy and Eep (Emma Stone).

The nomadic gang is continuing their search for the elusive “tomorrow” when they stumble onto the Stone Age paradise of Phil and Hope Betterman (Peter Dinklage and Leslie Mann, both priceless). The Betterman’s lifestyle puts the “New Age” in this tale, and they hatch a plan to send the barbaric Croods on their way while keeping Guy for their daughter Dawn (Kelly Marie Tran).

But a funny thing happens along the way. Check that, many things happen, and plenty of them funny, in a film that nearly gets derailed by the sheer number of characters and convolutions it throws at us.

The new writing team of Kevin Hageman, Dan Hageman and Paul Fisher keeps the adventure consistently madcap with some frequent LOLs (those Punch Monkeys are a riot) and even topical lessons on conservation, individuality and girl power.

Or maybe that should read Granny Power, since it is Gran’s (Cloris Leachman) warrior past that inspires the ladies to don facepaint, take nicknames and crank up a theme song from Haim as they take a stand against some imposing marauders.

Director Joel Crawford – an animation vet – keeps his feature debut fast moving and stylish, drawing performances from his talented cast (which also includes Catherine Keener and Clark Duke) that consistently remind you how important the “acting” can be in voice acting.

By the time Tenacious D drops in to see what condition the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You” is in, the whole affair starts to feel like some sort of animated head trip.

Yeah, a little sharper focus wouldn’t hurt, but A New Age delivers the good time you forgot to remember to wonder where it’s been.

Parentus Interruptus


by George Wolf

Is it me, or is there an encouraging trend building here? In the last few years, mainstream teen comedies such as The Duff, The Edge of Seventeen and Love, Simon have shown more smarts and diversity, with less reliance on the same old same old pandering.

Blockers starts with a cliched teen sex premise – gotta get some before college! – and turns it sideways, managing solid laughs (and some self-aware winks at romance fantasies) in the process.

Julie, Sam, and Kayla (Kathryn Newton, Gideon Adlon, Geraldine Viswanathan) are three Chicago-area high school seniors who vow to all turn in their V-cards on prom night (so they can commemorate the occasion every year at the Olive Garden).

The girls’ respective parents (Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena) uncover the plans for “sexpact2018” (after a hilarious bit of emoji code-breaking) and set their own quest in motion: less cocking and more blocking.

Veteran writer Kay Cannon (30 Rock, the Pitch Perfect films) makes her directing debut, giving some nicely paced zest to the winning script from Brian Kehoe and Jim Kehoe. Even the film’s most outlandish moments (a “chugging” contest gone way wrong) seem to serve the film’s purpose.

Young adults are capable of making intelligent choices, and young women don’t need saving. Adults can be juvenile in their own self-interest, and some raunchy laughs can be had making all of those points.

Yes, the points come on a bit strong time and again, but the cast (especially Mann) keeps it  lively and relatable. If Blockers means this movie trend is working, keep ’em coming.







Funny How?

The Comedian

by George Wolf

Let me just admit something right now. I’m the guy who thought Robert DeNiro had some funny moments as the Dirty Grandpa.

Now DeNiro is The Comedian and..anybody seen Grandpa?

One of the curious aspects of the film is that even though it’s more of a character study than an outright comedy, that character is a legendary comic who’s not really that funny.

DeNiro stars as Jackie Burke, an insult comedian who hit it big back in the day with a smash TV sitcom. Nowadays, he chides his manager (Edie Falco) for the meager gigs while resenting fans who just want to hear him repeat his old TV catch phrase. An encounter with an aggressive heckler goes viral, and suddenly Jackie is hot again..while serving 30 days for assault.

He meets Harmony (Leslie Mann) while fulfilling community service hours, and director Taylor Hackford dutifully kicks off a series of situations in search of greater cohesion.

As Jackie and Harmony go to comedy clubs, weddings, and dinner, Jackie is always cajoled into doing a quick routine that isn’t nearly as impressive and everyone tells him it is. By the time Jackie goes viral again with a retirement home performance of a parody song about “making poopie,” the antics are more embarrassing than amusing.

An old school comic facing the truth that “being funny isn’t enough anymore” could have been fertile ground for a more layered, meaningful character. The Comedian isn’t interested. Veteran standup comics are among the film’s writers, comedy consultants, and cameo stars, but the script never gives Hackford the ammo to dig any more than surface deep.

What Hackford does have is a talented cast (including Danny DeVito, Harvey Keitel, Patti LuPone and Cloris Leachman), and he keeps all the actors engaged enough to deliver terrific performances, regardless of screen time. That’s about the best reason to see The Comedian, a film that seems content to put off getting its act together in favor of just wandering around backstage.





How to Borrow Liberally

How to be Single

by Hope Madden

Upending rom-com clichés has become its own cliché, and yet, with the right minds and talent, it can still be a fresh and funny experience. Please see Trainwreck.

Seriously. Please see it.

How to Be Single makes a valiant attempt to send up genre clichés as it follows four ladies and a handful of gentlemen, each failing to make that love connection with the Manhattan backdrop. It tries too hard, honestly, but it does get off a few good lines along the way.

Dakota Johnson anchors the ensemble as Alice, our everygirl, a new college grad ready to take a break from her longtime beau, head to the Big Apple, and find herself.

Alice’s circle includes her workaholic sister (Leslie Mann) and a wild new BFF (Rebel Wilson). Both comic veterans deliver some genuine laughs – thanks to an occasionally insightful script by Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein, and Dana Fox – but Wilson, in particular, needs to find a new gimmick.

A revolving door of male characters includes one kooky performance by Jason Mantzoukas (a bright spot in this film, as he was in Dirty Grandpa). Ken Lacy also makes an appearance as basically the exact same character he played in the far superior film Obvious Child.

Which is one of the weirdest things about How to Be Single – it brazenly borrows from other, better films. Leslie Mann has a conversation that is almost identical to one from This Is 40, while her storyline steals an awful lot – including the boyfriend – from Obvious Child. Add to that the fact that Wilson’s boozy party girl schtick was lifted wholesale from Trainwreck, and you start to wonder if the film’s title should be How to Commit Larceny.

This is not to say the movie is bereft of humor. It does offer a handful of laughs, and it often lulls you into believing that characters are about to follow a formula, only to have that tiresome trope cleverly undermined.

It’s not that the film is bad, it’s just that it’s not as good as many other films and it knows it.


Let’s Forget It Ever Happened


The Other Woman

by George Wolf


“Take the lawyer, the wife and the boobs, and you’ve got the perfect killing machine.”

That’s about as funny as The Other Woman gets, as Cameron Diaz (lawyer), Leslie Mann (wife) and Kate Upton (you know) form an unlikely team of BFFs out to take sweet revenge on Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the man who’s been two timing all three of them at once .

It is remarkable only in its ambitious attempt to surpass the scatalogical heights of Dumb and Dumber, and in managing to somehow avoid a straight to video release.

Ridiculous, contrived, obvious and painfully unfunny, The Other Woman also sports a truly awful example of film editing, which is only fitting for a project so lazily slapped together you expect Adam Sandler and Kevin James to show up.

Director Nick Cassavetes seems only interested in assembling music montages, as the ladies get mischievous to the tune of Girls Just Want to Have Fun, defiant to I’m Coming Out, and quietly reflective to some audio wallpaper about aiming high or some shit.

Really, it’s a shame, because Diaz and Mann both have comedic chops, and they do give it their all, trying hard to put some life into a script that’s as dead as Julius Caesar. It is nice to see Mann play against type as a meek, ditzy housewife, and her chemistry with Diaz is real, so here’s hoping they get another chance to team up in something more worthy,

Forgive them. The Other Woman was clearly just a stupid mistake. It meant nothing.

In fact, let’s just forget it ever happened.