Tag Archives: Melissa McCarthy

Birdhouse in Your Soul

The Starling

by Hope Madden

A quick synopsis of The Starling, the new drama from Hidden Figures director Theodore Melfi, brims with potential, offers an appealingly messy notion.

Lilly (Melissa McCarthy) and Jack (Chris O’Dowd) are suffering, silently and separately, about a year after the death of their baby girl. Jack waits out his grief in an institution while Lilly tries to tough it out on her own. Eventually she decides to plant a garden, but a territorial, dive-bombing starling makes that difficult. She turns to psychologist/veterinarian Larry (Kevin Kline) for help.

That’s a lot to unpack, but when the core theme is grief, complications are welcome. Hollywood tales of grief and relief tend to be too tidy, the metaphors too clean, while the unruly emotion being presented is rarely tidy or clean in real life. A good mess is called for.

Unfortunately, The Starling is not a good mess. Just a regular old mess.

Matt Harris’s script never digs below the surface — not even when Lilly is gardening. Melfi relies on the score to represent emotional weight rather than leaning on his more-than-capable cast to depict that grief. An anemic comic-relief subplot at Lilly’s gig managing a grocery store feels wildly out of place and wastes real talent. (Timothy Olyphant has four lines – funny lines delivered via a character that should be on a TV sitcom, not in this movie.)

O’Dowd — who was the absolute picture of grief in John Michael McDonagh’s masterful 2014 film Calvary – fares the best with the material. Even though his character’s resolution feels unearned, there is heft in the performance that allows human emotion to overcome a weakly written character.

McCarthy suffers most, though. Unable to ad lib her way toward elevating a drama, she sinks beneath the unrealistic banter between Lilly and Kline’s Dr. Larry. Kline is solid, strangely aided by Harris’s weak characterization, which allows the actor to find a groove that conveys more than what’s on the page.

Moments of genuine emotion punctuate the film and, while welcome, they mainly serve as a reminder of what The Starling had the potential to become.

A Woman’s Place

The Kitchen

by George Wolf

Looking for trouble? You’ll find plenty in The Kitchen. Looking for nuance? Fresh out, suckas.

It’s a 70s crime drama stripped of style and subtext, yet able to squeeze considerable fun out of the exploitation vibe it revels in.

Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) Claire (Elizabeth Moss) and Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) are left with dwindling options when their Irish mob husbands are sent to prison for a botched robbery. It’s 1978 in Hell’s Kitchen, and the ladies realize the meager allowance from their hubbies’ crew ain’t gonna cut it.

Time for these sisters to start doing it for themselves!

And if that song was from the 70s, you’d hear it loud and proud alongside all the other strategically placed picks from that groovy decade. It’s not a Scorsese soundtrack strategy, really, but rather one that makes sure we hear the lyric that can most literally comment on what we’re seeing.

Call it a Berloff maneuver.

The Kitchen marks the directing debut of veteran writer Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton), and from the start, her tone is as unapologetic as her main characters.

Their takeover of the Hells Kitchen action is too easy and their character development too broadly drawn. But just as you’re starting to wonder what this much talent (also including Margo Martindale, Domhnall Gleason, James Badge Dale and of course, Common) saw in this material, the sheer audacity of its often clumsily edited approach feels almost right.

Berloff’s script makes it clear that this is less about the shots and more about who calls them, with some surprises in store by act 3 and a committed cast won over by the comic book source material or Berloff’s vision for it. Or probably both.

Moss, as a meek victim pushed around too long, and Gleason, as the smitten psycho who gently schools her in dismembering a body, elevate the film with every scene they share. Haddish delivers the underestimated street smarts with McCarthy – the two time Oscar nominee whose range should no longer be in doubt – bringing an anchor of authenticity.

There’s an allegory here of strong women fed up with fragile masculinity. There’s also a bloody mess of retro schlocky mob noir tropes (patent pending).

I love it when a plan has some awkward missteps but still kinda sorta comes together.

Writers Unblocked

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

by Hope Madden

People forget that Melissa McCarthy was nominate for an Oscar. It’s a stiff year for female leads, but she might just nab another nom for her turn as a misanthropic writer in the true story, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

A one-time best seller, author Lee Israel (McCarthy) is feeling her shelf life. Unwilling to conform to any kind of expectations—particularly those placed on females in the publishing industry—she finds herself facing the reality that no one wants a book on Fanny Brice, and no one wants a book by Lee Israel.

McCarthy’s socially inept and down-on-her-luck biographer sits in a dingy bar midday, drinking away her unemployability, her cat’s illness and her writer’s block when in beams a boozy ray of sunshine disguised as upbeat alcoholic hustler Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant).

It’s here that director Marielle Heller’s film hits its stride. McCarthy’s energy, her dimples and her infectious good nature have buoyed any number of mediocre films. But here, she carves a low key, solitary figure unable and unwilling to open up. It’s a fascinating about-face for McCarthy.

Set Israel’s curmudgeonliness against the unbridled zeal and charm Grant brings to his character, and a compelling odd-couple-on-the-skids is born.

To pay her bills and exercise her talent, Israel begins forging letters from literary icons and selling those forgeries at bookshops across New York. The wondrous respect this film has for writers, for the written and spoken word, and the nostalgia it has for a past when those elements were likewise revered generates a lovely, literary atmosphere.

Co-writer Nicole Holofcener again subverts ideas of entitlement and self-destruction with a screenplay so full of empathy it’s impossible to dislike the deeply unpleasant Israel.

A great deal of that success, of course, comes from McCarthy’s authenticity. The performance is nuanced and understated, as is the entire film, and aching of self-inflicted loneliness. She creates an believable and yet unusual character—one who embarks on a deeply strange yet somehow fitting journey.

The story of Lee Israel offers a weirdly optimistic if cautionary tale for misfit women. It’s also a great reminder that Melissa McCarthy can really act.





Felt Fetish

The Happytime Murders

by Hope Madden

Do you like Melissa McCarthy? Foul language?

How do you feel about puppet ejaculate?

You should probably be comfortable with at least two of the three if you’re considering seeing The Happytime Murders.

In a Who Framed Roger Rabbitt? vein, The Happytime Murders serves up a noir that exists in a town where flesh-and-blood humans co-exist with fantasy – in this case, puppets. Not Kermit, though. Not Big Bird, either.

No, like most noirs, the film lives on the seedier side of town, so we meet puppets with problems—sex addicts, porno freaks, folks with a mean jones for a sugar fix. The type of cat who’d perform a Continental Hot Sock for just fifty cents.

Continental Hot Sock—how great is that name?

Disgraced cop turned private investigator Phil Philips (Bill Barretta, longtime Muppet voice of Pepe the King Prawn, Rowlf the Dog, The Swedish Chef and others) re-teams with his old partner, Det. Edwards (McCarthy), to solve a string of puppet murders.

The case smells like rotten cotton.

McCarthy interacts as believably with puppets as she ever did with Sandra Bullock, and Todd Berger’s script takes excellent advantage of her whip-smart profanity maneuvering.

Not every joke lands. In fact, too many fall entirely flat and far too much time is spent cursing simply to curse. But there are also some spit-take laughs. McCarthy delivers several, and the always glorious Maya Rudolph is responsible for many others.

There is an underlying commentary in Happytime Murders that can be read as a take on systemic racism, or as a note on the underappreciation of puppetry as an art form. Or both? Systemic racism as a metaphor for marginalized puppeteers feels a little tone deaf, but the filmmakers aren’t trying to make the audience comfortable and Happytime Murders is not one for nuance.

The film is raunchy. It amounts to 90 minutes of profane, DNA-spewing nastiness with very little story to redeem it. I’m pretty sure that’s the point.

Director and puppeteer royalty Brian Henson, son of Jim and filmmaker behind The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, spares no one as he spits in the eye of the family film that’s been his family legacy.

Actually, that may not be spit.





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.

 

 





Whom Might You Telephone?

Ghostbusters

by George Wolf

Just weeks ago, Dan Aykroyd set the trollosphere into a stage 5 tizzy when he dared to suggest the new Ghostbusters just might be scarier – and funnier – than his 1984 version.

He’s not really wrong.

Simmer down, I’m not saying this new one is a better. It doesn’t match the freshness or overall attitude of the original that, when combined with generational nostalgia and Bill Murray’s ascension to beloved icon, has propelled the film to a slightly more lofty pop culture perch than it deserves.

But, the 2016 GB’s do battle more frightening ghosts and do deliver a solid amount of laughs.

Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is chasing tenure at Columbia University, and trying to forget her days chasing ghosts. A report of a local haunting reconnects Erin with old partner Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and her new tech wizard Jillian Holtzman (a scene-stealing Kate McKinnon). The trio gets a close encounter of the slimy kind, brings the feisty Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) on board, and sets up shop in modest digs above a Chinese restaurant, which somehow still doesn’t help them get lunch any faster (delivery guy: “I have bad knees.”)

Director/co-writer Paul Feig gives each actor both the material and the space to carve out distinct characters, and it isn’t long before casting that smelled like a gimmick feels not only inspired, but perhaps the most sensible way to reboot such a classic team.

Giving the ladies an air-headed piece of beefcake named Kevin for a secretary (Chris Hemsworth, having a charming bit of fun with his own image) isn’t a bad move either. The comic benefits are obvious, but it’s also one of the devices the film leans on to throw subtle shade at the misogynistic vitriol that’s been spewing since the female leads were announced.

Stars from the ’84 film make effective and well-placed cameos (extra points for the clever way the late Harold Ramis is included), but eventually the amount of homage feels excessive for a film blazing its own trail. A similar penchant for excess bleeds into the finale, as our heroes face off against a number of spectacular ghouls in a fireworks-laden battle, but can’t wrap it up before an unnecessary serving of schmaltz creeps in.

McCarthy and director/co-writer Paul Feig again prove to be a reliable comedic team, but can’t quite match the sustained hilarity of Bridesmaids or Spy, which is actually a bit ironic. Similar expectations dogged Ramis and Murray after the successes of Caddyshack and Stripes, but initial concerns about their ghost-chasing epic got vaporized in a New York minute.

Can the new look GB’s repeat? They’re off to a solid start, and be sure to stay through the credits for a clue about who they ain’t gonna be afraid of next.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 





Like a Boss

The Boss

by Rachel Willis

The Boss is a comedic story of one woman’s fall from the top and her struggle to regain her position in the world.

Melissa McCarthy is Michelle Darnell, a high powered executive who writes a brand of self-help books. Her fall comes at the hands of former lover and business rival, Ronald (Peter Dinklage).

Kristen Bell is Michelle’s long suffering assistant, Claire, who is forced to find a new employer when Michelle is incarcerated for insider trading. The early setup foretells the redemption of Michelle, though the ways in which it happens are unpredictable and provide the bulk of the movie’s many jokes.

As a vehicle for Melissa McCarthy, The Boss has a number of laughs. Sharp wit, foul language, and bodily humor combine to offer an appealing repertoire of McCarthy’s talents. However, the movie itself falls flat. The supporting cast is underutilized. Kristen Bell, herself a witty and capable actress, is lackluster against McCarthy. The chemistry is non-existent, and the two characters never seem to foster a believable relationship.

The screenplay doesn’t know what to do with anyone other than McCarthy. Though a decent portion of the film revolves around Bell’s character, her scenes independent of McCarthy are mildly tedious.

Peter Dinklage, another actor with an incredible range of talent, has a woefully small amount of screen time, and though he plays Michelle’s former lover who both hates and still wants her, he has no sexual chemistry or tension with McCarthy. The interaction between the characters frequently feels forced.

The only actor who plays well of off McCarthy’s humor is Cedric Yarbrough, the “yes man” Tito, who appears briefly in the beginning of the film, but sadly, doesn’t return after Michelle’s release from prison.

On the whole, the film is disjointed. What could be a cohesive story of Michelle’s fall and attempted rise back to the top is unfortunately punctuated with scenes that don’t really fit the narrative: a comic book style slow motion fight scene between girls from two warring Girl Scout-like troops, a scene where Michelle has a bad reaction to puffer fish, and others.

Despite the movie’s flaws, it’s not without appeal. Ella Anderson who plays Claire’s daughter, Rachel, is a delightful foil to Michelle’s brash and sarcastic nature. Her emotions based on Michelle’s actions come across as genuine. Her joys and pains are felt by the audience. McCarthy’s humor and flair carries the film in places where in another’s hands it might suffer.

It’s a shame so many of the other characters are without appeal, as The Boss could have been a much stronger comedy.

Verdict-2-5-Stars

NOTE: NSFW trailer (but funny!)





Five More Remakes in Need of an All Female Cast

Rumors of an all-female Ghostbusting team got us A) excited for the reboot, and B) thinking of other movies we’d love to see reimagined with women in the lead. Here are the 5 films we think could benefit from some gender-retooling, along with our dream casts.

Jaws

Steven Spielberg’s 1975 great white classic benefitted from one of the best buddy trios in cinema with Roy Scheider’s reluctant shipmate Sheriff Brody, Richard Dreyfuss’s on-board scientist, and salty sea dog Quint played to perfection by Robert Shaw.

Who has the gravy to run nails down a chalkboard, frighten the locals and bark that she’ll find the shark for $3000, but “catch him, and kill him, for 10”? Nobody but Jessica Lange. We’d flank her with Anne Hathaway as the transplanted cop who wants a bigger boat and Emily Blunt as the oceanographer willing to take the risk when the cage goes in the water.

Easy Rider

How fun would this be? Let’s rework the classic American outlaw motorcycle ride! Who’s the laid back badass looking for an unsoiled America? We’d put the great Viola Davis in Peter Fonda’s role. For the thoughtful square up for an adventure, we swap Amy Adams in for Jack Nicholson. And who could fill legendary wacko Dennis Hopper’s motorcycle boots? We want Melissa McCarthy. (Come to think of it, she’d give Blue Velvet an interesting new take as well.)

Glengarry Glen Ross

Who on this earth could take the place of Alec Baldwin with perhaps the greatest venomous monologue in film history? Jennifer Lawrence – can you see it? We really, really want to see a movie with JLaw chewing up and spitting out this much perfectly penned hatred.

“Put that coffee down!”

And at whom should she spew? The wondrous Meryl Streep should take Jack Lemmon’s spot as loser Shelley Levine. We’d put Kate Winslet in Pacino’s slick winner Ricky Roma role and Kristin Scott Thomas in Ed Harris’s shadowy Dave Moss spot. Then we’d pull it all together with the magnificent Tilda Swinton in the weasely role worn so well by Kevin Spacey.

Predator

We knew we needed an action film, but who could be the new Schwarzenegger? Our vote: Michelle Rodriguez. We then put the ever formidable Helen Mirren in the Carl Weathers boss role. Obviously. The ragtag group of soldiers sent to, one by one, to be skinned alive? Scarlett Johansson, Kerry Washington and Gina Carano. Done.

Reservoir Dogs

Picture it:

Ms. Orange (Tim Roth): Rosamund Pike

Ms. White (Harvey Keitel): Julianne Moore

Ms. Blond (Michael Madsen): Charlize Theron (Cannot wait to see her get her crazy on.)

Ms. Pink (Steve Buscemi): Lupita Nyongo

Ms. Brown (Tarantino): Shailene Woodley

Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn): Cate Blanchett

Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney): Kathy Bates

 

All right, Hollywood. We’ve done the hard part. Now get on it! All we ask is executive producer status and points on the back end.





Adventures in Babysitting

My theory is this: first time feature filmmaker Theodore Melfi is a wizard. It seems improbable, sure, but I can think of no other explanation for St. Vincent.

A newly single mom hires her curmudgeonly neighbor to babysit for her precocious son. As obvious as it sounds – and is – somehow Melfi creates surprises in the territory he treads and the performances he draws. Had Charles Bukowski starred in About a Boy, this is the film it would have become.

Melfi’s genius with dialog and his light touch when directing together create an atmosphere that allows actors to breathe. Even the cast members with the least screen time – Terrence Howard and Chris O’Dowd, in particular – have the opportunity to fill out their characters, and they do.

Imagine what Bill Murray can do with this kind of creative atmosphere. Murray reveals layer after believable layer in his performance as Vincent. There’s not a moment of schmaltz in this performance, and there are moments of real genius.

And what about young Jaeden Lieberher as Vincent’s charge Oliver? Melfi obviously created him from some sort of spell. There really is no other explanation. This kid is great – deadpan when he needs to be, and otherwise the natural mixture of wisdom and naiveté that suits Oliver’s peculiar circumstances. The performance is dead on perfect.

Melissa McCarthy gets a couple of good lines in, but her performance is more restrained and internal than what we’re used to from her. It’s a nice change of pace.

Naomi Watts struggles more with the almost cartoonish character she lands, and not all the youngest actors are very strong, but acting is rarely St. Vincent’s weak point. The plotting, on the other hand, needs some work.

Scene after scene is utterly contrived. Many plot points are conveniently forgotten, the climax is obvious and the happy family ending is simplistic given the circumstances of the film on the whole. And yet, somehow the whole is thoroughly enjoyable.

It has to be the fullness of the characters, and the interaction between talented performers. That or the moments of genuine surprise peppered throughout a well worn storyline. Or maybe it’s some kind of sorcery.

What else could explain how well this film works? Because it has no business working at all, yet somehow it’s one of the more memorable and moving dramedies you’ll see this year.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 





Fall Preview Countdown

 

Football, honey crisp apples, leaves to rake – you know what that means? It means the cinema will turn from alien invasion bombast to thought provoking, character driven awards bait. Hooray!  Here are the ten fall movies we are most excited to spend time with between now and the holidays.

 10. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Sure, it’s another blockbuster and hardly the kind of adult, autumnal fare you’ll find on the balance of the list, but we don’t care. We’re as geeked for Katniss’s next step as any 13-year-old girl. Director Francis Lawrence took the franchise into ingenious new territory with Catching Fire and we are eager to see where JLaw and team can take the political maneuvering next.

9. Fury (October 17)

Brad Pitt returns to Nazi Germany, but don’t expect the dark comedy of Inglourious Basterds. Writer/director David Ayer (End of Watch) is at the helm of what is being described as a brutal but honest look at WWII.

8. Whiplash (October 23)

The always spectacular J. K. Simmons and talented, young Miles Teller join forces in a cymbal-crashing boot camp for musicians. Buzz for this one is great, and we love Simmons, so we’re ready to rock and roll.

7. Men, Women & Children (October 17)

Jason Reitman made his first major misstep this year with the syrupy mess Labor Day, but we are optimistic he will recover with this ensemble drama about how technology is changing our personal landscapes. Co-writer Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary) should help.

6. Rosewater (November 7)

Jon Stewart writes and directs this true story of a journalist imprisoned and tortured for simply reporting on Iran’s 2009 election. Clearly a topic close to Stewart’s heart, we are eager to see if he can do at the helm of a film what he’s managed to do with his comedy show: articulate the people’s need for unencumbered journalism.

5. Birdman (October 17)

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu takes a break from heady, heartbreaking drama (Biutiful, 21 Grams, Amores Perros) for something lighter and a bit more meta. Onetime Batman, current struggling actor Michael Keaton plays a struggling actor once known for his role as a superhero. We are in.

4. Foxcatcher (November 14)

Steve Carell has gotten notice for an unforgettable and surprising turn in a true crime drama co-starring Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) has done no wrong so far in his career, and we are intrigued to see where he takes us next.

3. Interstellar (November 9)

Because Christopher Nolan. If he’s directing, we’re in line for tickets, so this space exploration/wormhole business starring Matthew McConaughey (hey, he’s been a good bet lately, eh?) sounds like time well spent.

2. Gone Girl (October 3)

Who else would we line up to see no matter what? David Fincher, who helms this gritty crime drama about a missing wife and a husband who looks guilty. Ben Affleck stars, which is not always his strongest suit, but we’re betting on Fincher.

1. St. Vincent

Bill Murray plays the aging, boozy whoremonger next door who lends a hand to the neighborhood’s new single mom (Melissa McCarthy) in need of a babysitter. What could go wrong? We will be on hand to find out.