Tag Archives: Molly Gordon

Greasepaint Is the Word

Theater Camp

by Hope Madden

There are certain comedies that feel lovingly, mockingly plucked from experience. The School of Rock. Wet Hot American Summer. Theater Camp.

The premise of the latter is relatively familiar: a summerlong theater camp will be foreclosed on or snapped up by a spendier competitor unless somehow, some way, a little inspiration and a little fairy dust help the lights and the show go on.

At the center of the crisis: Amos (Ben Platt) and Rebecca-Diane (Molly Gordon, who also co-writes and co-directs). Amos instructs in drama, Rebecca-Diane reads auras, conducts seances, and teaches musical theory. The pair has been inseparable since childhood – a conceit made all the more believable with the actual archival footage of wee Gordon and Platt, both 4-years-old, dancing together onstage.

Touches like this help to develop the feeling that this is a lived-in love, a mash note to the awkward, petty, ridiculous, glorious, accepting, embracing, creative community that forms artists.

Both Platt and Gordon deliver touching, flawed, funny performances. The balance of the ensemble shines as well.

Jimmy Tatro nails the earnest dumbass bro pegged to run the camp while his mother (Amy Sedaris – genius as always) is in a coma. Co-writer Noah Galvin offers a sneaky comic presence from his opening moments and eventually steals the show (and the show within the show).

I would have loved to see the Janet (Ayo Edebiri) side story developed. Edebiri’s every moment of screentime is an understated riot. Likewise Sedaris, with little more than a cameo, was missed when she was off screen. But the large cast, most with limited screen time, manages to craft memorably eccentric characters who come together to create a community.

This is the film’s real magic, something the cast and filmmakers – including Gordon’s co-writer and co-director, Nick Lieberman – convey with mockery borne of familiarity and love.

Theater kids are bound to see themselves here, and the loose structure and inside jokes may weaken the experience for everyone else. But underneath the affectionate mockery lurks a moving testament to the nurturing effect of belonging.

My Normal Size Jewish Funeral

Shiva Baby

by George Wolf

“You can’t just show up for the after party for a shiva, and like, reap the benefits of the buffet.”

Twentysomething Danielle (Rachel Sennott – irresistible) is definitely guilty of skipping the actual funeral (she doesn’t even know who died!), but if there are benefits to the after party, she isn’t reaping them. It’s awkward enough that her former flame Maya (Molly Gordon) is there, but that’s hardly the worst of it.

To her horror, Danielle sees that Max (Danny Deferarri) is there, too. Max is Danielle’s sugar daddy, and look, he brought his beautiful wife (Dianna Agron) and their cute baby daughter!

With Shiva Baby, Emma Seligman expands her 2018 short film for a feature debut full of observational comedy, mounting anxiety and a strangely appealing sexiness. Imagine the Coen Brothers rebooting Uncut Gems as a coming-of-age sex comedy, and you get an idea of the tonal tightrope Seligman is able to command.

The film’s opening finds Danielle confident and alluring. By the end of the day, she’s an unkempt, sweaty mess of beverages, blood and embarrassment. Almost all of Danielle’s arc takes place inside the home of the bereaved, and Seligman makes sure that is a hilariously uncomfortable place to be.

Danielle’s parents (the ever-reliable Fred Melamed and a scene-stealing Polly Draper) pressure her to work the room for job contacts, family friends inquire about her post-college plans, Molly wonders why Danielle ghosted her, and Max’s wife is getting suspicious.

And through it all, Seligman’s camera draws in closer and closer, making Danielle’s darkly comic claustrophobia almost palpable.

Clearly, much of Seligman’s sharp dialog comes from personal experience, and if it’s one you share this is a film that will feel like part of the family. But you didn’t have to be Greek to get caught up in that Big Fat Wedding, and you don’t have to be Jewish to see the joy in Shiva Baby.

Seligman flashes an insight that disarms you with sex and humor, keeping its hand at a subtle distance. But by the time we’re leaving that buffet, a breakout filmmaker and star have delivered a fresh, funny and intimate take on the indignities of finding yourself.

Show Me Your Junk

The Broken Hearts Gallery

by George Wolf

I have no problem at all with scary movies, I love them. But I gotta be honest, I can’t think of many things more frightening than the prospect of dating in today’s social climate.

So kudos to writer/director Natalie Krinsky for squeezing so much feel-goodiness out of the dating tribulations of twenty-something New Yorkers in The Broken Hearts Gallery.

Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan), a gallery assistant, is smarting from a painful breakup. Her roommate besties Amanda (Molly Gordon from Booksmart, Good Boys, Life of the Party) and Nadine (Hamilton‘s Phillipa Soo) are helping her cope.

First lesson in letting go: get rid of all that junk you’ve saved as souvenirs from past relationships!

But a chance meeting with Nick (Dacre Montgomery from Stranger Things), a budding hotel owner, spawns an idea. If Lucy will help get the hotel ready for opening day, Nick will give her space to open a gallery showcasing trinkets donated by lovers left behind.

Krinsky, a TV vet helming her first feature, leans on plenty of familiar rom-com tropes, but gives them all just the right amount of unabashed enthusiasm to feel more comfortable than cheesy.

The dance montages are numerous, the dialog less like real conversations and more like people waiting for their next turn to quip, and the ladies’ Big Apple cynicism as biting as a sugar-coated fantasy.

But Viswanathan (Blockers, Bad Education) is bursting with bubbly charm, Montgomery brings a welcome, dialed-down authenticity, and Krinsky is able to mine some contemporary laughs from recycled ideas (the actual Museum of Broken Relationships, When Harry Met Sally-styled interviews with the trinket owners).

The Broken Hearts Gallery is often as awkward and messy as it is breezy and spirited. You know where it’s going and it goes there, pushed buttons blazing.

And for 108 minutes, dating in this world seems like it isn’t that scary at all, and could maybe even be fun. Maybe.

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.