Tag Archives: romantic comedy

The Boy With the Thorn in His Side


by Seth Troyer

Benjamin is one of the most uniquely brilliant indie films I’ve come across in some time. It’s a film that could have easily been yet another Woody Allen clone, yet another romp where a director shares his thoughts on love, nervous breakdowns, and how cool and complex he is just before the film cuts to credits. Benjamin is something much more.

While the core of the film seems born from director Simon Amstell’s autobiography, what really makes it stand out is the duet Amstell has with his star. Colin Morgan’s lightning fast delivery and realistic portrayal of Benjamin, a young gay man who endlessly gets in his own way, makes the film more than just a mouth piece for a director, but a unique character study.

Benjamin is a filmmaker who recently failed to live up to the promise of his debut movie. In the aftermath, he falls in love with a beautiful French musician named Noah, but their relationship is constantly threatened by Benjamin’s increasingly erratic mental state.

In less capable hands such a plot would make for a rather unoriginal film, but here, the events that unfold feel realistically random and unpredictable. Plot points begin, end abruptly, and then pick back up all over again in surprising ways that create a true to life experience. Even the minor characters are fleshed out yet mysterious, creating unique human beings rather than lazy stereotypes.

The film’s fast paced, dark humor is never contrived or pretentious. Amstell’s incredible ear for dialogue coupled with Morgan’s gift for delivery feels like a comedic team at the top of its game.

Though far more lovable, Morgan’s portrayal of an erratic, untrustworthy protagonist calls to mind David Thewlis’s darkly genius incarnation of Johnny in Mike Leigh’s Naked. Indeed, Benjamin seems to have much in common with Leigh’s everyday dramas in the attempt to flesh out believable characters rather than convey easy moral judgements.

It is an aching portrayal of a person who seems either on the brink of transformation or immolation. Benjamin is a cry for the mind to just shut up for once, and let the heart take the wheel for a change.

She’s a Brainiac, Brainiac…

The Female Brain

by Rachel Willis

It seems strange that in 2018, romantic comedies continue to follow the same tired clichés. While some have mined new territory, The Female Brain isn’t taking any risks.

Focusing on four couples, the film explores the ups and downs of relationships through the studies of neurologist Julia (Whitney Cummings, who also co-writes and directs). Looking at how brain chemistry affects the way men and women behave, why they make certain romantic choices, and why they continue to make the same mistakes, Julia seeks to find answers to her own relationship traumas.

The film’s biggest issue is its lack of cohesion. The couples never share screen time, save one moment in which Steven (Deon Cole) and Adam (James Marsden) discuss how their significant others have changed or are trying to change them. And while it seems the couples are part of Julia’s study based on a few voice-overs, that fact is never quite clear. The movie would have been much stronger if it had kept a tighter focus on Julia’s story or found a better way to connect the couples and their foibles to her study.

There is some humor to be found, primarily from Cole and Cecily Strong. SNL veteran Strong shines, and plays well off of NBA veteran Blake Griffin, who does occasionally hold his own against his much funnier on-screen spouse. Unfortunately, most of the comedy falls flat, as the script relies too much on overused stereotypes: Women are either trying to change men or are too emotionally closed off to accept love.

Cummings is a capable actress. As Julia, she is sympathetic while managing to mine the humor from her role. However, as a director, she never manages to find her footing. The film’s pacing is off, resulting in a movie that feels much longer than its actual runtime. Cummings’s script (co-written with Louann Brizendine and Neal Brennan) suffers from banal dialogue. Any potential moments of originality are undermined by reliance on formulaic ideas of romance.

Hiding behind the guise of being scientifically sound in examining the difference between male and female brains, we’re sadly left with a film that reiterates the same stereotypes and problems of many romantic comedies.

Please Put Your Pants On

Thanks for Sharing

by Hope Madden

In 2010, Stuart Blumberg wrote a film that frankly depicted the crisis of a loving but stagnant marriage upended by infidelity. Though it may have been the intrigue of “new era family” that piqued audience interest in The Kids Are All Right, it was the talented cast and the casually insightful writing that made the film worth seeing.

In fact, Blumberg has made a career out of clever scripts that take a familiar approach to an unfamiliar topic, such as  The Girl Next Door, the teen romance between a shy young man and his porn star neighbor.

For his directorial debut he pulled from a screenplay he co-wrote with Matt Winston. Thanks for Sharing offers a romantic dramedy about sex addiction.

The great Mark Ruffalo anchors the cast as Adam, sex addict. Adam’s been sober for 5 years, thanks in part to the salty wisdom of his sponsor, Mike (Tim Robbins), though he’s having trouble with his new court-appointed sponsee Neil (Josh Gad), who isn’t taking the program seriously.

Complications arise for all three addicts, who face temptation anew as life asks them to juggle adversity and addiction simultaneously. The film is refreshingly clear on the point that overcoming addition is harder than most movies make it out to be.

Credit Blumberg once again for his script’s candor. Every character is gifted with sharp dialogue that does more than shape the role; it articulates profound difficulty of overcoming this particular problem. This cast takes advantage.

Ruffalo finds humanity in every character, and his take on Adam’s wobbly sense of control is touching. Gwyneth Paltrow offers another strong turn, and both actors benefit as much from Blumberg’s bright dialogue as the film benefits from the duo’s easy onscreen chemistry.

Though Robbins delivers a lot of the film’s funnier lines, Gad brings schlubby humor while sparring with a charmingly vulgar Alecia Moore (taking a break from her day job as pop star “Pink”).

Unfortunately, Blumberg the director is less confident than Blumberg the writer. He’s too uncomfortable with the tension he creates, switching from one storyline to the next when things get dark and confining his characters with predictable, tidy formulas.

It may be impossible to watch a film about sex addiction without remembering Michael Fassbender’s scarring performance in 2011’s Shame. While that film wallows in the filth and self loathing, Thanks for Sharing dips a toe and quickly hoses off. For a man who’s made a career of exploiting the mundane inner workings of naughtiness, he should be more comfortable getting a little messy.