Tag Archives: Taylor Schilling

All In


by Hope Madden

On occasion, film reps send us links to preview their film for review. Often, these links are password protected. Once, the password was bouncehouse.

Yes, please.

The film in question is called Family, writer Laura Steinel’s directorial debut, and it plays like a fun update of Uncle Buck with Juggalos.

That’s right!

We open on an uptight executive sprinting, face painted, through an Insane Clown Posse gathering and reflecting, “It’s kind of like a fun county fair where you could also, potentially, be stabbed.”

That reflective exec is Kate, and Kate is maybe Taylor Schilling’s best cinematic character. She takes to Steinel’s dialog with a flat affect that’s entirely, awkwardly enjoyable.

Kate is Uncle Buck, basically. Only she’s not. She’s a driven businessperson who actually got where she is because she has literally nothing else in her life to draw her attention or energy. And then she has to babysit her 11-year-old niece Maddie (Bryn Vale, spot on) and next thing you know—right, life lessons. We’re all familiar with the John Hughes handbook, but Steinel updates it with less schmaltz and more belief in nonconformity. And juggalos.

When Maddie says, “Magic is my passion,” I had to hit pause because I was afraid my snorting would drown out the next piece of comedy gold.

There are problems with Family (besides that inanely generic title). It is funny, and its comical scenes are delivered by an entirely winning cast (which includes the unreasonably hilarious Kate McKinnon and the unreasonably talented Brian Tyree Henry). That’s not the problem.

Steinel also inverts and subverts the tropes of the genre. There are two upended “makeover” scenes that are both funny and insightful. It’s also just a savvy look at being socially awkward.

No, the problem here is that the many colorful and fun scenes are strung together more than they are foundational to a whole. And the keen insight Steinel uses to sharpen individual jokes softens when the time comes to finish the story.

She John Hugheses it.

But a well-placed “sorry for your loss” is surprisingly funny and there are at least a dozen scenes here that I kind of love. Family is smart, R-rated comedy that ultimately caves to the pressure to conform, but its struggle to be itself is laudable.

Plus, those juggalos. They have hearts of gold.

PS, this is what all my sisters thought I would be like as a parent. And I wasn’t. Entirely.

The Grapes of Something Something

The Public

by George Wolf

Emilio Estevez just does not do nuance.

The Public marks his fifth feature as writer/director, and it sports the conviction of his best work while also suffering from his familliar lack of restraint.

Estevez also stars as Stuart Goodson, a dedicated, stoic manager at the Cincinnati Public Library. While Stuart and his staff deal daily with an array of homeless citizens using the library, he finds himself a “good son” under fire when complaints about body odor lead to one vagrant’s eviction – and a lawsuit.

And then things get complicated.

Beyond the free computer use, the library also offers respite from the bitter winter cold, and when a deadly deep freeze grips Ohio, Stuart sits at the center of an armed standoff between the city and homeless folks needing shelter.

And it’s not just the homeless question The Public is addressing. From addiction and recovery to tabloid journalism, political cowardice and civic (ii.e. “the public”) responsibility, Estevez has plenty of heart available for numerous sleeves, getting admirable support from a solid ensemble cast including Alec Baldwin, Christian Slater, Jeffrey Wright, Taylor Schilling, Michael Kenneth Williams, Gabrielle Union and the ever-ageless Jena Malone.

Characters and subplots converge through dialog that’s too often desperate for authenticity, and a film that decries “intellectual vanity” seems overly proud of its own moments of clumsy enlightenment.

Case in point: a callous TV reporter (Union) is pumped at the social media traction she’s getting for her live reports from the library conflict. While her cameraman points out the plight of people at the heart of the story, she stays glued to her phone.

Point made, but Estevez can’t leave it there.

“Huh? What?” she answers, then a cut to the cameraman rolling his eyes. Second that.

Similarly, the stunt Estevez engineers for the big resolve gets a bystander explanation that is not only unnecessary, but factually dubious at best.

It’s just a culmination of the slow slide from good intentions to self-satisfied finger-wagging. The film has a respect for books and libraries that is indeed admirable, but by the time Goodson starts reading from Steinbeck on live TV, it becomes painfully evident what The Public wants to be when it grows up.


Spare the Rod

The Prodigy

by Hope Madden

There is nothing especially wrong with The Prodigy, director Nicholas McCarthy’s take on the Bad Seed formula. Not much right about it, either.

Sarah (Taylor Schilling, Orange is the New Black) is starting to think there’s something wrong with her son, Miles (Jackson Robert Scott). He’s just too smart, and he doesn’t ever want to play with other kids. Plus there was that wrench bashing incident.

Luckily he speaks Hungarian in his sleep and his psychologist has a friend whose research is a little out of the ordinary…

How do we find an original take on the murderous offspring? Straight up psycho’s been done. Same with satanic possession, zombies, rabies, pet semataries…

Writer Jeff Buhler (the upcoming Pet Sematary) dreams up an adequate vehicle that allows us to watch the battle between innocence and evil rage inside Scott’s lovely, wide eyes.

Wisely, the film is a bit less concerned with who’s winning that battle than it is with the lengths a parent will go in order to save her child. It’s the slightly less traveled road, and one that Schilling journeys fairly convincingly.

Scott likewise convinces in a tough role for a child, oscillating between frightened boy and cold blooded psychopath deftly enough to leave trace of one in the other at times to keep you guessing who’s who.

It’s just so hard not to feel like you’ve seen this movie before. The dad says stick with medical science, but the mom is willing to chase these crazy spiritual theories that conveniently leapt into her lap. And, of course, there has to be a mysterious path toward fixing the problem that she stumbles upon, because cosmic evil is tidy like that.

The bigger problem is the leaden pacing and lack of action. McCarthy may be going for an atmospheric dread, but the result feels stagnant and drowsy.

Which is too bad because the movie has some redeeming qualities—a late-film performance from Brittany Allen (It Stains the Sands Red), for one. Cookie-cutter plotting and flat direction keeps it from taking advantage of solid performances, though, and leaving you wishing for something more.

Welcome to the Neighborhood

The Overnight

by Hope Madden

When handled properly, even the slightest premise or most ridiculous behavior can turn into an insightful and moving observation. Such is the case with the frank and uncomfortable sex comedy The Overnight.

Emily and Alex (Taylor Schilling and Adam Scott, respectively) recently relocated from Seattle to LA, and while their youngster RJ has a birthday party to attend that will help him make friends, they are still feeling a little isolated and friendless. That is, until uber-hipster Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) approaches them at the park after his son befriends theirs.

The kids hit it off, the parents hit it off, and Kurt invites the whole gang back to his place for an impromptu pizza party. What could be better? Go spend 24 hours with your neighbors and see how weird it gets.

Schwartzman is spot on perfection, as is often the case, with the smarmy but likeable but maybe creepy but kind of awesome Kurt. Few if any can hit these notes of self-parody caricature and earnest vulnerability quite this well.

Scott, as the tightly wound, trying-too-hard straight man to Schwartzman’s nut is equally impressive. Luckily, it’s not just odd couple schtick the two are after, though. They, as well as Schilling and Judith Godreche, as Kurt’s wife Charlotte, toggle nicely between broad comedy and precise, insightful characterization.

Like a less precious, more contemporary Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, The Overnight flirts with the idea of partner swapping as a way to explore more: personal insecurities, relationships, love, commitment, boredom, and breast pump fetishists.

Although you always have the sense of where things are going, there’s a surprise in nearly every scene. Not every one pays off, but most of them land with a laugh and maybe an awkward shudder. Though writer/director Patrick Brice mines the embarrassing situation on a near-Noah Baumbach level, his film is compassionate. He gives his four performers room to breathe, sometimes hold their breath, but they’re able to be mortified and vulnerable simultaneously.

The Overnight is a perceptive if bawdy comedy directed with nuance for laughs and resonance. Brice can’t nail the tone consistently enough, the overarching tale leans too heavily on giddy expectation, and the female characters are not given enough chance to evolve, but that hardly sinks this ship. Schwartzman and Scott are an inspired pairing and the film is a nice, adult minded comedy to offset the summer’s blockbuster glut.