REVIEW: Sleeping With Other People

4 10 2015

Sleeping with Other PeopleThough the first two words in the title of writer/director Leslye Hedland’s “Sleeping With Other People” are a polite euphemism, that semantic choice probably represents her most cautious choice regarding sex.  Unlike so many others dealing with romance and courtship on screen, she leans in to the thorniness that most choose to sugarcoat.  She embraces the mess created by the libido’s interference with the heart.

Her two main characters, Jason Sudeikis’ Jake and Alison Brie’s Lainey, are even admitted sex addicts.  Early on in the film, the two even reunite after a collegiate one-night stand at a meeting for those struggling to rein in their urges.  “Shame” this is not, but it’s at least a more nuanced portrayal of sexuality than 2011’s pair of hookup movies, “Friends with Benefits” and “No Strings Attached.”

Yet sadly, Hedland also seems to borrow one too many plot points from said movies.  Even as she resists reducing love into sex, Jake and Lainey’s drifting back towards each other as they try to push apart feels like a page ripped right from the rom-com playbook.  There’s at least some good humor as Hedland blends in some battle of the sexes humor a la “When Harry Met Sally,” but Sudeikis and Brie lack the chemistry to sell their relationship beyond a few choice scenes.  The two always feel like they are operating on different comedic frequencies.

Despite a winning ensemble that includes fantastic actors like Adam Scott, Natasha Lyonne and Amanda Peet, “Sleeping With Other People” just never coheres its parts into a satisfying whole.  I suspect the only time I’ll ever think about this film again is when taking an overview of films that show how technology inhibits intimacy – Hedland does include one powerful split-screen shot of Jake and Lainey texting each other from their own beds.  Though they look and connect as if they were right next to each other, their phones still make them worlds apart.  B-2stars

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REVIEW: The Way Way Back

4 08 2013

Two years ago, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash stood on stage at the Academy Awards behind Alexander Payne as he delivered the majority of their acceptance speech for writing “The Descendants.” While Payne waxed poetic to millions of people, Faxon and Rash drew the attention of the cameramen through a bizarre stunt – mocking Angelina Jolie’s flaunting of her flawless leg as it protruded out of her dress that very night.

As soon as I saw that, I thought to myself that they must have provided the humor in “The Descendants,” and the tragedy and drama came courtesy of Alexander Payne. But after seeing Faxon and Rash’s directorial debut “The Way Way Back,” which they also wrote together, I’m not so sure my assumption was correct. The dynamic duo crafted a truly heartfelt and genuine film that is equal parts uproarious comedy and poignant drama. Not a moment in the movie feels false as everything hits home just by being honest.

The film might not be the most original as it is a fairly typical entry into the coming-of-age sub genre. The protagonist, Duncan, is a shy turtle of a 14-year-old boy headed for a summer at the beach with his mother Pam (Toni Collette) and her new jerk of a boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell). Both of them struggle to fit into Trent’s pre-existing world, although Pam has no escape. Duncan manages to find a surrogate family for the summer at the Water Wizz water park under the tutelage of the quick-witted Owen (Sam Rockwell).

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REVIEW: Please Give

12 12 2010

Thanks to Best Picture winners like “Million Dollar Baby,” “Crash,” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” today’s moviegoers are accustomed to thinking that movies that tackle issues have to be massive, sprawling dramas with big implications.  Euthanasia, racism, and poverty are big social issues facing the world today, and these movies have tackled them in such a big, brassy way that most audiences think that movies with such relevant themes have to be this way.

Yet on the comedic flip-side of the coin, there is Nicole Holofcener, who writes movies about issues just as important but with the scope of your average person.  Her latest feature, “Please Give,” explores money, greed, and guilt in today’s society as it affects four people in different but profound ways.  Full of wit and humor, the movie is delightfully pertinent to just about anyone in 2010 as it probes for answers to questions we often find ourselves asking everyday.

There’s nothing monumental about Holofcener’s latest study of money and society, but she builds the narrative from characters who are interesting and compelling down to their core.  Upper class New York couple Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) run a furniture business, managing to stay on top of competition by purchasing antiques from the children of the elderly who don’t know the true value of the pieces.  With some of their profits, they have managed to buy an adjacent apartment, now just waiting for the elderly inhabitant to pass away.

Yet with all the spoils of money, Kate can’t help but feel torn by guilt.  She sees the homelessness in the city and feels obliged to help in some way, but she also has a family to provide for, including a daughter who will stop at nothing until she gets a pair of designer jeans.  She also starts to wonder if she and Alex’s predatory purchasing is morally acceptable.  As a result, she tries to reform her life for what she thinks is the better of those less fortunate.  However, she finds that even with the best of intentions, sometimes helping others doesn’t help them – or yourself – as much as hoped.

Holofcener raises a lot of interesting questions with “Please Give” about the nature of charity in today’s culture, and her exploration doesn’t yield many answers.  The situations she lays out aren’t exactly comforting for those who think they are being helpful to the community.  But simply by raising these questions, she leads her audience to a self-examination, precisely what movies dealing with important societal issues should do.  B+