REVIEW: The Boss

6 04 2016

Picture this: a highly successful businessperson, who augments the public’s perception of their wealth by doubling as a skilled entertainer, needs to bounce back after suffering some public humiliation.

This person enters a field knowing little about the profession but finds a way to prosper by exploiting complacency, deriding rivals with unwarranted personal attacks and even inciting violence.

The captain of industry boasts about cruel implementation of shrewd business tactics and remains unfazed when compared to totalitarian rulers.

(Oh, and this individual’s distinctively styled hair never gets dented.)

Did I just describe Donald Trump or Michelle Darnell, the lead character of the new film “The Boss” played by Melissa McCarthy?

The two larger-than-life figures share quite a few similarities, though McCarthy (along with co-writers Ben Falcone and Steve Mallory) could not possibly have known that her burlesqued portrayal of a corporate mogul would hit the marketplace at the same time as an equal ludicrous figure marched towards the nomination of a major political party. Literally, production ended on “The Boss” two weeks before Trump made the infamous escalator announcement. The ill-fated timing of its release makes it play like an inverse of “Zootopia,” this year’s most fortuitous arrival.

The odd parallel here and there between the fictional and the absurd business tycoon is not necessarily bothersome. And, in the interest of fairness, Donald Trump did not spend five months in jail for insider trading like Michelle Darnell. But a line feels crossed when she declares, “We’re participating in the American Dream!”

Out of context, this might seem harmless. However, Darnell utters it right before an all-out brawl takes place between her group of entrepreneurial thugs and the Girl Scout-like troop from which they disaffiliated. How can one find humor in the perversion of the American Dream on screen when a demagogue is ushering in a national nightmare in reality? Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dicator” showed that comedy had a definite place in a time of bullying leaders, though it ought to contain some confrontational element if it is to be anything more than a diversion. “The Boss” comes across as oblivious in regards to the implications of its dull satire.

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REVIEW: Enough Said

8 04 2015

One day after work in London, I had a few hours to kill before a dinner engagement and decided to spend them seeing “Enough Said.”  The auditorium was the size of some houses’ living room, so any obnoxious behavior was sure to stand out even more than usual.  So, of course, I found myself laughing hysterically nearly the entire duration of the film and thus the butt of a number of glares.

I was not the only person having a great time, but I certainly seemed to enjoy the film more than most people in the audience.  (Maybe the humor was culturally specific?)  “Enough Said” does feature one of my favorite comediennes, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, turning in some of her funniest and most humane work to date.

It’s a common phrase regarding comic actors that they could make reading the phone book a laugh riot.  But I am convinced that Louis-Dreyfus could just look at a phone book and have me in stitches.  Her expressions and reactions practically constitute a second text of the film, and it only serves to enhance the richness of emotion and humor in writer/director Nicole Holofcener’s script.

“Enough Said” may be a little slight compared with some of the heftier, more thematically complex works of the filmmaker like 2006’s “Friends with Money” or 2010’s “Please Give.”  Nonetheless, her film delights with the familiarity and recognition.  Her characters feel less like symbols or stand-ins for big ideas and more like real people.  As a result, the comedy derives from everyday, mundane occurrences, and it allows the film to really hit a nerve.

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REVIEW: Tammy

12 07 2014

With their collaboration on “Tammy,” writer/star Melissa McCarthy and writer/director Ben Falcone construct what may very well be the cinematic equivalent of Sarah Palin’s infamous “bridge to nowhere.”  It’s a film about a road trip to nowhere that gets everyone involved in its making nowhere.

Coming off an Oscar nomination and three box office hits, it’s a shame McCarthy spent what was likely carte blanche with the studios on a project that offers nothing new for her talents.  Even though she was so heavily involved with the film’s creation, “Tammy” offers little humor other than jokes at the expense of her character’s weight or lacking mental capacity.  It’s almost as if she wants the two characteristics to be linked, which baffles me.

Was the point is to prove that McCarthy can play the woman-child archetype as well as, say, Vince Vaughn can play the man-child?  Or that a character like McCarthy’s Tammy can pull in a romantic conquest in spite of her figure and eccentric personality?  I could maybe see “Tammy” sounding like a great feminist victory in its premise, yet in execution, the movie is every bit as bumbling as its titular character.  If McCarthy really wanted to do something radical, she should have made a film where her figure was never addressed at all.

Over the course of 96 minutes (that feel much longer), Falcone and McCarthy give us a whole lot of time on the road with Tammy and her grandmother Pearl, an alcoholic played by Susan Sarandon.  Tammy and Pearl don’t quite have any grand purpose to be road tripping in the first place other than … well, something had to give “Tammy” a plot!

The quite-literal journey in the story is the perfect opportunity to explore a similar progression in the protagonist, but they can never quite figure out what virtues or values Tammy is going to discover.  The film toys with the idea of her gaining self-appreciation while also contemplating a familial love angle, never taking the time to fully develop one or the other.  It ultimately slaps on an ending favoring a rediscovered bond between its two female leads, and the conclusion feels rather unearned.

That’s not to say that McCarthy did not earn the opportunity to make “Tammy,” though.  The fact that this is film she chose to make from that position, however, is likely to remain a question mark for the rest of her career.  C-1halfstars





REVIEW: Bad Words

7 07 2014

Bad WordsJason Bateman has long been saddled with the reputation as a go-to guy for playing the uptight, no-nonsense straight man in comedy.  After having finally watched “Arrested Development,” I can see why he got typecast – he’s quite skilled at it.  But too much of a good thing can get quite boring, and he’s rarely given a great supporting cast to whom he can react.

It appears that in order to get a different kind of role, Bateman had to step behind the camera himself for “Bad Words.”  His performance recalls two others in films that also began with the same word: Billy Bob Thornton in “Bad Santa” and Cameron Diaz in “Bad Teacher.”  Bateman tackles a character, Guy Trilby, who is more or less irredeemably rotten to the core, save the one classic written-in soft spot that gets exposed over the course of the film.

Guy exploits a loophole in a national spelling bee – he never graduated from middle school – and enters himself into competition at the ripe old age of 40.  His presence alone angers parents, but they’d probably put a bullet through his head if they knew the shenanigans he pulled to fluster their kids.  Stuck in arrested development as an 11-year-old bully, Guy ruthlessly humiliates vulnerable and insecure teenagers into making mistakes at the microphone.

Bateman and writer Andrew Dodge clearly intend these moments to be funny, but all too often, “Bad Words” seems too far away from any sort of moral compass.  Rather than eliciting laughs, they activate our sympathy and pity for the kids Guy is picking on.  It’s not unlike the feeling I had watching “The Wolf of Wall Street,” wondering how I could possibly find humor and levity at the expense of someone else’s livelihood.

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