REVIEW: The Meddler

14 05 2016

The MeddlerKnow that person who has a heart of gold but lacks a silver tongue? Or has valuable wisdom but tends to share too much information? Who would be the greatest conversationalist in the world if they could just cut themselves off one sentence earlier?

That would be Susan Sarandon’s Marnie Minervini in “The Meddler,” though the beauty of her performance is that the character rings broadly true for so many people. For plenty, it will probably recall their mother or other family member. The meat of the film does focus on Marnie’s relationship with her adult daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), still a bit of a hot mess professionally and romantically. Marnie tries to intervene, as most mothers do, but Lori gives an unsubtle hint for her newly widowed parent to find a different hobby.

Rather than mope, whine or cause unnecessary tension between the two of them, Marnie essentially takes her charge. For decades, she played few roles besides “mother” and “wife.” This free time grants her the opportunity to be a friend, a surrogate parent, a mentor … and maybe even a lover. There’s certainly not a dull moment with Marnie, though sometimes the organization of her interactions leaves a little to be desired. Some secondary characters play pivotal roles only to drop off for big chunks of the movie.

Marnie’s adventures in role playing provide irresistible fun and joy, though they are always tainted with a slight sadness. These all serve as convenient distractions from the one person who really needs tending to: herself. Scafaria, in one of few script-level missteps, delivers this revelation through on-the-nose observations by Marnie’s therapists. But as it plays out in the events of “The Meddler,” her journey of self-discovery through (some perhaps unwarranted) service is altogether charming. B+3stars





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: The Bronze

18 03 2016

The BronzeUnlikable characters do not automatically guarantee an unwatchable film (see, for example, Jason Reitman’s criminally underrated “Young Adult“). But the keys to success in such an uphill battle for sympathy lie in encouraging identification. These people are like some part of us, whether we want to admit it or not. Flawed figures allow us to embrace, and perhaps even correct, such shortcomings.

The chief issue with Bryan Buckley’s “The Bronze” is that it does not understand this fundamental truth about the prickly protagonist. Instead of placing us at eye level with Melissa Rauch’s heinous Hope, a jaded bronze Olympic medalist turned complacent hometown hero, the film puts us at a position above her. We are meant to look down at her pathetic, juvenile antics. The experience is less like watching indie cinema and more akin to reality television, complete with absurd dialogue (“Are you insane? Why are you insane?”) and hokey plot twists visible from a mile away.

Rauch gives her all to the character, constantly contorting her face into a snarl that makes infinitely meme-worthy Kayla Maroney look friendly. The expression would feel like an extended parody of Olympian attitudes were it not such an accurate representation of her pitch-black soul. As she selfishly tries to sabotage the chances of a potential protege, “The Bronze” adds insult to injury to the experience of watching by primarily indulging her childish whims. This might work as a teen movie, but we are watching an adult.

To be fair, “The Bronze” does earn some points in the final round by exposing a surprise and slightly enlightening motivation behind her appalling actions. But by that point, the film is so far away from the medal stand that it makes scant difference in the grand scheme of things. C+ / 2stars