9 08 2016

JoshyAs predicted by myself and many people smarter than me, the so-called mumblecore movement shot to cultural prominence in the wake of 2013’s “Drinking Buddies.” These low-budget, short production films began attracting some bright talent from television and cinema. With their unscripted, improvisation style and lived-in qualities, it’s no wonder that comedians and dramatists alike rushed to appear in their own.

With a large cast featuring small screen scene stealers like Thomas Middleditch and Adam Pally, sketch performers like Nick Kroll and Brett Gelman, indie dream girls like Jenny Slate and Alison Brie, and even filmmakers like Alex Ross Perry and Joe Swanberg themselves in front of the camera, Jeff Baena’s “Joshy” feels a bit like “Mumblecore: The Movie.” (Or at least what our culture has decided it will be today.) The simple pleasures of watching this group interact for an hour and a half cannot be understated.

Yet recent films of a similar ilk such as “Digging for Fire” felt like a hangout for hangout’s sake, with thematics tacked on and a narrative throughline threaded in as an afterthought. The conversations and group dynamics of “Joshy,” however, are baked into the films reason for existing itself. After the eponymous character suffers a tragedy that lays to waste his marital plans, his motley crew of buddies use the house reserved for his bachelor weekend as the venue and occasion for a cheer-up mission.

It quickly becomes obvious that while his trio of bros attempt to play the role of fun-loving therapists, they too are all undergoing hardcore emotional stressors of their own. Each attempts some level of macho posturing – whether in relation to booze, drugs or strippers – to mask the pain. Their buddy makes it all too easy to feel superior; the pet name Joshy suggests both femininity and childishness.

If the film feels at times meandering, it’s because Baena both admirably gives the main men space to work out their issues while also providing ample space to critique them. By being at the center of the film, Joshy and pals are inevitable magnets of symapthy and understanding. But Baena never lets the men of “Joshy” off the hook for what could come across as tunnel vision or indefensible behavior. A more “grown-up” family, played by Joe and Kris Swanberg, drops in on their retreat and delivers a pretty firm scolding. Similarly, a group of call girls makes reference to the gang as resembling creepy serial killer types. It’s a pretty satisfying way to balance the competing impulses of developing the characters and indulging the actors. B2halfstars

F.I.L.M. of the Week (November 30, 2012)

30 11 2012

It’s once again the most wonderful time of the year … which means time to dust off the Christmas favorites again.  Though the most family-friendly choices might be “Elf” or “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and the most heartfelt movies might be “Love Actually” or the extremely underrated “The Family Stone,” sometimes you want something a little different.

If you need a raunchy comedy and a Christmas movie all wrapped up in one, you have basically only one choice: Terry Zwigoff’s “Bad Santa.”  Thankfully, it’s a really good choice and I’m featuring it as my “F.I.L.M. of the Week” to kick off the Christmas season. The movie has got laughs to spare thanks to an incredibly witty script and some kick-ass performances … and it’s even unexpectedly sweet.

Billy Bob Thornton plays a familiar sardonic role in the film, here embodying boozing con man Willie Stokes.  He makes his living as a mall Santa, but not from any salary or profits – he and his companion Marcus, a dwarf who acts as his elf, rob the mall where they work that year and then scoot out of town.

However, their year in Phoenix turns out a little differently.  Willie is a little more sex-crazed and erratic than usual, catching the attention of the pushover store manager Bob Chipeska (played with brilliant naïveté by the late John Ritter).  That also puts Chipeska’s top security guard, the stoic Gin Slagel (played by another late comic, Bernie Mac), hot on their trail.

But the more significant development is that Willie starts to develop a heart for “The Kid,” a dim-witted overweight youngster with an undying loyalty to Santa.  His kindness in the face of insult and injury at first annoy Willie yet eventually force him to see some of the error in his ways.  He even begins to give generously out of his greatest strength: his unfeeling toughness.

And isn’t that what Christmas is about?  Giving?  I’ll tell you one thing “Bad Santa” can give you this holiday season: an aching body from laughing so hard.