REVIEW: Laggies

15 11 2014

LaggiesTwo years ago, I placed my money on Lynn Shelton to lead the charge of brining the mumblecore movement to the mainstream.  After seeing “Laggies,” however, I may want to switch my bet to Joe Swanberg.

That is not to imply Shelton’s latest feature indicates a decline in the quality of her output; “Laggies” is certainly a recovery since she sputtered last year with the deservedly little-seen “Touchy Feely.”  Moreover, it is probably her most accessible (or marketable) film to date.  But in order to achieve that, Shelton has not adapted or modified the movement from which she arose.  She has essentially dispersed of it all together.

The only part of “Laggies” that remains in the mumblecore tradition is its protagonist, Keira Knightley’s Megan.  She’s a spiritual cousin of Greta Gerwig’s Frances Ha and Lena Dunham’s Aura from “Tiny Furniture,” a confused and commitment-phobic upper-middle-class millennial twentysomething ambling haplessly through the best years of her life.  She clearly does not love her boyfriend (Mark Webber, yet she lacks the decisiveness to reject his advances towards marriage.  She invested in post-graduate education, but she prefers the lack of responsibility that comes from sign-twirling for her father (Jeff Garlin).

Knightley nails the generational milieu of indirection and indecision, so it is too bad that the rest of “Laggies” could not be nearly as interesting as her.  Shelton, working from a screenplay by Andrea Seigel, steers the film quickly into the realm of standard-issue chick flicks and rom-coms.  Once she lays the cards on the table, it becomes pretty clear where the film will go – although I did hold out hope that there might be a subversive or original twist to spruce things up a bit.

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REVIEW: Touchy Feely

5 08 2013

Touchy FeelyHow ironic that director Lynn Shelton should begin to lose her touch in the film “Touchy Feely,” a film about people who literally touch for a living.

All the seemingly effortless perceptiveness into our very humanity in Shelton’s prior two films “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister” have eluded her grasp in her latest feature.  “Touchy Feely” is a mess, unfocused and unorganized from the get-go.  Shelton writes plenty of interestingly odd characters, but they ultimately offer us nothing to take home and apply to our own lives because we can’t identify with them.

The film jumps from emotional non-sequitur to emotional non-sequitur as everyone seems to act in only the most bizarre and irrational ways possible.  Whether it’s taking ecstasy, forcing their significant other to strip in a bathroom at their place of business (only to then walk out), or going to an experimental massage therapist to improve their dentistry, Shelton’s got the sheer unpredictability of human nature cornered.  The problem is, however, that none of these quirks add up to anything – nor do they highlight anything about what it means to be alive, or in love, or a productive member of society.

The actors could have turned “Touchy Feely” into their showcase by picking up the slack from Shelton’s script, but they wind up falling into the same humdrum, forgettable pattern of the film.  Rosemarie DeWitt’s erratic Abby shows nowhere near the vitality and inner life of her titular bride in “Rachel Getting Married,” and Ellen Page just plays Juno on downers.  Not even Allison Janney could breathe any fresh air into the film.

On a final sad note, I was really hoping this would be a breakout role for Josh Pais, a stalwart character actor who first caught my eye as a cantankerous Harlem teacher in “Music of the Heart” when I was seven years old.  He’s been popping up in movies and TV shows for years, and I’ve always enjoyed seeing him.  But his role in “Touchy Feely,” a deadbeat dentist, was a droning monotone. Hopefully he gets another shot at a big part like this again; I just hope this wasn’t the first time a casting agent saw him on screen.  C-1halfstars





F.I.L.M of the Week (August 2, 2013)

2 08 2013

As soon as I tell you the plot of Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday,” my selection for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” (First-Class, Independent Little-Known Movie), you’ll immediately jump to unfair conclusions about it. You’ll inevitably start to imagine what it must be like and decide it’s not your cup of tea. I know because I, too, judged it unfairly based on the story. But once you get past that, I promise you that it’s a fantastic and well-observed comedy that feels incredibly real.

“Humpday” is about two heterosexual male friends, one of which is married, considering making a gay porn video.

While I don’t want to say too much, don’t worry, this is NOT a pornographic movie. There’s no sex, not even artistically or obliquely done. There’s no nudity, either, because the film is not about the pornographic film industry (I’d recommend Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” if you want to see that, though). “Humpday” is a movie about relationships between people and the nature of intimacy.

Old friends Ben (Mark Duplass) and Andrew (Joshua Leonard) reunite after many years and find themselves locked into a dare to film an amateur scene for an adult film festival. Neither wants to be the one that backs down, so what ensues is a series of conversations between friends and lovers about what the basis of the ties that bind them to each other.

Shelton’s film takes an unconventional approach to get to these central questions of interpersonal connections, but the result is incredibly rewarding drama and insightful wisdom. “Humpday” is all brains and heart – no skin.





REVIEW: Your Sister’s Sister

7 10 2012

All too often, small-scale indie comedies fall into the “coulda been a contenduh” category.  They have great potential to succeed, but like Greek tragic heroes, all have some kind of flaw that prevents them from achievement of their goals.

I’d feel bad beginning my first sentence of a generally positive review with unfortunately because that could give an impression that I thought unfavorably of the movie … but unfortunately, Lynn Shelton’s “Your Sister’s Sister” makes one of the most common indie comedy mistakes: resorting to mainstream conventions.  For the first two acts, the movie feels fresh and incisive like a Woody Allen movie from the 1970s.

The humor flows so naturally from Mark Duplass and Rosemarie DeWitt, who play Jack and Hannah, two dilapidated souls seeking comfort in solitude in a quiet lakeside retreat.  Neither realize the other will be there, though, resulting in some initial awkwardness (as is the territory these types of movies generally tend to dwell in).  Then, they start peeling back the layers of each other’s facades, revealing all sorts of startling truths about each other.  And as they start to connect emotionally (as well as become more and more intoxicated), a physical connection just seems to occur naturally.

Then Iris, played by the gorgeous Emily Blunt, arrives … and introduces utter chaos into the house.  She is Hannah’s sister and Mark’s best friend, thus rendering their romantic evening a subject unable to be broached.  The two new friends, having seen each other laid bare, now have to sort out their true feelings while masquerading as something they aren’t.  Shelton lays out some fascinating conditions for which the drama can unfold, but then she rapidly shifts gears.

In the third act, as the characters begin to really grapple with what has gone on, “Your Sister’s Sister” takes the easy way out.  It relies on dumb montages and hokey, hyperbolic monologues to get Hannah, Mark, and Iris out of their conundrum.  I can’t tell if the ending is just lazy or if it was directed by someone entirely different.

It satisfies, sure, but it doesn’t soar like the rest of the film.  Shelton concludes it far too cleanly to be consistent with the tone of the rest of “Your Sister’s Sister.”  Let messy people dwell in their messiness.  It’s more authentic that way.  B