REVIEW: This Is Where I Leave You

20 09 2014

This Is Where I Leave YouIt took me until a college intro-level theater class to realize it, but the term melodrama actually means “music drama.”  In Shawn Levy’s adaptation of the novel “This Is Where I Leave You,” he really deploys that definitional dimension to convey all the film’s emotion.

As if we couldn’t already tell that two family members alone together was going to result in clichéd conversation, Levy cues each scene up with Michael Giacchino’s gentle piano score to softly amplify the forced profundity.  Or maybe if we’re lucky, Levy will treat us to a mellow Alexei Murdoch ditty.  (The singer is employed far less effectively than he was by Sam Mendes in “Away We Go,” for the few out there who care.)

The film seems to move forward solely on the logic that everyone needs to almost cry alone with each other.  It doesn’t matter to what extent the actors can manage authenticity – usually they don’t manage at all – because it’s impossible to escape the hoary hokeyness of the directorial heavy-handedness.

“This Is Where I Leave You,” which follows a family of four estranged siblings coming back to sit shiva for their deceased father, brings a lot more under its roof than it can handle.  Levy recruited a heck of a cast but seems unsure of how to deploy them in roles that require more than easy comedy.  The film’s dialogue makes more than a few attempts at humor, yet its talented players seem to timid to explore that element.

The reserve of the cast only serves to exacerbate the awkward blending of three distinct comic stylings: the reactionary stoicism of Jason Bateman, the strung-out loquaciousness of Tina Fey, and the live wire erraticism of Adam Driver.  (As for Corey Stoll, their eldest sibling … well, every family needs one serious member).  They don’t feel like family members so much as they come across as uncommonly adept scene partners who can feign a passable relationship until someone yells cut.

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REVIEW: The Internship

26 07 2013

Strangely enough, the best moment of “The Internship” was not a big laugh; it was a dramatic exchange of dialogue.  While such moments in comedic films are often clichéd and forced, this one really hit the money.

As Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn’s imbecillic man-children talk a bunch of bull, their much younger intern teammates set them straight by explaining to them how much is riding on this summer gig.  In a particularly haunting line, one of them declares that the American Dream is virtually dead to their generation.

As someone who has suffered through / paid my dues at / enjoyed a number of internships myself, this scene hit very close to home.  But if I wanted to be slightly depressed about my future, I would have just watched “Frances Ha” or the second season of Lena Dunham’s “Girls” again.  I came to “The Internship” to be entertained, and I left rather disappointed by its (hopefully unintentional) humorlessness.

Though I’m not a huge  fan of Wilson and Vaughn’s last collaboration, 2005’s “Wedding Crashers,” I certainly did not expect their comedic prowess to depreciate to the point where I only let out a few mild giggles over the course of two hours.  Just about every gag falls short, although none ever hit cringe-worthy levels.

“The Internship” is, more or less, a retooling of the “Legally Blonde” story for modern men.  Unhappy in their current position, Billy and Nick drastically change career paths and head to an internship at Google.  While initially their foreignness to the field makes them obvious neophytes, they take some hard knocks that force them to grow.  Yet in the end, it’s those undervalued skills they entered with that allow them to achieve success.

I enjoy a movie like “Legally Blonde” because Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods is an inspiring figure, learning that she is capable of things she never imagined simply by trusting her own intuitions and wiles.  I find “The Internship” more than a little sad when it declares with no detectable sense of irony that we too can get an entry level position like Billy and Nick in our forties, so long as we work hard and can fall back on basic skills.  Though perhaps for that very reason, Shawn Levy has made an emblematic film of our wretched economy in post-recessional America.  C2stars





REVIEW: Real Steel

26 03 2012

What’s more American than virtually remaking “Rocky,” replacing Sylvester Stallone with a robot, set in the heartlands?  That’s “Real Steel” in a nutshell, a Hugh Jackman vehicle that director Shawn Levy proclaims as a classic expression of Americana.  Well, for starters, America deserves better than this.

Levy is under the delusion that his movie has a place on the American kitchen table next to the apple pie; I’m here to tell you that the only place “Real Steel” belongs with apple pie is when the dessert is stale, rotten, and in a garbage bag.  Its tired, unoriginal story combined with mildly stimulating visuals make for a lackluster watch.  Levy also gets a bit genre-confused, wedding the sports film to the sci-fi with little success.  I still think there’s hope in genre cross-pollination, but I hope no one looks back and thinks that “Real Steel” or “Cowboys & Aliens” were ahead of their time.  Both are feeble, flailing attempts to give a little shimmer to tarnished brands.

However, I suppose it is rather effective at communicating the age-old American myths.  Any deadbeat dad, in this case Hugh Jackman, no matter how estranged, can reconnect with his son, here played by an incredibly hyperactive Dakota Goyo.  Anyone can succeed if they have friends with faith in them, here Evangeline Lilly (who is far from her glory days on “Lost” when she was my huge crush).  But most of all, anyone can beat the odds and be a winner with hard work and faith – even a robot.  That’s the American dream, but it’s been realized before … and better.  C-





REVIEW: Date Night

26 04 2010

The stars in comedy heaven lined up and brought together the two of the funniest people in the sitcom galaxy, Steve Carell and Tina Fey, for an on-screen outing in “Date Night.”  It feels strangely like watching an episode of “Saturday Night Live” nowadays: incredibly potent actors trudging through material that doesn’t deserve their comedic talents.

But once you can put that issue to rest, what you are left with is a reminder of the power of the actor.  It takes extraordinary expertise to entertain an audience with poor writing, and Carell and Fey emerge from the ashes looking like heroes.  Honestly, these two could read off the entire health care bill and have one of the highest grossing movies at the box office.

It’s amazing to watch these two comedians play off of each other.  Together, they put their own unique spin on some dry lines and injecting some much-need humor into them while managing to turn lackluster repeated gags into hilarity.  “Date Night” is all about them; the movie’s best moments are when it turns off the roaring plot engine and lets them take the wheel.

For those of you who nitpick at actors playing the same role over and over again, you could potentially scoff at the stars.  There are plenty of moments where we catch glimpses of Michael Scott and Liz Lemon.  But as a fan of both “The Office” and “30 Rock,” I see absolutely no problem with that.  There’s a reason why these are two of the highest profile characters on television, and it’s not a bad thing to see these two actors incorporating a little bit of what they do best.  “Date Night” is no day at Dunder-Mifflin or TGS; it’s two average people like Michael and Liz thrown into outrageous circumstances beyond their control.  As much as we might not want to admit it, there’s a little bit of each of those characters in all of us, and Carell and Fey have to channel a little bit of their small screen personas to make us care what happens to the Fosters on the big screen.

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