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

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