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A lot of ink has been spilled bemoaning the death of the rom-com. For years now, we’ve been watching as studios have largely eschewed venturing into the once-well-worn territory, ceding that particular ground to the likes of Netflix and other streaming services.

But while this new breed of rom-com has proven extremely successful – particularly among younger viewers – the reality is that there’s still no substitute for a good old-fashioned star-powered romantic comedy, preferably set in some sort of tropical paradise. It’s a classic formula – grab a couple of A-listers, give them some sort of conflict and set them loose against a beautiful backdrop. Complain about formulaic filmmaking all you want – there’s a reason there’s a formula in the first place.

“Ticket to Paradise” hits all those notes. A-listers? Hell, you’ve got Julia Roberts and George Clooney at the top of the call sheet. That’s a big check. Beautiful backdrop? How’s Bali sound? Another check. Conflict? Divorced couple must come together to put a top to daughter’s ill-advised wedding – check. It’s all here, a throwback to the golden age of the modern rom-com some two or three decades past.

None of this is to anoint this movie an all-timer, by the way. It’s shaggy and a little repetitive, rife with the cliches that tend to mark the genre. There’s not a lot in the way of character development and there are plenty of holes in the narrative. Roberts and Clooney are largely cruising on their charisma and screen presence.

Then again, they’ve got a TON of that. For me, that’s enough.

Published in Movies

My affinity for romantic comedies is well-documented at this point. I love a good rom-com. Always have. From the earliest screwball comedies to the current streaming revival of the genre, I remain a devoted fan. Sure, some are better than others, but to my mind, rom-coms are like pizza – even when they’re bad, they’re still pretty good.

Now, there are those who would argue that rom-coms are simply continuous rehashing of the same old formulas. And honestly? That’s a valid argument to make in a lot of respects. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? If we like something, why wouldn’t we want more of it? And why mess with a good thing?

Unless you’re Billy Eichner and Nicholas Stoller. Then, by all means – mess away.

Their new film “Bros” – Eichner stars, Stoller directs and they share writing credit – is a romantic comedy that centers gay men in a way that we’ve never really seen in a mainstream studio release. It is a rom-com that recognizes the significant differences between LGBTQ+ relationships and traditionally heterosexual ones. This movie is not interested in shoehorning its queerness into a cishet space, instead opting to put the (admittedly exaggerated) reality on display.

Now, it’s indisputable that a movie like “Bros” has ideas and agendas that it seeks to advance. That’s true of every piece of art that tries to say something that hasn’t been said at scale before; this movie is no different. However, while the inclusivity of the message is certainly important, you still need to make, you know, a good movie.

And “Bros” is good. VERY good. It is wildly, raunchily funny, packed with solid sight gags and pop culture references and a ton of sex positivity. It is also surprisingly, almost shockingly heartfelt; this is a movie that unapologetically wears its emotions on its sleeve between (and sometimes during) the self-aware filthiness and general joie de vivre.

Published in Style

I’ve always had a soft spot for sliding doors. Maybe it’s because I’m the sort of person predisposed to wondering “what if?” and fascinated by the notion of one point of divergence altering a life – a world – moving forward. It doesn’t always work (although in truth, what does?), but it almost always holds my attention.

“Look Both Ways,” currently streaming on Netflix, is a recent addition to the sliding doors canon. It’s a relatively light and breezy take on the trope, even as its divergence point – pregnant/not pregnant – is perhaps a bit more charged than you might expect, though the film itself isn’t all that interested in addressing that charged nature.

With a charming, albeit somewhat bland, cast and a more or less constant levity, this film is well-made, with some solid visual representations of the split timelines, and it’s got some laughs. Put it all together and you wind up with a perfectly pleasant way to while away a couple of hours.

Published in Movies

BANGOR – An unconventional love story is playing out on the stage of the Bangor Opera House.

“Maytag Virgin,” written by Audrey Cefaly and directed by Tricia A. Hobbs, is the latest entry in Penobscot Theatre Company’s 48th season. A sweet and charming two-hander, it’s a story about what it means to be in love and the many different paths that can lead us to finding that love we seek. The show runs through Feb. 27.

Playing out over the course of a year, it’s a look at the evolving relationship between two people whose connection begins in the simplest of ways – proximity. They’re new neighbors whose backyards are adjacent, meaning that they are thrust into one another’s orbits. What they do once that shared orbit is entered, however … well, love, like life, is as much about the journey as it is the destination.

Published in Buzz
Monday, 14 February 2022 15:51

Say ‘I do’ to ‘Marry Me’

The past few years have shown us that the streamers in general – and Netflix in particular – have taken the baton with regard to romantic comedies. The major players just aren’t as interested in rom-coms anymore, choosing to focus their energies elsewhere.

However, that doesn’t mean they’ve given up entirely.

And so we get “Marry Me,” the new film directed by Kat Coiro and starring Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson. With a screenplay adapted by John Rogers, Tami Sagher and Harper Dill from Bobby Crosby’s graphic novel of the same name, the film tells the story of an iconic pop star whose way forward gets thrown into disarray when she crosses paths with a man who is unlike anyone she has ever met before.

Is it predictable? Yes. Corny? For sure. Sappy? Absolutely. It is also a sweet, good-hearted good time, a movie that is unashamed to be what it is. This film isn’t striving for edginess or excitement. It offers up romantic formula with glee, hitting all the standard markers – playing the hits, if you will – but is no lesser for it. “Marry Me” isn’t great cinema, but rom-com fans – of which I am definitely one – will find plenty to enjoy.

Published in Movies

I’ve had my share of fun at the expense of Netflix’s original movie offerings over the years. Sure, they’ve developed some truly excellent films – hell, they might even have this year’s Best Picture winner thanks to “The Power of the Dog” – but they’ve never shied away from stressing quantity over quality with regard to the majority of their films.

And so it was with some trepidation that I sat down to watch “The Royal Treatment,” currently streaming on the service.

Directed by Rick Jacobson from a script by Holly Hester, the film tells the story of a hairdresser from Queens who, through various and sundry circumstances, winds up traveling to a foreign country to work at a prince’s wedding. Fish out of water hijinks ensue, even as a number of people learn lessons about each other … and about themselves.

This premise might feel familiar because you’ve seen literally dozens of movies that follow the exact same template. And honestly, you’re probably better off just rewatching one of those instead, because folks, this movie is not very good.

From the listless performances to the obvious corner-cutting, “The Royal Treatment” is a tossed-off trifle of a movie, not even bad enough to entertain. It is emblematic of one of the biggest downsides to the Netflix machine – good, bad or indifferent, all that really matters is that the movie exists. And it does have that going for it – “The Royal Treatment” does indeed exist.

Published in Movies

My feelings about Netflix’s cornering of the romantic comedy market are fairly well-documented at this point. The algorithmically-driven quantity-over-quality vibe to their productions aren’t the most encouraging, even to those who have predetermined affinities for rom-coms.

Look, Netflix throws a lot of stuff against the wall to see what sticks. It’s part of their model and pretty obviously a successful one, even if it means that a lot of not-great works get made. However, by definition this also means that sometimes, something does stick, resulting in a genuinely good movie.

“Single All the Way,” unfortunate title aside, sticks.

The rom-com – directed by Michael Mayer from a script by Chad Hodge – tells the tale of a man living in California returning to his hometown in New Hampshire for the holiday, capturing both the spirit of the season and the charm of romance in a way that is engaging and beautifully inclusive. It’s a story of what it means to search for love and how that search can become entangled with every other aspect of our lives, for better and worse.

It is adorable and funny, the kind of film that manages to be heartwarming without feeling saccharine and/or cheesy (though there are admittedly moments of both, though not to the movie’s detriment). Christmas is in the air, to be sure … but so is love.

Published in Movies

A major key to the ongoing success of Netflix is their ability to find and exploit market inefficiencies, an ability that applies to both the business side of the operation AND the production side.

Take romantic comedies, for instance. Rom-coms once ruled the box office, but have largely fallen off in the face of an increased reliance upon IP-based CGI-driven franchise fare. However, plenty of rom-com aficionados (I count myself among their number) are still out there. Netflix, seeing that underserved audience, set loose their algorithms and whatnot and began churning out romantic comedies. Not all of them were good and a lot of them were bad, but they still scratched that itch.

A more recent trend has been the notion of somehow deconstructing the rom-com, making different sorts of films using that genre as a template. And again – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

“Good on Paper,” the latest Netflix rom-com, is the streamer’s latest effort at that sort of spin. Directed by Kimmy Gatewood from a script written by comedian Iliza Schlesinger (who also stars), it’s ostensibly based on true events from Schlesinger’s life. It’s a clear effort to find a darker angle on the traditional romantic comedy.

A clear effort, but not a successful one.

The film suffers from an inability to settle on precisely what kind of movie it wants to be, which is really too bad; if “Good on Paper” committed more fully to going in either direction – either more thoroughly embracing the shadows or going in a more traditional rom-com direction – it would have been far better. Instead, it’s a clumsy and intermittently watchable film, one that squanders a great deal of potential.

Published in Movies

There are some movies that are compulsively watchable. These are the films from which you simply cannot tear your eyes. Often, this magnetism springs from the exquisite quality of what has been made, a combination of narrative and aesthetic excellence that demands to be experienced. Sometimes, however – not frequently, but every once in a while – that watchability is born of the exact opposite. In these moments, we get a movie that, despite being an abject and utter mess, nevertheless holds your attention.

“Love, Weddings & Other Disasters” is one of those rare watchable shambles, an aptly-titled car-crash of a movie experience that practically demands to be rubbernecked.

Written and directed by Dennis Dugan – best known as a longtime collaborator with Adam Sandler – “Love, Weddings & Other Disasters” is a misguided effort to walk the well-worn path of the intersecting storyline rom-com. The best of those films connect the dots with grace and subtlety, but as you might have already surmised, that’s not what this film does. Instead, we get a series of barely-connected narratives that each play out in their own rambling fashion before a hurried and not-particularly-inspired finale that leaves the viewer wondering what the hell just happened.

Published in Movies

Finding freshness in any longstanding entertainment genre can be a trying task. How does one bring a sense of newness or novelty to something utterly familiar without losing the essence of what makes that thing worthy of exploration in the first place?

Take romantic comedies, for example. We’re in the midst of a rom-com renaissance of sorts, with streaming services taking up the baton for the studios that have largely abandoned the genre. And while most of these new offerings are various shades of beige, content to stick to the tricks and tropes with which we’re all familiar, there are a few that succeed in breathing new life into the form.

“Happiest Season” is one of those few.

The film, directed and co-written by Clea DuVall and streaming on Hulu, is an outstanding movie, a smart and slyly subversive take on the genre. Featuring a dynamite cast and a thoughtful story, it’s the kind of high-end rom-com that just doesn’t come along that often. Maneuvering the relationship complexities that come with holidays and meeting parents and the whole deal while ALSO exploring some of the realities of queer romance? That’s one hell of a tightrope walk, but DuVall and her crew practically dance across it, embracing the joy and pain alike.

(In case you haven’t guessed yet, I REALLY liked this movie.)

Published in Style
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