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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
Monday, 02 November 2020 15:51

Date the halls – ‘Holidate’

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Netflix reigns supreme over rom-coms.

People have been bemoaning the death of the romantic comedy for some time, and at the box office, the notion had the ring of truth to it – rom-coms weren’t the big business that they once were. And if people aren’t buying, the studios stop selling.

But while rom-coms might have waned in popularity, there are still lots of folks out there who love them. And, in typical fashion, Netflix detected a market inefficiency and started churning out romantic comedies. Now, these offerings vary in overall quality (though they all have that unmistakable Netflix sheen to them), but the sheer number that we’re seeing would seem to indicate that they are being watched and watched a lot.

The latest in the queue is “Holidate,” directed by John Whitesell from a script by Tiffany Paulsen. It’s a genial and low-stakes story, revolving around the sort of vaguely-absurd-on-its-face concept that marks a lot of the genre offerings from the streaming service. It’s about two people looking for someone to share the holidays with without, you know, any of the other stuff.

The movie is charming enough, even if it does feel a bit formulaic. Of course, this isn’t a movie you watch if you’re looking to be surprised in any manner whatsoever. And there’s a real comfort to familiarity – sometimes, it’s soothing to know what you’re getting.

Published in Movies
Monday, 06 July 2020 13:13

Return to sender - ‘Desperados’

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Netflix has another original romantic comedy hitting their service.

The streaming giant has done significant work in their efforts to corner a variety of cinematic niche markets through the combined power of their algorithm and their checkbook. Nowhere is that focus more apparent than in the realm of rom-coms; Netflix is the undisputed industry leader as far as that genre goes. They just keep churning them out, for (sometimes) better and (usually) worse.

Their latest offering is “Desperados,” a film that is very much the latter. It is a derivative and vaguely dull film, one that seems to have simply thrown a bunch of clichés and tropes at the wall and filmed what stuck. It is a warmed-over rehash, a cover band attempting to play the hits. It’s the sort of movie that offers literally nothing that you haven’t seen before.

Watching this movie is like watching items checked off a list. Quirky female protagonist? Check. Two unreasonably supportive friends? Check. Ridiculous and easily avoided mistake made? Check. Exotic getaway setting? Check. Questionable decision making? Check. Physical injury played for laughs? Check.

You get the picture.

Published in Movies

When the central relationship of your movie – particularly if it’s a rom-com – really pops, it can make up for considerable shortcomings in other respects. If there’s genuine chemistry in that dynamic, then viewers will forgive a lot.

There’s no denying that Kumail Najiani and Issa Rae have that easy chemistry in “The Lovebirds.” Directed by Michael Showalter (who also directed Nanjiani in the excellent “The Big Sick”) from a script written by Aaron Abrams and Brendon Gall, it’s the story of a couple who, in the midst of what may be the end of their relationship, wind up entangled in a complex and weird mystery.

As far as this sort of action-adjacent rom-com goes, “The Lovebirds” is pretty familiar stuff. We’ve more or less seen this structure with these beats before – there’s nothing new here. But it still works, thanks to what Nanjiani and Rae bring to the table. Their energy elevates the movie to a significant degree, turning something that could have been generically forgettable into a worthwhile watch.

Published in Movies
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