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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

One of my favorite romantic comedy techniques is the adaptation of and/or inspiration by a classic work. This is particularly prolific in the teen-targeted sector, because let’s be honest, love stories tend to be a young person’s game. Granted, quality source material is hardly a guarantee of a quality film, but it’s certainly a good place to start.

The latest example of the literary classic-turned-YA rom-com “The Half of It,” written and directed by Alice Wu and newly streaming on Netflix. It definitely lands on the inspired by side of things, but it wears that particular influence – namely, Edmund Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” – loudly and proudly.

Granted, it takes the classic secret correspondence-driven love triangle and gives it a decidedly original flair, gender-flipping our erstwhile epistle-writer and lending the entire proceedings a cloak of LGBTQ+ friendliness that serves to make the story feel both of the moment and widely accessible.

It doesn’t hurt that Wu is a gifted filmmaker with a particular talent for language; she’s got a real ear for witty and romantic dialogue. And she has an outstanding trio of young actors at the film’s center. All the pieces are there for a lovely little movie – and “The Half of It” delivers.

Published in Movies

It wasn’t that long ago that romantic comedies ruled the cinematic realm. They were the films that filled out the robust middle tier of film offerings, turning fresh faces into stars and stars into icons. Alas, the 21st century hasn’t been as kind to the rom-com; studios have leaned heavily into macro- and microbudgeted fare, with little breathing room left over for that once-jammed middle level.

Here’s the thing, though – people still like those sorts of movies. And so Netflix, kings of exploiting market inefficiencies that they are, have invested mightily in the rom-com. The service is rife with original rom-com content, filling the niche that has been largely empty for nearly two decades.

The latest in line is “Love. Wedding. Repeat.” It’s an English language remake of a 2012 French comedy titled “Plan de table,” one both adapted and directed by Dean Craig. It’s a frothy delight, featuring attractive people in a beautiful setting dealing with a bunch of nonsense. You know – your basic romantic comedy.

It’s not the most sophisticated movie you’re likely to see – it’s situationally contrived in the usual ways and largely content to settle for easy laughs and easier sentimentality. However, the cast is undeniably charming and there’s enough of an interesting spin on the standard formula to make this particular wedding one that you’ll be glad to have attended.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 04 June 2019 16:09

Say yes to ‘Always Be My Maybe’

While I would argue that reports of the demise of the romantic comedy have been greatly exaggerated, it’s tough to deny that things have changed with regards to that particular genre.

Movie studios aren’t as interested in investing in mid-budget standalone films anymore. It’s all about massive tentpole franchises with a smattering of awards bait and a handful of mini- and microbudget niche offerings. Rom-coms aren’t really big box office anymore.

But Netflix doesn’t need you to make your way to the movie theater. They just need you to click a couple of buttons on your remote. They need your eyeballs. And they have discovered that an effective avenue to procure those eyeballs is the romantic comedy.

The streaming service’s latest – and arguably best – entry into that arena is “Always Be My Maybe,” starring Ali Wong and Randall Park. It’s from a script co-written by Wong and Park, along with Michael Golamko; the film is directed by Nahnatchka Khan, best known for her work on TV’s “Fresh Off the Boat.”

“Always Be My Maybe” is not a wheel reinvention; all of the people involved clearly have a sense for how rom-coms work and are unconcerned with change for the sake of change. Instead, the film revolves around subverting tropes – sometimes subtly, other times not so much – while still existing within the standard stylistic framework of the genre.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 20 February 2019 13:50

Love actually – ‘Isn’t It Romantic’

While the heyday of the romantic comedy has passed, there’s no disputing that the genre is still a significant part of the cinematic whole. Sure, there aren’t as many big-screen rom-coms as there once were, but the folks at Netflix have embraced them in a big way.

Suffice it to say, rom-coms aren’t going anywhere.

That’s why even though it might feel like a bit of a late arrival, “Isn’t It Romantic” still works. Yes, the sorts of films being targeted aren’t necessarily at the forefront of the cultural consciousness like they once were, but there’s no doubt that the tropes of the form still serve as prominent pop shorthand.

It doesn’t quite have the satiric bite that you might expect – largely because of a readily apparent affection for the source material. Basically, this movie tries to have it both ways, attempting to subvert conventions while at the same time embracing them. And while it isn’t wholly successful in that effort, the end result is still a solidly entertaining movie.

Published in Movies

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for a coming-of-age story. I love narratives that allow me to follow young people as they stumble through the assorted obstacles that growing up can scatter in our paths. And when you add in a little first love action, well … I’m all in.

But there’s a certain kind of coming-of-age story – and a certain kind of first love – that’s never really been explored in a mainstream studio film.

“Love, Simon” – based on the novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli and directed by Greg Berlanti - is the story of a high school student who is navigating the waters of adolescence and trying to become the person he wants to be – all while hiding his true self. See, Simon is gay and in the closet. He’s struggling to find the courage to follow his heart, but despite having seemingly every advantage – a loving family, close friends, a relatively progressive school – it’s still not easy.

Published in Movies

It’s a love story as old as time itself: A Pakistani-born comedian’s set is interrupted by a beautiful American girl. They begin dating. He is scared to tell his parents of the relationship because they intend for him to marry a Muslim girl.  

Published in Movies
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