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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

While things have certainly gotten better in recent years, there’s still a relative dearth in LGTBQ+ representation in films in general and romantic comedies in particular. Sure, a bit of that could be chalked up to the downtick in rom-coms in general, but still – there are laughs to be mined from all forms of love.

So it’s nice to see when a film comes along that gets it right, offering a humorous look at a different kind of love story – one that proves representative of not only same-sex relationships, but also of Asian-Americans as well.

“Fire Island” – currently streaming on Hulu – is just such a film. Directed by Andrew Ahn from a screenplay by Joel Kim Booster (who also stars), it’s the story of a group of friends who head to the iconic gay party locale Fire Island for their annual week-long sojourn and the connections they make while there, both with others and among themselves.

Inspired by Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” – and you better believe Ms. Austen’s influences are ALL OVER this thing in the best ways – it is a delightful story of friendship and love, one that alternates between coarseness and charm, equal parts salty and sweet.

Published in Movies

I’m on record as being a big proponent of romantic comedies. When they’re done well, they are cinematic delights, telling funny and heartfelt stories of love and our desire to find it. And when they find ways to approach old tropes from new angles, so much the better.

Hulu’s “The Valet” – directed by Richard Wong from a screenplay by Bob Fisher and Rob Greenberg, adapted from Francis Weber’s 2006 French film of the same name – is a charming spin on the traditional rom-com, a movie that manages to somehow feel fresh even as it more or less follows the standard formula.

Still, variations on a theme can be a lot of fun if they’re handled properly, and for the most part, “The Valet” does just that, thanks to a game cast and some solid direction. The representation doesn’t hurt, either – the film’s ensemble is packed with Spanish speakers and we move pretty seamlessly between that language and English throughout. Again, we’re not reinventing the wheel here, but we are putting some pretty nice tires on these familiar rims.

Published in Style
Monday, 02 May 2022 11:36

‘Crush’ a charming teen romance

I love a love story. Always have. And it doesn’t really matter who is falling in love or where; so long as the tale is well told, I am happy to come along on a romantic journey.

What has been particularly, well, lovely to see is the steady growth of LGBTQ+ love stories. More and more, these relationships and the people in them are getting to see themselves reflected in popular culture, whether it’s in movies, books or TV shows. And as that growth continues, we’re slowly approaching the point where these stories don’t have to be defined by the types of relationship at their center.

Take “Crush,” the new film currently streaming on Hulu. Directed by Sammi Cohen from a script by Kristin King and Casey Rackham, “Crush” is a sweet and slightly raucous high school rom-com. It is funny and thoughtful, driven by compelling characters brought to life by strong performances. It is about falling for someone and then falling for someone else and not knowing what to do, all through a lens of teenage self-consciousness. It’s about friends and friendship and the mistakes we make when in pursuit of what we want … or what we THINK we want.

And yes, many of the characters in this film identify as queer, but that isn’t what the movie is ABOUT. The story being told here is universal, the feelings felt by these characters are ones that will ring familiar to anyone who has ever been in love, been in high school or been in love WHILE being in high school.

Published in Movies

There was a certain flavor of film that we used to see fairly often back in the day, films that were part rom-com, part adventure. These movies brought together action elements with love stories and steeped the whole thing in quippy banter and moments of slapstick. Now, were these movies always good? Of course not. But they were almost always fun – and that was more than enough.

We don’t see as many of those films these days, what with the industry’s pivot to IP blockbusters and franchise development. But when they do turn up, it can be a reminder of how much fun these kinds of movie experiences can be.

“The Lost City,” directed by Aaron and Adam Nee from a screenplay they co-wrote with Dana Fox and Oren Uziel, is a throwback to those delightful mélanges of comedy, adventure and romance. Thanks to some engaging performances, headlined by Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, and a distinctly retro storytelling sensibility, the movie proves to be a lovely romp, a frothy, goofy trifle of a film that refuses to take itself too seriously.

Sure, it might not be great cinema, but I definitely had a great time … and I bet you will too.

Published in Movies
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

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
Monday, 22 March 2021 15:24

‘Happily’ never after

Most of the time, the media we consume – movies, books, TV, music – fits comfortably within the confines of description. That is, we can pretty easily define what kind of film or book or show or song we’re experiencing; even the stuff built on genre cross-pollination can be described reasonably succinctly.

Occasionally, though, we get something that doesn’t quite fit into one or two categories. Something that is many different things at once while also being essentially its own thing.

“Happily,” written and directed by BenDavid Grabinski, checks a LOT of different genre boxes, but does so in a way that is appealingly messy. There’s a fundamental shagginess to the film, born of the filmmaker’s clear desire to take a kitchen sink approach to tone and type. And the film really does have it all – romance and dark comedy and speculative undertones and relationship drama – but in the course of doing so, it sometimes loses its way.

That said, we’ve got a dynamite cast, some killer aesthetic choices and visual styling and an obvious willingness to let things get weird. It’s a film where you might THINK you know what you’re getting into, but you don’t. Not really. And that’s (mostly) a good thing.

Published in Movies

Is it weird that there have been enough time loop movies recently for it to kind of feel like we’re in a time loop? And I say this as someone who digs the subgenre almost universally. Seriously – gimme an unstuck-in-time protagonist trying to solve their personal repetitive infinity and I am here for it.

The big daddy of them all is “Groundhog Day,” obviously, borne aloft by the brilliance of Bill Murray and Andie McDowell and Harold Ramis and – let’s be real – the delightful Stephen Tobolowsky. It’s the grandaddy of them all, the OG.

Is it weird that there have been enough time loop movies recently for it to kind of feel like we’re in a time loop? And I say this as someone who digs the subgenre almost universally. Seriously – gimme an unstuck-in-time protagonist trying to solve their personal repetitive infinity and I am here for it.

Of course, our most recent entry into the canon was the excellent “Palm Springs,” which set Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti loose in a delightfully loopy love story. It’s the freshest and most timely effort we’ve seen in ages.

Is it weird that there have been enough time loop movies recently for it to kind of feel like we’re in a time loop? And I say this as someone who digs the subgenre almost universally. Seriously – gimme an unstuck-in-time protagonist trying to solve their personal repetitive infinity and I am here for it.

Thank you – I’ll be here all week.

That dumb bit is in service of “The Map of Tiny Perfect Things,” currently streaming via Amazon Prime Video. The film – directed by Ian Samuels from a screenplay that Lev Grossman adapted from his own short story – is yet another riff on the time loop trope, adding a high school love story into the mix that gives it a little distance from some of the more well-known entries into the genre (entries that the film itself is unafraid to reference to humorous effect).

Now, this movie doesn’t reinvent the wheel. The filmmakers have a clear understanding of what makes these types of narratives work; they lean into the repetition and embrace the comedic possibilities therein. I’ll grant that such an approach limits the film’s ceiling, but it also assures a high floor. This leaves us with a movie that, while not necessarily great, is a pretty good viewing experience.

Published in Movies
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