Bros

Posted on September 29, 2022 at 5:53 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 30, 2022

Copyright 2022 Universal
Two very different people claim that they have no interest in love and relationships but love will outsmart you and — at least in movies — love loves a challenge. “Bros” is the first Hollywood studio romantic comedy about a gay couple, and it arrives with solid credentials: produced by Judd Apatow (“The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up”) and co-written and directed by Nicholas Stoller (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Get Him to the Greek”).

The other screenwriter and star is Billy Eichner, playing a heightened version of his real-life persona: cynical and often abrasive. He has said in interviews that he was determined not to make this story comfortable for “normies” by simply replicating cis-het rom-com tropes. This is not a script that could be easily retrofitted for some pretty Jennifer or Jessica to sparkle through some misunderstandings and end with an apology and a proposal. “Love is not love!” he says, explaining that expecting gay couples to replicate the dynamics of straight couples just to make them more acceptable is refusing to recognize that their differences are who they are. This is more of a “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it” attitude. Everyone in the film, including the actors playing straight characters, is gay, except for a few celebrity cameos.

Eichner plays Bobby Leiber, a popular podcaster who has just accepted a new job as the head of the country’s first museum of LGBTQIA history. Some of the movie’s best scenes are in the museum’s conference room, as Bobby and the staff argue about the best way to represent their community. They want to be honest but they also want to get the funding they need to open the museum. So, does that mean an exhibit about Abraham Lincoln, because some people think he was gay? Or does it mean an exhibit with a car that travels through a hall of gay trauma proposed by a wealthy donor? That potential donor, by the way, is played by “SNL’s” Bowen Yang, and he is hilarious.

Bobby insists that he likes being alone and independent. When two friends excitedly announced that they have invited a third man into their relationship to become a thruple, he says he does not even want to be part of a couple. He insists that he is doing fine with brief encounters with strangers found via apps, and tells us that walking home afterwards he feels warm and connected. And then he sees Aaron (Luke Macfarlane). While he won’t admit it to himself, he likes Aaron and he like likes Aaron. And that means he has to think about something he has spent his whole life not thinking about: whether anyone will like like him.

There’s a bushel basket of witticisms and pop culture references. The film also captures the way “S’up?” both stands for and impedes communication. Without getting too heteronormative, there is also a lot of heart. Everyone in the film is clearly very happy to be there and to tell this story, and I was happy to be able to watch it.

Parents should know that this movie includes sexual references and very explicit sexual situations and nudity, strong language, alcohol and drug use.

Family discussion: What was Bobby wrong about? Would you like to visit that museum? What should be in it?

If you like this, try: “Fire Island,” also featuring Bowen Yang.

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Fire Island

Posted on June 2, 2022 at 1:37 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong sexual content, drug use, strong nudity, language throughout
Profanity: Constant very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and confrontations
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 3, 2022

Like a bride, “Fire Island” has something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. What’s old is the most durable of movie storylines, the romantic comedy. Borrowed: the inspiration for the storyline, the ur-narrative of the romantic comedy, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Something new: populating the story of attraction, misunderstandings, vulnerability, and romance with all gay characters, in the title resort, famously a favorite of gay men since the 1920s. And something blue: it is definitely rated R. Also funny and yes, romantic.

Copyright Searchlight 2022

Stand-up comic Joel Kim Booster wrote and stars in the film as Noah, along-side his real-life best friend SNL’s Bowen Yang as Howie. For Austen fans, Noah is the more cynical Elizabeth Bennett, and Howie is the more romantic Jane. Noah and Howie come to Fire Island for a week each summer with their friends to stay with Erin (Margaret Cho) and enjoy the beach, the parties, and the men. On this visit, Noah, usually there to have sex with as many random men as possible, promises he will be a celibate wingman for Howie until Howie finds someone.

It is a lot of fun to spot the Austen influence, where it guides the storyline and where Booster pays tribute by going in another direction. Instead of the snobbish Miss Bingley, we have Nick Adams as Cooper, the designer-wearing meanie who looks down on Noah and his friends, especially when he sees handsome doctor who is the film’s version of Austen’s amiable Mr. Bingley. And as the Mr. Darcy character, who turns out to be less proud and disdainful than he seems, we have Conrad Ricamora as Will. What will stand in for the book’s scandalous elopement? I’ll just say it is shrewdly chosen.

Also fun: a peek into a world straight people might not otherwise see or for those who have waited much too long to see their world reflected on screen.  As we always say, the more particular something is, the more universal it is, and this is a good example, unabashedly open about this culture but completely relatable in its depiction of friendship and chosen families.

Parents should know that this film is rated R for very explicit sexual situations and nudity, constant very strong language, drinking, and drugs.

Family discussion: Why was Howie so pessimistic about finding love? Was Noah a good friend to him?

If you like this, try: The “Queer Eye” series and the many versions of “Pride and Prejudice”

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Jungle Cruise

Posted on July 27, 2021 at 3:15 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence
Profanity: Some mild language and implied language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, animal gets drunk
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and aventure-style violence with grisly and graphic images, characters cursed and injured
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, themes of LGBQT and female empowerment
Date Released to Theaters: July 30, 2021

Copyright Disney 2021
Disney’s efforts to adapt theme park rides as narrative films have ranged from the genuinely entertaining (the original “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”) to the wildly uneven (“Tomorrowland”), to the almost unimaginably misconceived (“The Haunted Mansion,” “The Country Bears”). “Jungle Cruise,” based on one of Disney’s oldest and most beloved rides (despite some controversy over its updates due to racist and misogynistic displays), ranks among the second-tier “Pirates” movies. The best and the most problematic parts in the film are its efforts to replicate what made the first “Pirates” a huge hit. While it often captures the high-spirited energy of that film, it also comes across as an inferior copy.

If you have Disney+, you can see a terrific behind the scenes history of the original Jungle Cruise ride, overseen by Walt Disney himself. It takes park guests on a tour that covers some of the world’s great rivers, with guides who make a lot of corny jokes and scenes along the way of lost treasure, native artifacts, and animals. As noted, the ride has been updated over the years to eliminate the guns and caricatures of indigenous people and to emphasize naturalist explorers. The movie is set during the First World War but reflects contemporary sensibility as well, with references to colonialists, feminism, and homophobia.

Emily Blunt plays Lily, a PhD who is determined to find a legendary blossom in the Amazon that is said to be able to cure any disease. She believes it is more than a legend and has a map she thinks will take her to it. She is fearless about almost everything (we will find out one thing that scares her). Her brother MacGregor (British stand-up comedian Jack Whitehall) is not brave and feels very strongly about the luxuries civilization has to offer, but he agrees to go along with her. Before they can go, however, she will need to steal an ancient arrowhead that has the clues to the blossoms’ location.

While her brother speaks to the skeptical members of a London explorers’ club, she sneaks upstairs to the club’s archive to grab it. Someone else is trying to get it as well, Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), the youngest son of the German Kaiser whose army is currently at war with France, Russia, Great Britain, and the United States. He follows Lily to South America. When she hires Captain Frank (Dwayne Johnson) to take her to the tree with the blossoms, Prince Joachim chases after them in a submarine, launching gunfire and torpedoes. Also after the blossoms are some 16th century conquistadors who have been cursed and are now decrepit, zombie-like souls who come alive, or rather alive-ish only when they are near the river. They need the blossoms to end the curse so they can die.

Production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos and Disney’s unparalleled team of artists have done their usual spectacular job of creating the world of this film, filled with details worth hitting a pause button to absorb. The stunts and action sequences are all skillfully done and very entertaining. The script is uneven, borrowing one of its key twists from the original “Pirates” and under-writing the characters. It is criminal to waste Paul Giamatti in a small role as a rival boat operator trying to put Frank out of business, and Plemons as an underwritten villain. No one has more screen charisma than Johnson and Blunt, and they bring all of it to their roles despite some inconsistency in the way they are conceived that makes some developments abrupt, especially a decision at the end that merits more complexity than we get. Even Blunt and Johnson are not able to muster a lot of chemistry between their characters. It doesn’t help that Frank keeps calling Lily “Pants” (because she is a woman wearing trousers, get it?) or “Lady” and she keeps calling him “Skippy.” Believe me, even the intentional groaner puns are better than that.

Parents should know that this movie has extended action-style peril and violence with swords, fights, guns, and torpedoes. Characters are cursed and there are disturbing and graphic images. Dangerous animals include a panther and snakes. Issues of prejudice against women and GLBT people and the crimes of colonialists are raised. Characters drink alcohol and an animal gets drunk. There is some mild language and some implied or almost-bad language.

Family discussion: Did Lily make the right choice at the end? How do we balance what helps the world with what helps one person? What would you go searching for?

If you like this, try: “The Mummy” with Brendan Fraser, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “The Missing Link” from LAIKA

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Joe Bell

Posted on July 22, 2021 at 5:30 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including offensive slurs, some disturbing material, and teen partying
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Teen suicide, family member killed in an accident
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: July 23, 2021

Copyright 2021 Roadside Productions
Joe Bell and his son Jadin are on the road. Literally. They are walking along the highway, Jadin reminding his father to walk against the traffic and his dad responding with mixed amusement and irritation that he’s been doing this for a while and does not need advice from a teenager. They seem to have a mostly amiable way of handling the inevitable re-aligning of the father-son relationship that happens during adolescence.

It is more complicated than that, and music sadder. Jadin Bell was an Oregon teenager who was ruthlessly bullied for being gay. Feeling heartbroken and friendless, he took his life. And his father, Joe Bell, decided he would spend two years walking all the way across America, stopping wherever he could to talk to teenagers about bullying, and about what a difference they could make by being more accepting and kind.

The story of Joe and Jadin Bell is now a feature film with Mark Wahlberg as the grieving father, Connie Britten as his wife, Lola, and Reid Miller, in a winning performance of exceptional sensitivity, as Jadin.

Wahlberg struggles to bring to life a man who is taciturn and often gruff. His character has trouble expressing his feelings. When Jadin tells him he is gay, Joe is accepting but irritated at being dragged away from the television to hear about it. He is dismissive when Jadin tries to talk to him about being bullied. Joe loves Jadin, but cannot acknowledge to himself or anyone else that he is uncomfortable with anything that does not fit into his notion of what it means to be a man.

He is not much better at talking to the people he meets in his travels than he was in talking to Jadin. He wants very much to deliver the message but his inability to tell his own story and acknowledge his failure to support his son make it impossible for him to deliver the message he wants to deliver.

The movie has the same problem. It is well-intentioned but the abrupt shift due to the facts of the real story derails the message it is trying to deliver. There are some tender moments, especially when Joe share a Lady Gaga song and when Joe meets a sympathetic cop. But we do not get enough of a sense of what Joe learns as he becomes more honest with himself, or the impact he had, and that makes it more difficult for us to feel the impact on us.

Parents should know that the themes of this movie include teen bullying and suicide. A parent is tragically killed. Characters drink, including teen partying, and they use strong language.

Family discussion: Why do people bully? What is the best way to respond to a bully? What is the best way to support those who have been bullied?

If you like this, try: “Ride” and “Love, Simon”

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The Prom

Posted on December 10, 2020 at 5:44 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive/sexual references, and language
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, homophobia
Date Released to Theaters: December 11, 2020

Copyright Netflix 2020
Irving Berlin was right. There’s no people like show people. And no one knows and loves show people as much as other show people, which is why “The Prom” is 20 percent sly satire and 80 percent love letter to the craziness that goes into entertaining audiences.

“The Prom” was a mildly successful Broadway musical about Broadway stars who want to restore their reputations after their new show has a disastrous opening night (a musical about Franklin and Eleonor Roosevelt). They see an injustice on Twitter. A small Indiana high school has cancelled its prom rather than allow a student to bring a same-sex date. And so, not even sure where Indiana is or what it is, they get on a bus, sure that their Broadway luster and can-do spirit will teach those people in flyover country about respect and inclusion. “This will be the biggest thing that’s happened in Indiana since..whatever the last big thing that happened in Indiana was,” one declares.

As you might guess, the Hoosiers are not impressed, even when Broadway leading lady Dee Dee Allen (Meryl Streep) pulls out her two Tony Awards, which she apparently has on hand at all times, in case someone does not who Who She Is. The high school student at the center of the fuss is Emma (a star-making turn from Jo Ellen Pellman) has a bigger problem than the prom; the girl who would be her date is the daughter of the woman fighting to prevent same-sex couples from attending (Kerry Washington as Mrs. Greene). Caught in the middle is the high school principal, Tom Hawkins, who happens to be a fan of Broadway musicals, especially those featuring Dee Dee (Keegan-Michael Key).

The story adds some unexpected sweetness and reconciliation but really the entire production is just a change to have some fun with some inside theater humor and put on a big, colorful, splashy show with a bunch of Tony and Oscar-winners. Streep has a blast as a larger-than-life personality who is only at home on stage. After letting down someone who genuinely cares for her, the only way she can apologize is to reprise one of her career’s signature numbers. Andrew Rannells (a Tony Award winner for “Book of Mormon”) has a huge musical number with local kids in a shopping mall. Nicole Kidman plays the kind of chorus line hoofer who goes from show to show but never makes it into a lead role, and James Corden is a gay man who sees Emma’s problems in very personal terms because his parents rejected him after he came out.

You don’t have to understand the relative status of a Tony vs. a Drama Desk award or remember which musical had the most performances before “Cats” to sit back and enjoy the good-hearted fun, clever lyrics (by Chad Beguelin), and the jubilant dance numbers choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. It most important message is not inclusion but about the power of art itself, especially big, splashy, energetic, colorful musical, to bring us together and heal what hurts.

Parents should know that the theme of this movie is homophobia and inclusion. It includes some sexual humor and some sexual references, some alcohol, and some strong language.

Family discussion: What would you say to Mrs. Greene? What’s your favorite musical?

If you like this, try: “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Footloose,” “Hairspray,” and “High School Musical”

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