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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Love, Weddings & Other Disasters

Posted on December 3, 2020 at 5:26 pm

D
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some crude material and strong language
Profanity: Some crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, references to mob killings
Diversity Issues: Insensitive portrayal of disability and gender non-conformity
Date Released to Theaters: December 4, 2020

Copyright 2020 Saban
Fifty years ago a movie named “Lovers and Other Strangers” was released. Now best remembered, if at all, for the Carpenters song “For all We Know,” it was a collection of funny, poignant, romantic, hopeless, and hopeful love stories centered around the wedding of a young couple. While it is dated (one storyline is about the couple’s hiding from their parents that they are already living together, pretty racy for that era), it holds up very well, especially the performance by a young Diane Keaton as an unhappy wife contemplating divorce. The scene where her mother-in-law explains her concept of true love with “The Bells of St. Mary’s” as an example is a classic.

And here we are, half a century later, with Keaton in a very similar but not nearly as good movie, “Love, Weddings & Other Disasters.” It’s not just not up to the standards of “Lovers and Other Strangers” or other multi-storyline romances like “Love, Actually.” It is not up the standards of “The Love Boat.” The script sounds like it was written by 11-year-olds, lots of pratfalls and “jokes” about genitalia. None of the characters behave in a manner that is rational, believable, relatable, or appealing. Oddly, it manages to be more dated than the 1970 movie, with insensitive and juvenile jokes about disability and gender presentation.

The ever-young Keaton plays the most ancient of rom-com characters, a manic pixie dream girl, all whimsy and cheer. Her counterpart is played by fellow-slumming Oscar winner Jeremy Irons as a caterer, the kind of rigid perfectionist who uses a ruler to make sure that the wineglasses are not half-an-inch out of alignment and says things like “We start with perfection and ascend from there.” Their meet-cute is a “blind” date. She’s actually blind, get it? And she knocks over his pyramid of champagne glasses because she’s blind, get it? Because of course a lovable wacky girl would have an incompetent guide dog, of course.

The other characters include a would-be wedding planner who literally dumps her fiance as they are sky-diving after he breaks up with her mid-air, a candidate for mayor who is getting married in eight days and his fiancee, a amphibious vehicle tour guide (unlike the movie I highly recommend the Ducks tours, by the way) trying to find the girl of his dreams even though they only spoke for a moment, he doesn’t know her name, and his only description of her is that she has a tattoo of Cinderella’s glass slipper), and, I am not making this up, some game show contestants competing for a million dollars by being literally chained to one another. Note that the female of this chained couple is not a lawyer, as she told the game show; she is a stripper and there are members of the mob (they say Mafia but they have Eastern European accents) who want whatever she wins. By the way, the game show host is smarmily played by the movie’s director, Dennis Dugan, taking a break from Adam Sandler vehicles.

This movie exists in a world where politicians are elected on the basis of their Instagram posts, a family member’s destructive addiction gets shrugged off as if it’s a lovable quirk, people take tours of historical sites to hear made up commentary, and dozens of women get tattoos to try to get a boyfriend they saw on TV. “My jokes are older than these buildings,” says the tour guide (Andrew Bachelor, whose charm and screen chemistry almost triumph over the material). Yeah, that goes for the whole movie.

Parents should know that this movie has crude humor, sexual references, strippers, and comic peril including mobsters who talk about killing people.

Family discussion: Which couple were you rooting for the most? Are you more of a perfectionist or a go with the flow type?

If you like this, try: “Lovers and Other Strangers” and “Valentines Day”

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On the Rocks

Posted on October 22, 2020 at 5:49 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some language and some sexual references
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 24, 2020
Copyright 2020 A24

I admit that I was about to give up on Sofia Coppola. I admired her early films, “The Virgin Suicides” and “Lost in Translation,” in part because of her exquisite framing and intriguing silences. But her later films made the framing seem precious and the silences seem empty. They were like precisely arranged bento boxes created for display only, beautiful to look at but not very nourishing or flavorful.

But now we have “On the Rocks,” a slight film but with more warmth and a more relaxed tone than her previous work. It’s bittersweet, but it is beguiling. Rashida Jones plays Laura, a writer in New York living with her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) and two young children, one still a toddler. Dean has been working hard at his job, which requires a lot of travel, and Laura has been feeling neglected, struggling with her writing, and she begins to worry that Dean might be having an affair with the beautiful and a bit intimidating colleague who travels with him (Jessica Henwick and Fiona). While he is traveling the world and making big deals, she says, “I’m just the buzzkill waiting to schedule things.” And then, for her birthday, he gives her a kitchen appliance.

One reason Laura might be suspicious is her father, a charming and utterly unrepentant man about town, who has never been faithful to a partner, including Laura’s mother. But he loves Laura, and thinks the best way for him to help her is to help her follow Dean to find out for sure. She isn’t sure whether it’s better to find out that he is having an affair or finding out he is not having an affair but she has just become boring. “Ehst if we find out he is just busy and I’m in a rut?”

Laura’s father, Felix, is played by Coppola favorite Bill Murray, who worked with her in “Lost in Translation” and “A Very Murray Christmas.” The fun of the movie is seeing Jones and Murray together as they take us to one fabulous Manhattan location after another, to the sounds of the lush score from Phoenix. They adore each other, but there is strain between them. He betrayed her mother — and the woman who came after her, and many others. “Why do women get plastic surgery?” Felix asks Laura. “Because of men like you,” she says. He tells her he prefers women who have not had work done and she says he prefers all kinds of women. When he is stopped for speeding as they are following Dean, he utterly disarms the policeman by telling him he knew the cop’s father and grandfather. “It must be very nice to be you,” she says. He smiles, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The plot barely exists, but like Laura and Felix, it is more about spending time together than answering the question about Dean. “On the Rocks” is like a lighter, sweeter Woody Allen film, a love letter to Manhattan, to music, to fathers and daughters, and to love itself.

Parents should know that the theme of this movie is adultery, including strong language and sexual references.

Family discussion: Why was Laura worried about Dean? Why didn’t she talk to him about her concerns?

If you like this, try; “Midnight in Paris” and “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” written by and starring Rasida Jones

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The War With Grandpa

Posted on October 8, 2020 at 3:15 pm

D
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for PG some thematic elements, rude humor, language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended cartoon-style comic peril and mayhem, some injuries, mourning, funeral scene
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 9, 2020
Copyright 101 Studios 2020

Sigh.

Robert Kimmel’s 1984 book, The War With Grandpa, is a lot of fun and also thoughtful about family, resolving conflicts, and war. The movie has tons of star power but it is just dumb slapstick, with escalating cartoon-style mayhem. It’s been on the shelf since it was originally scheduled for release in 2017 and even by pandemic shut-in standards it is barely watchable.

Which is not to say that some children won’t be amused by it because, see above re slapstick and mayhem. For the rest of us, it’s just sad and exhausting seeing Robert De Niro, yes that Robert De Niro, dropping his pants and flashing his son-in-law, plus sticking his hands down the pants of a dead body at a funeral. Then there’s Uma Thurman doing a spit-take and running around in a Christmas elf costume, plus a lot of predictable jokes about old people (they don’t understand technology! Hilarious!), married people (Dad feels diminished by his job, his father-in-law, and sometimes his wife), teenagers (they like to make out!), middle schoolers (puberty humor! bullies!), and little kids (precocious witticisms!).

The story is in the title. De Niro plays Grandpa, still mourning his late wife and not doing so well living at home since he can no longer drive. After he gets frustrated at the grocery store because they’ve switched to all self-checkout and, say it with me, old people don’t understand technology, he gets into a fight with the security guard. And so his daughter Sally (Uma Thurman) says he has to move in with her and her family, including her architect husband Arthur (Rob Riggle), teenage daughter who is always running off to “study” with her boyfriend (Laura Marano), middle school son Peter (Oakes Fegley of “Pete’s Dragon”), and youngest daughter Jenny (Poppy Gagnon).

Pete gets moved to the attic so Grandpa can have his room, and Pete is not happy. And so he slips a note under his old bedroom’s door signed “Secret Warrior.” It is not much of a secret, though, since he says he wants his room back. It is a declaration of war. At first, Grandpa doesn’t take it too seriously. After all, Pete is just a kid and he does feel back about taking the room. But then there is one prank too many and someone who knows what a real war is (“It’s not like a video game”) is in. But first, some rules of engagement. No collateral damage (no one else in the family can be affected, like that’s possible) and no tattling.

Each party is advised by friends. Pete has his pals from school and Grandpa has his buddies Jerry (Christopher Walken) and Danny (Cheech Marin), and later a pretty store clerk (Jane Seymour). But none of it really makes any sense and some elements are unnecessarily sour. If Arthur is an architect, can’t he figure out a better way to use the space than sticking Pete in a rat and bat-infested attic? In fact, Arthur serves no role whatsoever in the story except to try to prove that he deserves some respect, which would be nice if he actually earned some. How can this family afford a crazily over-the-top Christmas-themed birthday party for a child including artificial snow? Even if it made sense for Grandpa to agree to a war, why would he let Pete pick the battleground for the supposed winner-take-all? It never gets past the idea that there is just something uncomfortable about a kid picking on his sad grandfather this mean-spirited and selfish way, while insisting that he loves him and expecting us to like him.

That’s a lot more thought than this movie deserves. Even the A-list cast can’t win the war with a dumbed-down script, awkwardly staged stunts, and lackluster direction.

Parents should know that this movie includes comic peril and mayhem with a lot of pratfalls and injuries but no one seriously hurt. There is also some potty humor, along with references to puberty, a school bully, crotch hits, teen making out sessions, some schoolyard language, and implied nudity.

Family discussion: Why did Pete declare war? Why did Ed agree? Were those the right rules of engagement? What would you advise that family?

If you like this, try: the book by Robert Kimmel Smith, “Spy Kids,” “How to Eat Fried Worms,” and the various versions of “Freaky Friday”

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The Broken Hearts Gallery

Posted on September 10, 2020 at 1:00 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual content throughout and some crude references, strong language and drug references
Profanity: Some strong and explicit language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drug references
Violence/ Scariness: Emotional confrontations, reference to a sad offscreen death
Diversity Issues: Exceptionally inclusive
Date Released to Theaters: September 11, 2020

Copyright 2020 TriStar Pictures
Maybe it’s my pandemic brain, but I found “The Broken Hearts Gallery” the most delightful romantic comedy in a long time, and I can’t wait to see it again. For all those who have been decrying the end of the romantic comedy because it is just too hard to come up with reasons to keep the lovers apart, let me make this Exhibit A for the defense. It turns out to be very simple. All you need is actors with enormous magnetism and chemistry, some banter that goes snap, crackle, and pop, a couple of misunderstandings and miscommunications, the all-important apology, and of course, spoiler alert, the happy ending. “The Broken Hearts Gallery,” written and directed by “Gossip Girl’s” Natalie Krinsky, is as refreshing and delicious as an ice cream cone on a hot day.

All credit to Krinsky, but the heart of this movie in every way is the adorable Geraldine Viswanathan (“Blockers,” “Bad Education”) as Lucy, who is every bit as endearing as any of the queens of romantic comedies from Doris Day to Meg Ryan and all of the various Jennifers and Jessicas with quippy best friends usually played by Judy Greer. Speaking of the essential role of the quippy best friends, A+ for the two in this film, played by powerhouses-who-deserve-their-own romantic comedies, “Hamilton’s” Phillipa Soo and “Booksmart’s” Molly Gordon as Lucy’s BFFs, support system, and Greek chorus.

Lucy has two passions. The first is art, especially the not-yet-discovered artists with something new to bring to the world. She has a low-level job in a high-level art gallery owned by a “Devil Wears Prada”-style terrifying boss lady, the film’s only under-written character and her name is too-on-the-nose Eva Woolf for goodness sakes. On the considerable other hand, she is played by Broadway legend Bernadette Peters. Lucy’s other passion is holding on to mementos and artifacts of failed relationships, which are more important to her than the relationships themselves. When she loses her current boyfriend, a colleague in the gallery (Utkarsh Ambudkar as Max) and her job in the same #epicfail, she tipsily climbs into a car she mistakes for a Lyft, the handsome guy who owns the car (Dacre Montgomery as Nick) decides to drive her home, and we can check off “meet cute” on our romantic comedy bingo card. Other boxes are checked off nicely, too as the couple bicker, develop grudging respect and then affection as they accomplish something together, get close, get less close, and then, well you know. Plus karaoke, exes, and, of course, wandering through an open market.

Here is what is not on the bingo card but should be from now on: like “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” this movie is casually, un-self-consciously, and joyfully inclusive in a way that feels bountiful, generous, and heart-warming. Krinsky does not waste time worrying about whether related characters look like they share DNA or have names to match their ethnicity, or whether a romantic comedy lead should be blonde and blue-eyed and size 00, and that allows us the luxury of freedom not to worry about it either. Romantic comedies may be aspirational with a dream of perfect understanding and intimacy and witty dialogue, but this one is understatedly aspirational on a whole other level.

Just as revolutionary, this movie gives us a romantic comedy heroine who is not insecure and clutzy. Lucy has issues but she also has confidence and a sense of where she is going. She is coping with loss in some ways that are more constructive than others, like everyone else, but understanding that is what life and movies are all about.

Nick is trying to open a boutique hotel, still under construction and running out of money. He impulsively hangs one of Lucy’s mementos, Max’s tie, on a nail and that inspires her to create the title art installation, which becomes hugely popular, and hugely cathartic for the broken-hearted people who come by to share their stories. The loss of a love is, Lucy says, the loneliest feeling. Sharing the story makes it less lonely. So does a charming romantic comedy that opens up all kinds of new possibilities, including looking for more from its talented writer/director and cast.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language and explicit sexual references that might earn an R if it were not a comedy. Characters drink and get tipsy and there is a drug reference.

Family discussion: What mementos are meaningful to you and why? What art installation can you create?

If you like this, try: “The Personal History of David Copperfield”

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