You People

Posted on January 26, 2023 at 5:33 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, some sexual material and drug content.
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drugs including cocaine
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: January 27, 2023

Copyright 2023 Netflix
Amira, a Muslim Black stylist and costume designer (Lauren London) and Ezra, a Jewish white guy with a boring job in finance who would rather be a podcaster (Jonah Hill) fall in love in “You People,” a comic contest between two equally offensive sets of parents. Her parents (Nia Long and Eddie Murphy as Fatima and Akbar) disapprove and try to undermine the relationship. His parents (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and David Duchovny ask Shelly and Arnold) are clueless about the cringe-inducing, reductionist racism of their attempts to welcome Amira. Falling somewhere down the spectrum from the tragedy of “Romeo and Juliet” and the sincere if stilted drama of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” this film, co-written by star Hill and director Kenya Barrios (“Black-ish”) plays it for comedy, with an exceptionally strong supporting cast. And it is not afraid to include some stinging commentary amid the romance and the laughs.

It gets off to a strong start with Ezra and his podcast co-host Mo (Sam Jay) laughing about their fantasy versions of Barack Obama, clearly improvised. The jokes are more outrageous than funny, but it is a delight to hear the two riff off of each other with witty affection. We then see Ezra at Yom Kippur services with his parents, who gently disapprove of what he is wearing (casual kicks) and not wearing (a kipper head covering). The meet-cute is when he gets into what he thinks is his Uber, but what turns out to be Amira, who has gotten lost. After a moment of panic, they hit it off and soon they are dating. They share the same shoe game and commitment to supporting one another. And they just enjoy spending time together. And then it becomes time to to meet the parents.

The surprise in the film is Eddie Murphy, who plays it absolutely straight as Amira’s dignified father and makes Akbar into one of the movie’s highlights. There’s no winking at the audience, no wild exaggeration, and the more serious he is, the funnier he is, especially when one of his ploys backfires. He leaves the goofiness in the more than capable hands of Mike Epps (as Akbar’s brother), “Black-ish” star Anthony Anderson, the always terrific Sam Jay, and more. Murphy, the real-life father of 10 children, knows all too well what it is to measure a suitor against his expectations, and this is one of his best roles.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has a lot of fun with the role of Ezra’s mother, who tries so hard to show she is an ally that she over-corrects, while her husband tries to show how hip he is by talking about how much he likes rapper Xzibit. Instead of getting to know Amira by, for example, asking her about her work, she chatters about looking forward to brown grandchildren and goes woke Karen on a spa attendant she mistakenly thinks was racist. The white side of the cast also has an exceptionally strong group in supporting and cameo roles, from legends Hal Linden, Richard Benjamin, Rhea Perlman, and Elliott Gould to younger familiar faces Rob Huebel and Bryan Greenburg. Look for Romy Reiner (daughter of Rob, granddaughter of Carl) on a date with Ezra, director Barris as an airplane passenger, and a sign advertising London’s late activist/rapper romantic partner, Nipsey Hustle, who also has a song on the soundtrack.

The script is uneven at times. The bachelor party in Las Vegas and bachelorette party at a spa do not work as well as the sections at home. But as the characters discover, good will and a sharp sense of humor can overcome a lot of obstacles.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, drinking and drugs, and a visit to a strip club in Las Vegas.

Family discussion: How would your family react to a new boyfriend or girlfriend? How would you have handled the meeting of the parents? What made them change their minds?

If you like this, try: “This Christmas” with Lauren London and “Superbad” with Jonah Hill

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Ticket to Paradise

Posted on October 20, 2022 at 5:12 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some strong language and brief suggestive material
Profanity: A few strong words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness portrayed as humorous
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril, animal bites
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 21, 2022

Copyright Universal 2022
Director/co-writer Ol Parker has taken most of the ingredients from the hit “Mamma Mia” and remixed them, as he did with his sequel, “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!” Oscar-winning actors of vast charm and charisma. Screensaver-pretty settings on the shore. Wedding plans for a young couple that the older folks think may be too young. Bringing together people who have not seen each other for a long time and have unfinished business. All of which can be combined for entertainment value. But in this case, “Ticket to Paradise” leaves out the most important element in the success of the “Mamma Mia” films: the music of Swedish singing sensation ABBA. And it leaves out the most important element in the success of any movie: believable characters we want to succeed.

It gets pretty far on the screen chemistry of its two leads and up-and-coming star Kaitlyn Dever (be sure to check her out in “Rosaline,” “Booksmart,” and “Short Term 12”). George Clooney and Julia Roberts play David and Georgia Cotten, battling, bitter exes who divorced 20 years ago, after a five-year marriage and are still so hurt and angry they insist on not being seated together at their daughter’s college graduation. Dever plays their daughter Lily, who loves them both and tries to please them but finds it all exhausting. She is headed to law school, but first she and her BFF Wren (the always-great Billie Lourd, also from “Booksmart”) are off to a vacation in Bali. So basically the rest of the movie takes place in my screensaver, which the characters in the movie credibly keep calling the most beautiful place in the world. There she meets and falls in love with a local seaweed farmer with a great smile (Maxime Bouttier as Gede). And she decides to marry him, even though he lives half a world away from her home in Chicago and she’s only known him a month. Her parents decide they will suspend hostilities long enough to stop the wedding. And they think the best way to do that is to pretend they are on board while they subvert it every way they can. So, basically, “Mamma Mia” plus Roberts’ own “My Best Friend’s Wedding.” But no ABBA music and no Rupert Everett to disguise the fact that it lurches from one dumb situation to another.

Roberts and Clooney do their considerable best, and for those, and there are many, who would pay to hear them read the phone book, this movie will do the trick. But we can see the effort they are putting in to sell material, dialogue and situations, that are just not up to the task. Roberts uses her dazzling smile and endearing laugh (despite costumes designed to make her look dowdy even though she is supposed to be a highly sophisticated art dealer) and Clooney uses his raffish charm, all of which go a long way, just not long enough to withstand the dreariness of a storyline that depends on intended-to-be-hilarious animal bites and intended-to-be-charming insults between exes. It is childish, selfish, and exhausting. Like Lily, we wish we could be half a world away from it, gazing at the sunset from a pristine beach.

Parents should know that this movie has mild peril including a snake bite, some mild sexual references, and a few bad words.

Family discussion: What do we learn from the different versions of David’s proposal we hear from both sides? What will happen to Lily and Gede?

If you like this, try: “Mamma Mia” and its sequel and better Roberts and Clooney movies like “Oceans 11,” “The Runaway Bride,” and “One Fine Day”

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Rosaline

Posted on October 12, 2022 at 9:52 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material and brief strong language
Profanity: Strong language (s-words, one f-word)
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some swordplay and fight scenes
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 14, 2022

Copyright 2022 20th Century
Most people do not remember that before he met Juliet at the masked ball and instantly fell in love with her as they communicated not just by iambic pentameter but by sonnet, Romeo was in love with Juliet’s cousin Rosaline. She was also a Capulet and a part of the family of his family’s sworn enemies. It’s easy to forget her because Romeo did. Though the whole reason he snuck into the party was to see the girl he described as “the all-seeing sun ne’er saw her match since first the world begun,” as soon as he sees Juliet, it is as Benvilio correctly predicted: “Compare her face with some that I shall show, and I will make thee think thy swan a crow.” Next thing we know he’s telling Friar Lawrence, “I have forgot that name, and that name’s woe.”

Ever wonder how the story might look from Rosaline’s perspective? Author Rebecca Serle did, with her novel, When He Was Mine, now the basis for a witty romantic comedy starring the wildly talented Kaitlyn Dever (who also executive-produced) as the woman scorned. It is sly, clever fun on its own, but the better you know Shakespeare’s play, the more you will enjoy it.

it begins on a balcony. Rosaline’s balcony. Romeo is telling her about his feelings, in words that will seem familiar. And, as will also seem familiar, their secret tryst is interrupted by a call for her from inside. Like Juliet, she has a nurse/confidant (a terrifically dry Minnie Driver), and a father who is eager to marry her off (Bradley Whitford). Rosaline believes that she and Romeo are meant to be together (though she is not quite ready to say, “I love you”).

And then, while on a boat with one of the suitors her father has foisted on her, she misses that Capulet masked ball, and, well, we know that part of the story. That suitor is Dario, played with full Shakespearian dash, wit, and gallantry by Sean Teale, and in true Shakespearian fashion, when not writing about instant true love, they begin as hostile combatants. He even calls her a shrew. This is a reference, of course, to another Shakespeare play, but no one gets tamed in this one.

But, in this version, Rosaline, the woman scorned, does go all-out “My Best Friend’s Wedding” on her cousin, and tries every way she can think of to get her boyfriend back. She even enlists Dario’s help. Like the recent “Catherine Called Birdy,” much of the humor comes from a very modern sensibility, with contemporary language, pointing up some of the absurdity of the canon.

Juliet is played by sweet-faced Isabela Merced. At first, she is intrigued by what Rosaline has to show her about the bigger world. When she realizes that Rosaline has not been honest with her, she pursues the relationship with Romeo and comes up with a plan to pretend to be dead. Rosaline says what audiences have been waiting to say for centuries. It is a dumb plan. And those audiences will appreciate what Rosaline and Dario work out as a better ending, especially with a mid-credit. sequence harking back to Dario’s description of what he thinks love is. Romeo may be great at poetic speeches on balconies, but you need more than that on life’s journey.

For the record, this movie does not “ruin” or even disrespect “Romeo and Juliet.” The play and its many versions and variations are still with us, from the Franco Zefferelli and Baz Luhrmann films to the Gounod opera and “West Side Story.” They are all still there, intact, and easy to access. What this does is remind us that even minor characters in our stories can have value and agency, that exploring other perspectives can increase our understanding and empathy. And that it can be a lot of fun.

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language and swordplay violence.

Family discussion: What story would you like to re-tell from a minor character’s perspective? What made Rosaline and Dario change their minds about each other? What do you think of Dario’s description of love?

If you like this, try: “Ophelia,” a smart and serious version of “Hamlet” from the perspective of the young woman, “Catherine Called Birdy,” another sharp modern take on a medieval story about a young woman, and “A Knight’s Tale”

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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
Date Released to DVD: November 21, 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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Meet Cute

Posted on September 21, 2022 at 7:59 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: NR
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, scenes in bar, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Comic violence, attempted suicide and suicidal ideation
Diversity Issues: BIPOC characters used solely as guides for white characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 21, 2022

Copyright 2022 Peacock
As anyone who has seen “The Holiday” knows, movies love the “meet cute.” In “The Holiday,” Eli Wallach plays a screenwriter from the 1940s who tells Kate Winslet that a “meet cute” is where there is something awwww-some about the way the couple we’ll be rooting for first see each other. The example he gives is a man and woman meeting at a store when he is trying to buy just the bottom half of a pair of pajamas and she is trying to buy just the top half. That’s a real movie, by the way. It has a cute title, too: “Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife.”

The term takes on extra dimension in this new rom-com, a time-traveling dimension. We may think that Sheila (Kaley Cuoco) and Gary (Pete Davidson) are meeting for the first time at a sports bar and that it is a charming coincidence or maybe a hint that they were meant to be together when they order the same cocktail, an old fashioned. But there are hints about what Shiela will reveal. It is the first time for Gary, but not for Sheila. She has been using a time machine in the back of a nail salon that looks like tanning bed to repeat the same night for months so she can make it perfect.

She has also been going back in time to tweak some of Gary’s earlier experiences to make him a little more perfect, too. Both Gary and Sheila had painful childhoods. She thinks if she can eliminate some of the trauma he experienced, he will be happier and..better. Apparently no one ever explained the Butterfly Effect to her. You can’t just tweak experiences and expect people to be the same. Pain is part of what makes us who we are.

This is a high-concept movie that delivers a satisfying level of insight beyond the will they/won’t they of the romance. It is likely that anyone who has ever been in a close relationship, romantic, familial, or friendship, has wondered if the other party might not be easier or wished to be able to fix something that hurt a loved one long ago.

Cuoco has already shown herself to be an actress of range far beyond her excellent work in sit-coms. Davidson was a less likely choice as he pretty much always plays himself, quite literally in his only previous lead role. They are both quite good here, as Cuoco becomes more and more honest about what is going on and about her own struggles and Davidson shows us how small changes in his past would have produced a more confident, less empathetic version.

There are some odd choices here, including Sheila’s murderous disposal of her alternate timeline versions and the only two characters of color being relegated to wise counselor roles to prop up the white couple. But the parts that work have great charm and Cuoco and Davidson are a pleasure to root for.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong language, sexual references, a light-hearted portrayal of murder and attempted murder, a less lighthearted portrayal of suicide attempt and suicidal ideation, and alcohol and drugs.

Family discussion: If you could travel through time, what would you change? Is it okay for things to be messy?

If you like this, try: “Groundhog Day,” “Palm Springs,” “About Time,” “Happy Accidents,” and “Map of a Thousand Perfect Things”

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