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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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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Confess, Fletch

Posted on September 15, 2022 at 5:23 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, some sexual content and drug use
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Violence, murder, scufffles
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 9, 2022

Copyright Miramar 2022
“Confess, Fletch” is a reboot of the affectionately remembered Chevy Chase films based on the series of books by Gregory MacDonald. The post for the new film, with Jon Hamm as the title character, is charmingly retro, evoking the style and font of the 70s. The film, from writer/director Greg Motolla, is not as effective as updating the character and settings. Motolla, the gifted director of films including “Superbad,” “The Daytrippers,” “Adventureland,” and “Paul,” has an exceptional gift for combining action, comedy, and heart, often episodic with a collection of engaging characters and always with a terrific score. But the character of I.M. Fletcher, smart-mouthed, twice-divorced investigative reporter, is never effectively updated in this intermittently enjoyable film, and the episodic screenplay drags, especially when it assumes the characters are more appealing than they are.

Hamm, who co-produced, is well cast, with great comic timing and all the charm his character needs to get away with behavior which ranges from smart-aleck to obnoxious. There are a couple of tough balancing acts in bringing this movie together, and both work only intermittently.

The first is balancing the expectations of the fans of the original films with the very different environment of the present day. The earlier films are very much of their era and not familiar or translatable to the world of 2022. Fans of the original will want to see their favorite parts on screen. People new to the character will need learn who he is and find him appealing. The poster leans toward the former, with a 70s-retro drawing that looks like a book cover.

And then there is the balance between the comedy, mostly based on Fletch’s smart-aleck quips and romantic escapades, and the mystery, which has to do with some stolen paintings worth many millions of dollars that happen to have been the property of the father of the woman Fletch was seeing and thinking of proposing to.

I’m not sure if it says something about our time or if it just says something about the lack of ideas, but we’ve seen a number of “whoops, my rental is double-booked” storyline in movies lately (see “Alone Together” and “Barbarian” for example). Fletch returns to the US after his time in Italy, planning to work on a book. His beautiful girlfriend has arranged the rental. Small problem: someone else is already there. Big problem: she’s dead. And so in true movie fashion, Fletch has to get out of trouble by solving the mystery himself.

There’s a shaggy dog quality to the storyline, as Fletch drifts from one encounter to another. Some are fun to watch, especially his interactions with a grumpy editor played by Slattery. Some are less fun, like the wonderful Marcia Gay Hard, stuck in an impossible role as the vampish stepmother of Fletch’s girlfriend. Their scenes together are among those with actors who appear to be acting in different movies when it comes to the tone and pacing. And the ending could so easily have been more satisfying instead of ridiculous and borderline nihilistic. As entertaining as it is to see Hamm in the role, the conclusion leaves a sour aftertaste.

Parents should know that this film has some mature material including alcohol and drugs, very strong language, and sexual references and situations.

Family discussion: In what ways is Fletch trustworthy and in what ways is he not? Was what he did at the end fair?

If you like this, try: the Fletch books and the earlier movies

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Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

Posted on July 14, 2022 at 3:20 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol and tipsiness
Violence/ Scariness: References to wartime deaths and injuries
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: July 14, 2022

Copyright 2022 FOCUS
“To be possessed is an admirable reason for possessing,” wrote Dorothy L. Sayers. Blaise Pascal said, “the heart has its reasons which reason does not know.” Those who are lucky enough to want some special object not for prestige but purely for love and a deep connection to the item’s artistry or history will understand the story of a shy Cockney woman who develops a passion for an haute couture dress.

“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” is a sweet Cinderella story about a cleaning lady who dreams of a Dior gown. It is based on the book by Paul Gallico, an author who was determined to work in a variety of genres, and so films based on his work include the classic disaster film “The Poseidon Adventure,” the charming fantasy musical “Lili,” and an earlier version of this story starring Angela Lansbury, Omar Sharif, and Diana Rigg. (NOTE: the original book and the first movie are called “Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris,” to reflect the dropped h’s of the Cockney accent.)

It is set in post-WWII London. Mrs. Harris (exquisitely played by Lesley Manville) and her best friend Vi (Ellen Thomas) are close friends who spend their days cleaning up the careless messes of people who have enough money to be careless. Through them, Mrs. Harris glimpses lives bigger and more colorful than her own. One of her clients is Lady Dent, who somehow never seems to have the cash on hand to pay her (Anna Chancellor, “Duckface” from “Four Weddings and a Funeral”). There is also is a high-strung aspiring actress, and a rakish, derby-hatted bachelor (played with a cheeky wink by Christian McKay) who has an endless stream of “nieces” leaving in the morning wearing their dresses from the evening before.

Mrs. Harris still has a small unopened package sent to her by her husband when he was in the military in WWII, the last communication she received from him. It is now more than 10 years later and she has not been able to bring herself to open it. Finally, she does and sees what she did not want to see before. He was killed in action. It is not a coincidence that this happens just as she becomes mesmerized by an haute couture gown Lady Dent has bought for 500 pounds (about $15,000 in today’s dollars). It is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen and she decides she must get one for herself.

She assembles 500 pounds through scrimping, doing extra work, including “invisible repairs” sewing, and an assortment of unexpected windfalls. She has just enough for a one-day trip to Paris to get the gown. But once she gets there she learns first that their haughty director (Isabelle Huppert) does not want a shabby little Englishwoman anywhere near their brand and their other customers, and second, even if she is able to purchase a gown it will be made to order for her and require two weeks of fittings. And so, her adventures in Paris begin. (NOTE: Dior participated in helping to re-create some of their stunning fashions.)

It is not just her mending that is invisible. Mrs. Harris herself begins to learn that she has felt invisible, not worthy of being seen. Like the contents of the package, Mrs. Harris has been hidden and enclosed for a long time. Acknowledging her yearning and insisting that she deserves to own an item of beauty and artistry helps her locate a new openness to others and determination on other issues. At first, she relates to her new acquaintances with what she knows, cleaning and cooking. But she discovers through their responses to her that she has more to contribute.

Manville is a perfect choice for this role (and for pretty much any other, too — see her Mike Leigh performances and her appearance in a very different haute couture film, “The Phantom Thread”). While Mrs. Harris may not always see herself that way, Manville shows us in every moment that the character’s discovery of her courage and value is as much a work of art as the meticulously constructed gowns of Dior.

Parents should know that this film has mild rude humor and references to wartime injuries and death.

Family discussion: Have you ever wanted something the way Mrs. Harris wants the gown? Why was it so important to her? How did her experiences in Paris change the way she saw herself? How to the references to Sartre‘s existentialism relate to her story? Did you notice the “zoom dolly” shots made famous by Stephen Spielberg in “Jaws?” What do they tell us?

If you like this, try: the earlier version with Angela Lansbury and Gallico’s books, including The Snow Goose, and look up some of Dior’s classic designs

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Jerry and Marge Go Large

Posted on June 16, 2022 at 5:24 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for for some language and suggestive reference
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some confrontations
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 17, 2022

Copyright Paramount 2022
Hey parents! Next time your kids tell you that they’ll never need math, show them “Jerry and Marge Go Large,” based on the true story of a retiree who used math to figure out a loophole in the state lottery and won $26 million. If it pads out the storyline a bit, that’s okay because we can all us a Frank Capra-esque real-life fairy tale right now. Capra, of course, was one of Hollywood’s most beloved directors, whose movies were often affectionately (or derisively) called “Capra-corn” for their populist stories of communities coming together and characters realizing that money was not as important as family and sharing with those we love.

It really happened. Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening play Jerry and Marge. In the film, he is forced to retire after 42 years working as a line manager at a cereal company and he has no idea what to do with his time. “I don’t have any regular clothes,” he says. His children give him a fishing boat as a retirement gift. “Do I like fishing?” he asks Marge.

Jerry has spent his whole life on “must do.” He never had a chance to think about “love to do” or even “want to do.” He does like math, though. He does Sudoku puzzles for fun. And one day, when a new state lottery called Winfall is announced, he realizes that the state lottery commission has miscalculated. This next part is a little math-y, but it won’t last long. Normally, if no one wins the lottery, the prize money rolls over, which is how you get these gigantic Powerball payouts. But they did something different with the Winfall. If no one had all the numbers right, there was a “roll down” and the prize money went to the people who got most of the numbers. Jerry did the math and figured out that he could get enough numbers right to guarantee a win if he bought enough tickets.

At first, he does not tell Marge. But when she finds out, she is delighted. It is not about the money. She wants to feel excited about something and she wants them to have an adventure together. “I want to have fun,” she says. “Let’s be a little stupid. We got married when we were 17 so we know how to do it. I’d rob a bank if it gives us something to talk about.”

And so they are off on an adventure, with the help of friends, including a scruffy convenience store manager (Rainn Wilson) and an accountant (Larry Wilmore). And there is a villain, a smart student who spotted the same loophole and wants all of the lottery winnings.

Cranston and Bening bring magnetism, chemistry, and wit to the central relationship. Some might overlook this quiet, retired couple, but that does not include their community or those of us who enjoy seeing unassuming, good people get what they deserve and share what they get with those they love.

Parents should know that this movie has some strong language, college student misbehavior, and suggestive references.

Family discussion: What would you do with $26 million? When has math been helpful to you?

If you like this, try: “You Can’t Take It With You” and “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (the original version starring Gary Cooper)

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