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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The Good House

Posted on September 29, 2022 at 5:40 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: NA
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and alcoholism, marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Reference to two suicides (off-screen), some scuffles, lost child
Diversity Issues: Neurodivergent child
Date Released to Theaters: September 30, 2022

Copyright 2022 Lionsgate
Hildy Good (Sigourney Weaver) tells us she was “born three drinks short of comfortable.” She tells us a lot in “The Good House,” based on the 2013 novel by Ann Leary. Hildy and her ancestors going back to one Sarah Good, hung for being a witch back in the late 1600s, have always lived in a Massachusetts town on the shore of the Atlantic ocean. By nature, culture, and profession she is utterly attuned to the emotions and the stories around her. As a realtor, she has to be able to assess immediately the needs and dynamics of the prospective buyers and sellers. Divorce may be a personal catastrophe for the people splitting up, but for her it is a business opportunity. Hildy has to balance the necessity of being pleasant and supportive to everyone with the necessity of boundaries that keep her from getting too emotionally involved. But they also keep her from being as perceptive about herself as she is about others. Hildy narrates a lot and she is always charming, often a little wry, but as we go on we see what she is leaving out of the story.

The good news about a small town is that everyone knows everything about everyone. That can be a source of comfort and help people feel grounded. The bad thing about a small town is that everyone knows everything about everyone. That can be a source of claustrophobia and make people feel trapped. The local psychiatrist, for example, is Peter (Rob Delaney). Hildy will always see him in part as the little boy she used to babysit for. Even if she does not, he will always think she does.

There is an increasing gulf between the way Hildy wants to be seen in the community, the way she is seen, and the way she is. We learn that her daughters and ex-husband organized an intervention because of her drinking, and she has been to rehab. And she is still drinking. A lot. She believes it is important for her to appear successful, so she drives a car she cannot afford. She is struggling and feeling the pressure from a former assistant who has become a competitor.

The trailer may suggest that the focus of the movie is the romance as Hildy connects with Frankie (Kevin Kline), a contractor she loved when they were teenagers. But it is really the story of Hildy coming to terms with the loss and fear she has pushed away and refused to acknowledge since she was a child. Often it was alcohol that she used to make reality less painful. This is a gorgeous role for the endlessly talented Weaver, who gives a layered, deeply lived-in performance, one of the best of the year. She shows us Hildy’s cool, pulled together, ABC (Always Be Closing), performative self, the one she shows to clients, potential clients (that means everyone), even her two daughters. Her wry humor at first looks like some self-awareness, but as it goes on, we see it is just another way to avoid seeing the truth. The same with the details she confides in us. At first they seem disarming and candid. But we learn more about what she is leaving out. And her chemistry with her “Dave” and “The Ice Storm” co-star Kline is genuine and touching.

There’s an engaging shagginess to the story that reveals its origins as a novel. Directors and co-screenwriters (with Thomas Bezucha) Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky leave in some of the messy details of the novel that most writers would smooth over in a movie adaptation, where there is a limited time so that every aspect has to push the story forward. This gives the film a sense of atmosphere and community that we can believe goes beyond the edges of the frame.

Parents should know that this film deals with alcoholism, depression, and suicide. A child is in peril. Characters use some strong language.

Family discussion: Why did Hildy tell Rebecca she could not get involved? Do you believe Hildy had special powers of perception?

If you like this, try: “Dave” and “Our Souls at Night” and, by these same screenwriters, the excellent autobiographical “Infinitely Polar Bear”

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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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Three Thousand Years of Longing

Posted on August 25, 2022 at 5:44 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some sexual content, graphic nudity, and brief violence
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Date Released to Theaters: August 26, 2022

Copyright MGM 2022
Like most children, I was fascinated by the power of wishes, and by the fairy tales where wishes never seemed to end with happily ever after. I was fond of a poem by Annette Wynne called “I Keep Three Wishes Ready,” which sensibly advised the readers to think ahead of time of what wishes we would want so we would be prepared and careful to avoid impulses and loopholes.

But, as Alithea (Tilda Swinton), a distinguished professor of stories (narrative) who specializes in fantasy, explains, there is no story about wishes that is not a cautionary tale. And thus, when she has the opportunity to use three wishes to fulfill her heart’s desire, she instead sits down with the djinn (genie) who has come out of her bottle, to hear his stories. As they sit, improbably, in white terrycloth robes in a luxurious Istanbul hotel room, he tells her of the wishes he has granted and the people who made them. And yes, they are all cautionary tales. Is wishing itself, the idea that we can escape the reality of time and the laws of physics and the limits of human power, so inevitably doomed by hubris?

Alithea tells us that the story we will hear is true, but that we will better receive it as fantasy. She also tells us that she is a solitary person, and happy to be so. That, in itself may be a fantasy, though she may not be willing to acknowledge it. I note here that the name Alithea is from the Greek word for fact or truth. And that this story is based on The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, the title story in a book of fairy tales for adults by A.S. Byatt. Alithea begins by telling us of magical-sounding wonders, humans hurtling through the air on metal wings or walking under water with webbed feet, with images reminding us of Arthur C. Clarke’s observation that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

On her way to the conference, Alithea sees, or thinks she sees, a small, possibly magical person. And then, when she is on stage, she sees another mythical being. Is she jet-lagged? Is she losing her mind? Or is she opening herself to what the rest of us refuse to see?

She buys an antique glass bottle, telling the seller that it looks like it has a story. Back in her hotel room, she begins to clean it with her electric toothbrush. The stopper falls out, smoke appears, and a giant hand reaches into the bathroom. It is a djinn (Idris Elba), and he has been inside the bottle for a very long time. Alithea would rather hear his stories than make a wish.

George Miller, the visionary writer/director behind the Mad Max and Babe movies, has a gift for wonder. Somewhere between the dystopian world of Fury Road and the endearing charm of “That’ll do, pig,” is this film, with striking, gorgeous images and swoon-worthy stories of passion — romantic, ambitious, angry, jealous, lustful passions.

The movie goes back and forth between the hotel room conversation and the stories of the wishes the djinn has granted, his repeated returns to confinement and how his adventures have forms his view of humanity, The djinn needs Alithea to make three heartfelt, personal wishes to gain his freedom. She insists that she has no wishes and certainly no wish to become ensnared as those who have tried to gain without effort.

The stories are dark at times, but always gorgeously filmed and resonant. And the end is surprisingly tender, perhaps reflecting the one wish all people share if we are brave enough to admit it.

Parents should know that this film has nudity and sexual references and situations, drinking and drunkenness, and violence, some grisly.

Family discussion: What would you wish? What is your favorite fairy tale and why?

If you like this, try: the book by A.S. Byatt, “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm”

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Cha Cha Real Smooth

Posted on June 16, 2022 at 5:44 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual content
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Miscarriage, some scuffles, bullies
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: June 17, 2022

Copyright Apple 2022
This summer’s Sundance charmer is “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” the festival’s audience favorite. It is written, directed, produced, and co-edited by Cooper Raiff, who stars as Andrew, at a loss following his graduation from Tulane. His girlfriend has gone to Barcelona on a Fulbright scholarship and her social media suggests that she has moved on. He is sharing a room with his middle-school-age brother David (Evan Assante), in the home of the mother (Leslie Mann) he is very close to and the step-father (Brad Garrett) he is decidedly not very close to. He is working at that most dispiriting of jobs, a fast food place called Meat Sticks. Just at the moment when he should be moving forward, he is stuck.

We’ve seen a lot of movies about this difficult moment, from “The Graduate” to “Laggies,” when the promise and structure that have propelled someone from kindergarten through college somehow have not produced the sense of purpose and direction they were expecting. Raiff brings something unusual to the predicament this time. Andrew has a buoyant optimism, natural charm, and innate kindness that make him appealing both to the other characters in the story and to us. Raiff has an easy authenticity on screen that is especially impressive from someone directing himself.

in a brief prologue, we see young Andrew attending a bar mitzvah party, with a crush not on one of the girls his age but on the “party starter.” That’s the job of the “tummler” (in Yiddish), the person whose job is to keep the party mood happy and make sure everyone is involved and having a good time. It’s especially important for middle school parties, when the attendees are very excited but inexperienced. Once we’re in the present day, Andrew again finds himself at a bar mitzvah party for one of David’s classmates. And no one is on the dance floor.

Andrew has a gift for making kids feel confident and ready to participate. One girl is in a corner with headphones and a puzzle cube. Her name is Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) and she has autism. He bets her mother he can get her to dance. And he does. He is immediately surrounded by mothers who want to hire him to be the party starter for their b’nai mizvot. And since the kids involved all go to school together, he sees the same people over and over, including Lola and her mother Domino (Dakota Johnson, who also co-produced).

Andrew is drawn to Domino, who warms to him for his ability to connect to Lola. After he comes to her rescue at yet another bar mitzvah party, she invites him to be Lola’s sitter.

Andrew and Domino have to sort through their feelings for one another and Andrew has to do for himself what he does so skillfully for the 12- and 13-year olds he entices to the dance floor; he needs to find encouragement to take that next, seemingly-perilous step. Sometimes those lessons are painful, even when everyone involved is well-meaning. Raiff wisely lets Andrew learn them anyway. We leave knowing that Andrew will find his way and that Raiff already has.

Parents should know that this movie includes some very strong language, sexual references and situations, drinking and drunkenness, bullies, a miscarriage and some scuffles.

Family discussion: Why was it hard for Andrew to take the next step? What should he have done to prepare? Do you agree with Domino’s decision?

If you like this, try: “Laggies” and “Post Grad” and Raiff’s previous film, “S***house”

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