Tully

Posted on May 3, 2018 at 2:27 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexuality/nudity
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness, drunk driving
Violence/ Scariness: Auto accident with injuries
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 4, 2018
Date Released to DVD: July 30, 2018
Copyright 2018 Focus Features

With “Tully,” their third collaboration, director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody are approaching a “Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight”-style series about the challenges of growing up and getting older.

It may not be the same set of characters, but “Juno,” “Young Adult,” and now “Tully” can be seen as a continuing story with smart, flawed female protagonists. The first was a pregnant teenager, then a floundering author trying to reclaim the life she thought she was going to have when she was in high school, and now a married mother of two, pregnant with a third, trying to connect with the person she once was when all of her time and attention was not taken up with obligations to others. Charlize Theron plays Marlo, the exhausted mother, and Mackenzie Davis plays the title character, a night nanny who turns out to be just what Marlo needs in ways that surprise her and us.

Marlo is exhausted and overwhelmed. Her second child is a son who is described by the school principal in the words that strike terror and a fierce defensiveness in the heart of a parent: “quirky” and “out of the box” — and then, finally, “not a good fit.” Every morning, with infinite patience and tenderness, Marlo gently brushes his whole body because she saw online that it might help him with sensory integration. When he has a meltdown because she isn’t parking in the usual spot, she is compassionate. But it is clear that she is giving so much to her family that she has lost some sense of herself and her own needs.

Marlo has a brother (Mark Duplass) who offers her a baby gift — the services of a night nanny, someone who comes at night to help new parents get some rest. Marlo and her husband (Ron Livingston) enjoy mocking her brother and his wife for being materialistic and bourgeois. It also makes them feel a bit superior and helps them ignore their envy at his financial stability. The idea of a “night nanny,” even paid for by someone else seems like just another mockable bougie pretension. But then Marlo has the baby as her husband’s job keeps him away from home and, even more exhausted and overwhelmed, she calls the number her brother gave her, and Tully (Mackenzie Davis) shows up like a hipster Mary Poppins.

She’s not just a baby whisperer; she’s a Marlo whisperer, too.  With patience and kindness, she listens attentively, and she very gently and supportively guides Marlo, to feel peaceful and cared for.  “Kiss the baby,” she says, as Marlo begins to trudge upstairs to bed. “She’ll be different in the morning.  We all will.”  Marlo comes down the next morning and the house is neat.  Tully even makes cupcakes.  She even presses Marlo about reconnecting to her husband.

Theron’s performance here is superb.  “Brave” when referring to an actress, usually means that she doesn’t look like a size zero teenager.  And Theron went for it here, gaining 50 pounds from her “Atomic Blonde” action star look, and she does indeed appear like a very pretty woman who has had three children.  But what is brave here is her extraordinary emotional authenticity, her vulnerability, and her wry humor.  When she tells the officious, though superficially kind school principal that the baby is a blessing, we can see three levels to that word.  Marlo is saying the word she thinks will ingratiate her with the principal who is trying to politely extricate her son from the school (those deadly words, “not a good fit”).  She is sarcastic (Cody loves sarcasm).  But, you know what? She really believes it, too.  Tully’s greatest contribution is reminding Marlo that all that is overwhelming her is what she once wished for.  This is her happy ever after ending and even if it’s going to be messy, there has to be a way to hold on to that before she ends up missing it.

Sharply but lovingly observed, clearly based on deeply lived experience, with lots of Cody’s shrewd wit and enormous compassion for its characters, “Tully” is as welcome in theaters as its title character is at Marlo’s door.

Parents should know that this film includes glimpses of pornography, explicit sexual references and nudity, very strong language, childbirth scene, drinking and drunkenness, and an auto accident with injuries.

Family discussion: Who is Tully? Why did she visit Marlo? Why are Marlo and her brother so different? What does “quirky” mean?

If you like this, try: “Juno,” by the same director and writer

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Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Family Issues movie review

Table 19

Posted on March 2, 2017 at 5:59 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual content, drug use, language and some brief nudity
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril, no one hurt, medical issues
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 3, 2017
Date Released to DVD: June 13, 2017
Amazon.com ASIN: B06XYSX6KQ
Copyright Fox Searchlight 2017
Copyright Fox Searchlight 2017

I know. They hate the term. But it is impossible to talk about Mark and Jay Duplass (as writers, anyway, aside from their work as actors, directors, and producers) without the dreaded term “mumblecore,” which was applied to their early microbudget work because of the improvisational, shaggy-dog, millennial-ness of their work. Traces of that remain in “Table 19,” cross-bred with a more conventional romantic comedy, and it turns out to be a welcome blend of sweet and sour. This is not the usual Jennifer/Jessica with a quippy best friend, a meet cute, and a makeover.

We’ve all seen that placecard and most of us have been seated by it: the table for leftover wedding guests who aren’t the family or close friends of either bride or groom but somehow had to be included. Eloise (Anna Kendrick) provides the fellow denizens of the dreaded Table 19 with the inside scoop. Back just a few months earlier, when she and the bride, her oldest friend, were planning everything together, Table 19 was for the people who did not fit in anywhere else, the people who had to be invited but who the hosts were hoping would not make it, still sending a gift from the registry.

The characters may be third-tier in the minds of their hosts, but they are played by top tier comic talent. Lisa Kudrow and Craig Robinson play a married couple who have fallen into a marital death spiral of bickering that makes them miserable and humiliated, but they cannot seem to find their way out of it. Stephen Merchant is a cousin of the groom who seems unfamiliar with social interactions of any kind. “The Grand Budapest Hotel’s” Tony Revolori is a teenager with raging hormones but no idea of how to talk to girls. June Squibb plays the bride’s first nanny.

And then there is Eloise, once a maid of honor and dating the bride’s brother/best man (Wyatt Russell), but, since they broke up two months earlier, stuck at Table 19, on the other side of the ballroom, near the restrooms.  We know she almost didn’t come; she even started to burn the invitation. But for some reason, she was determined to be there, and there she is, on the wedding table island of misfit toys. A mysterious and handsome man appears and he has an English accent and a way with an aphorism. Could he be her Prince Charming?

Very able performers make up for some story shortcomings, including a too-neat resolution that I’m guessing was recut after test screenings. Kendrick is as always a marvel of precision, heart, and comic timing, so every time things start to go off kilter, we know she will get us safely home.

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language and comic mayhem, brief comic nudity, drinking and tipsiness, marijuana, and sexual references including adultery and pregnancy.

Family discussion: Why did Eloise go to the wedding? How did sitting at Table 19 make it possible for her to acknowledge her feelings? What’s your funniest family gathering experience?

If you like this, try: “Rocket Science” with the same director and star

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Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Romance

The One I Love

Posted on September 4, 2014 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, some sexuality and drug use
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Scuffle, some creepy themes
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 5, 2014
Amazon.com ASIN: B00MB7KXPM

“The One I Love” is pretty good as a movie and sublime as an exercise, especially an acting exercise. Just describing details about the story will require a huge spoiler alert, which I will insert below before giving away some of what happens in the film (omitting the ending, of course). But first, we can mention the acting challenge presented by the film. Two actors are on screen for almost the entire running time and are required to display small but distinctly different characteristics to help us and the characters keep everything straight. That is a pleasure to watch on a whole other level aside from the storyline. The-One-I-LoveElisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) and Mark Duplass (“The Mindy Project”) play Ethan and Sophie, a married couple seeing a therapist (Ted Danson) for counseling. Ethan remembers with great warmth when they first met, and impulsively went for a swim in a stranger’s pool. The sense of fun and freedom they had is something he misses. Sophie is having trouble trusting Ethan again because he had an affair and he is embarrassed and defensive. “I felt like our happiness used to be so easy and there used to be so much of it,” she says sadly. The therapist recommends a weekend getaway to a beautiful, remote cabin, assuring them that every couple he has sent there has returned “renewed.”

They arrive at the cottage, which is lovely, and discover that it has a guest house. SPOILER ALERT: As each of them enters the guest house separately, they encounter what they at first think is each other, but then realize is some other version of the person they married, a little brighter, sweeter, more considerate, more agreeable. Sophie’s new Ethan apologizes sincerely and contritely for his transgression and paints a portrait of her to show his devotion. Ethan’s smiling, slightly Stepford wife-ish new Sophie makes him bacon for breakfast, which the old Sophie didn’t like. At first, each thinks that the other is somehow making progress, becoming more cooperative, more committed to intimacy and rebuilding the relationship. But then it becomes clear that only one of them can enter the guest house at a time, and that the spouse they experience inside is someone new, different, and possibly some sort of projection, not a real person at all.

Ethan and Sophie respond very differently. He takes it on as an opportunity for rational detective work. “Of course you thought the fun was the investigation,” Sophie says, reminding him of the magic show where she enjoyed the show but he insisted on deconstructing all the tricks.

The original Sophie and Ethan at first decide to leave. It is just too creepy. But then they decide to return, making a pact about how each of them will handle the guest house doppelgangers. Is that the therapy? Giving them a shared experience so bizarre that it jolts them into working together to puzzle it out may be part of rebuilding their relationship, after all. “It’s like an exercise in trust,” Ethan says.

Screenwriter Justin Lader plays out the possibilities very cleverly, and it would be unfair to spoil it further. If the ending is not all one might hope, more of a trick than a conclusion, the performances and the ideas are provocative, fun, and something of a therapeutic trust exercise of their own.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong language, sexual references and situations, drinking, and drug use.

Family discussion: What is your explanation for how this retreat came together? If you had a chance to enter the guest house, would you? What would you find there?

If you like this, try: “Safety Not Guaranteed”

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Fantasy Movies -- format Romance VOD and Streaming

Tammy

Posted on July 1, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Tammy-2014-Movie-Poster-650x963Top talent is wasted in this un-funny and disappointing vanity production from Melissa McCarthy and her husband, Ben Falcone.

They wrote it, or, more accurately, assembled it from pieces of other films, some better (“Thelma and Louise”), some even worse (McCarthy’s own “Identity Thief”). Falcone directed the film and appears as a fast food restaurant manager who fires the title character, played by McCarthy. Tammy is late to work because she ran into a deer and has been trying to resuscitate the stunned animal by blowing on it and making encouraging comments like, “Walk it off.” After she gets fired (contaminating the food in the kitchen by shaking her hair and rubbing saliva on it on the way out), she goes home to find her husband (Nat Faxon) entertaining a lady friend (Toni Collette). For the second time in ten minutes, she tries to make rejection and bad attitude funny.  For the second time, but not the last, she is unsuccessful.

She goes a few doors down the street to her parents’ house and tells her mother (Allison Janney) she is taking her grandmother’s car and getting out of town. Her grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon), insists on coming along and provides a powerful inducement: more than $6000 in cash. And so, they’re off on the road in Pearl’s Caddy for a road trip comedy so derivative of every road trip comedy you’ve ever seen that it could be another in the apparently-assembled-by-robots “Scary Movie” franchise.  Will they visit a roadhouse and make bad decisions?  Yep.  Will there be arguments, revelations, and bonding?  Yep.  Encounters with old acquaintances and new friends?  And don’t forget the hilarity of being hospitalized and arrested and put in jail!

Like the odious “Identity Thief,” the movie wants to have it both ways.  We are supposed to laugh at McCarthy’s character for being loud, obnoxious, willfully dumb (she does not know who Mark Twain is, but pretends she does — funny, right?).  We are supposed to find it funny and endearing that she is at the same time both arrogant (she brags about her ability to seduce men) and painfully insecure and sensitive (she pleads with the girl she is robbing to be her friend).  Of course there has to be a makeover.  And then there’s the ever-popular old people having sex humor.  Yay!

The wisest decision McCarthy and Falcone made was in casting.  Sarandon is a joy, and of course efforts to make her seem old and infirm fail completely.  She is and will always be imperishably glorious.  Mark Duplass makes the most out of an underwritten role as a generic NICE GUY/LOVE INTEREST.  Kathy Bates and Sandra Oh are pure pleasure as a kind-hearted and generous couple, and Dan Aykroyd has a nice moment as Tammy’s understanding and supportive dad.  But the script’s sloppiness keeps getting in the way as characters’ major personality changes bear no relationship to anything beyond the needs of each individual scene.   Falcone clearly loves his wife and it is touching to see her and make her look beautiful without makeup (before the makeover, even with two-tone hair).  I can’t help thinking that the over-the-top antics were the trade-off to get financing for the film, and the quieter, more dramatic moments, some truly touching, were what interested them.  It is in those moments we get a glimpse of what McCarthy can do and it would be great to see her in a movie where she gets to take that journey instead of this one.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, sexual references and situations, alcohol and drug abuse, comic peril and mayhem.

Family discussion: Is there a place you’ve always wanted to go? How did Bobby and Lenore make Tammy feel differently about herself? Why did she forgive her grandmother?

If you like this, try: “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat”

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Comedy Scene After the Credits
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