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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Decoding Annie Parker

Posted on May 1, 2014 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and some sexual content
Profanity: Very strong language, sexual references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Serious illness with disturbing scenes of symptoms and treatment, very sad deaths
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 2, 2014
Rashida Jones and Samantha Morton in Decoding Annie Parker (courtesy of Dorado Media)

This is the true story of two women who share a goal but meet just once, for a few moments.  Oscar winner Helen Hunt plays scientist Dr. Mary-Claire King, whose pioneering research led to one of the most significant medical discoveries of the 2oth century, the BRCA1 genetic marker for early onset breast cancer.  And Samantha Morton plays Annie Parker, a young woman who lost her mother and sister to breast cancer and then, when she was diagnosed with it herself, became dedicated to learning everything she could about the disease.  An outstanding cast, a likeable narrator, and a thoughtful script co-authored by director Steven Bernstein take this out of the easy tears of the disease-of-the-week TV movie category.  It is an absorbing drama with a lot of respect for its characters and a welcome sense of humor.  “My life was a comedy,” a quote from the real Annie says as the movie begins.  “I just had to learn to laugh.”

Annie’s mother died of breast cancer when she was a child, and Annie and her sister (Marley Shelton as an adult) superstitiously believe — or pretend to believe — that Death sleeps in a locked room on the top floor of their house, and that their mother make the mistake of awakening it.  Their father dies when Annie is still in her teens, and we see her at the first of three funerals in the film, with fatuous remarks from the people attending and a skeezy funeral home employee hitting on her.  “A lot of women can’t be cool and in mourning at the same time, but you pull it off.”

A little lost, and overcome with ardor for her musician/pool cleaner boyfriend Paul (“Breaking Bad’s” Aaron Paul in a series of 70’s and 80’s hairdos that are both horribly ugly and fake-looking), Annie gets married.  They live in the house she grew up in and very soon they have a baby.  And then, the last member of her family, her sister Joan, gets breast cancer and dies, funeral number two, same fatuous remarks and skeezy guy.

And then Annie gets a lump in her breast.  It is cancer.  She has a radical mastectomy and removal of most of her lymph nodes under one arm, followed by chemotherapy.  She becomes determined to learn as much as she can about the disease, even building models of cancer and DNA.  And she becomes a warrior against cancer, checking her breasts and insisting everyone else check, too.  She even offers to check her husband for testicular cancer during an intimate moment.

Meanwhile, Dr. King is insisting that there is a genetic link and working to find it, despite a lack of support.  She is told it will take ten years for the computers available to her to analyze the data she is collecting from women who are in families with multiple cases of breast cancer.  But Bernstein wisely makes Annie Parker, rather than Dr. King, the focus of the film.  This adds warmth and drama to a story that would otherwise be a lot of people in lab coats getting turned down for grants and crunching data.  Parker makes an engaging guide to the years of struggle faced by both women, with a wry sense of humor and a steeliness of resolve that, endearingly, is as much a surprise to her as it is to everyone around her.  She is very funny quacking (really!) to get the attention of a bored doctor’s office receptionist (Rashida Jones), who later becomes her close friend and ally.  Morton is superb, showing us Parker’s vulnerability as well as her courage, and making us understand the scope and the human dimension of Dr. King’s work.  When they finally meet we see how in an important way they kept each other going.

Parent should know that this film has themes of cancer, illness, and loss, with sad deaths and some disturbing scenes of symptoms and treatment, sexual references and brief explicit situations, adultery, some very strong language, and drinking.

Family discussion: Why did Paul and Annie have such different reactions to illness? How did humor help Annie stay courageous? Read up on Dr. King and her opposition to patenting gene sequences.

If you like this, try: “50/50,” “Wit,” and “God Said Ha!”

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Trailer: Decoding Annie Parker

Posted on April 10, 2014 at 11:21 am

Helen Hunt, Samantha Morton, Aaron Paul, Rashida Jones, and Corey Stoll star in this fact-based story of two women, one with breast cancer and one trying to solve the genetic link in families with high incidence, research that led to the discovery of the kind of diagnostics that made it possible for people like Angelina Jolie to take preventative measures that can save their lives.

And here’s the real Annie Parker.

 

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Our Idiot Brother

Posted on August 25, 2011 at 6:00 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for sexual content including nudity and for language throughout
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, marijuana, character goes to prison for giving marijuana to a policeman
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 26, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B004UXUWEC

You can’t really make a bad movie with Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Rashida Jones, Kathryn Hahn, Adam Scott, Zooey Deschanel,  Emily Mortimer, and Steve Coogan.  They are seven of the most able and appealing performers of our era.  But it turns out that does not necessarily guarantee a good movie, either.  The actors have a lot more fun than the audience in this light but strange tale of a man whose irrepressibly sunny and guileless nature makes his angsty sisters frustrated, angry, and then, inexplicably refreshed.

Rudd plays Ned, a leftover hippie who grows organic produce with his girlfriend (Hahn).  By inclination and by choice he expects the best intentions from everyone.  So, he gives a stranger on the subway some cash to hold onto while he organizes his things.  And when a uniformed cop asks him for some marijuana, he hands it over.  That one results in some jail time, and when he returns, he finds he has lost his girlfriend, his home, and his dog, Willie Nelson.  So, he goes back home, where he briefly stays with his mother and then each of his sisters, creating chaos at every stop.

Liz (Mortimer) is married to a snobbish and self-centered documentary filmmaker (Coogan) and they have two children.  Liz is passionate about providing a cloyingly wholesome environment for her children (they are named River and Echo) and has not noticed that her husband is having an affair with the subject of his latest film.  Ned breaks River’s finger and, worse, messes up his crucial admissions interview for a tony private school.

He also disrupts the lives of the ambitious Miranda (Banks) who works at Vanity Fair, thwarting her big break by refusing to let her print a story told to him in confidence by a socialite, and flighty Natalie (Deschanel), by revealing to her girlfriend (Jones) that Natalie has been unfaithful with a man and is pregnant.

Jesse Peretz (son of former Harvard professor and New Republic publisher Marty Peretz) directed, from a screenplay by his sister, Evgenia Peretz, a writer for Vanity Fair, and her husband David Schisgall, a documentary filmmaker who has worked with Errol Morris.  Given the sibling bond on and off-screen it is especially disconcerting that there is no sense of the chemistry between family members.  These characters never show the kind of rhythms and short-cuts in communication that come from decades of shared experience or the affections and retro rivalries of adult family members.  It would have been interesting to get a sense of what the family dynamic was like and how it produced characters do different in their priorities and strengths.  The script feels more like a chart than a storyline, with each character selected to represent a different New York type.  The actors have a lot of fun creating their characters but there is not one believable relationship between any of them, except perhaps Ned’s with the hippie who replaced him at the farm.  Peretz never establishes a consistent tone and the reconciliation and appreciation at the end is forced and awkward.

Ned may be right about expecting the best from everyone, but as he learns in the film and we learn about the Peretzes, sometimes they let you down.

(more…)

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