78 posts categorized "Romantic Comedy"

March 22, 2017

PUNCH DRUNK LOVE

Punch Drunk LovePaul Thomas Anderson has done the impossible; he has written a romantic leading role for Adam Sandler that functions well on a dramatic level. Sandler’s on-the-spectrum character Barry Egan is a bundle of social anxiety thanks to a long history of abusive treatment by his seven sisters. He has a furious temper thanks to his sisters’ relentless bullying about a childhood episode wherein he broke a plate glass door with a hammer in response to their repeatedly calling him “gayboy.”

Note Anderson’s reference to Lina Wertmuller’s film “Seven Beauties” (1975), which follows the wartime adventures of Pasqualino (Giancarlo Gianini), a henpecked Italian dandy who murders one of his sister’s lover. Audiences can have a field day picking out Anderson’s subtle nods to films by other directors (“Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday,” “The Bandwagon,” and “The Graduate” for example), as well as to his own (“Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia”).

Punch-drunk-love2

“Punch Drunk Love” is a squirmy love story about a guy with a good heart in need of romantic rescue. Anderson’s inspired casting of Emily Watson as Sandler’s savior works like a charm for a minimalist character study with a dash of magical realism. It may only be a minor chamber piece, but “Punch Drunk Love” sticks with you.  

Rated R. 95 mins. (B) (Three Stars — out of five / no halves) 


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May 11, 2016

CAFE SOCIETY — CANNES 2016

Cafe-societyCannes, France —Not many audiences bother with Woody Allen movies anymore. Most of those who do will readily concede that Allen “seems to just make the same movie over and over again.” While that caveat certainly holds true for “Café Society” (Allen’s 46th film), the main problem with his latest cinematic frippery is that it is barely even a movie to begin with. Allen douses the audience with so much pained voice-over narration, to explain the gaping holes he leaves between barely connected sequences, that he may as well have written a short book. Still, it wouldn’t be a book you’d want to read. As for humor, there is next to none. I chuckled once. Not only has Allen’s once-cute sense of novelty worn off, so too has any grounding in authenticity. The best you could call “Café Society” is a piecemeal effort by a filmmaker whose day is done.

What little there is of a story is set in the glamor days of old Hollywood when names like Barbara Stanwyck and Errol Flynn meant something. Allen packs the movie with cheesy jazz music (played by black musicians in empty clubs, but by white players in bustling white-owned establishments). He commits a sin against jazz music by using it in such an exploitative way. Talk about a turn-off.

Then there's the gaudy autumnal look of the film (shot by the once-great Vittorio Storaro) that makes the actors' faces appear orange for most of the time. Allen can't even feign classiness anymore. 

Jesse Eisenberg, the least romantic actor in modern day cinema — even Michael Shannon puts him to shame), plays Woody’s latest on-screen alter ego Bobby, a predictably nebbish New Yorker looking for a new life in Los Angeles. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? (See “Annie Hall” for a better version of this story).

Bobby gloms onto his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a hotshot Hollywood mogul who is secretly schtupping his much, much younger secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). That’s all you need to know, plot-wise. During his frequent voice-over interruptions, Allen emphasizes what a “dynamic and successful powerhouse” Phil is when the character isn’t dropping names of Hollywood starlets that millennials won't recognize. If there’s a noticeable lack of screen chemistry between Stewart and Eisenberg, the ostensibly romantic scenes between Stewart and Steve Carell are enough to make milk curdle. This is one ugly love triangle. Sloppy seconds indeed.

Woody Allen

We get a transparent thematic dose about how the Jewish religion is superior to Christianity because Jews don’t believe in an afterlife. Soon thereafter, a (Jewish) leftist character puts a fine point on the proceedings when he quotes Socrates. “An unexamined life is not worth living.” The character adds, “but and examined life is no bargain.” Either way, “Café Society” is an interminable bore that is not worth seeing.

Chosen as the opening film at Cannes, “Café Society” set the bar so low that it won’t take much for the films in competition to seem far better by comparison.  

Rated PG-13. 96 mins. (D) (One star — out of five / no halves)

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August 29, 2013

Afternoon Delight

Afternoon delightIf Jill Soloway’s kooky but sexy romantic comedy is any kind of bellwether about the future of mainstream cinema, then expect to see Hollywood actors having real sex on-screen within the next five years. Ribald, and infused with a post-mumblecore sensibility about how young [read clueless] married couples behave; “Afternoon Delight” is a custom-made story about reviving romance after the shine has worn off. An “eyes-open” orgasm is the super objective.

Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Jeff (Josh Radnor) live a cushy life in L.A.’s Silver Lake suburb with their young son Logan. Jeff designs apps. Rachel runs the kid to the Jewish community center when she isn’t pouring out her woes regarding her lacking sex life to her over-sharing lesbian therapist Lenore (Jane Lynch). A humanitarian who also happens to be a poor judge of character, Rachel screws up big time when she invites McKenna (Juno Temple) — a troubled dancer the couple recently met a strip club — to stay with them. McKenna gives Rachel fair warning about what she’s letting her family in for. McKenna announces, “My mom’s a witch, a wiccan kind of witch.” Nonetheless, Rachel has no problem hiring McKenna to serve as a nanny when the hot-to-trot trollop isn’t making outcall prostitution runs.

The stage is set for McKenna the “sex worker” to go about her slow burn homewrecking ways. Juno Temple, with her energetic openness, is an ultimate randomizer. Kathryn Hahn, for her part, goes along for the ride. When McKenna invites Rachel to come along to visit one of McKenna’s regular clients, Rachel gets more than she bargained for. “Afternoon Delight” is a refreshing romantic comedy for its daring exploration of sexual commitment. Woody Allen should be jealous.  

Rated R. 99 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)



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July 22, 2013

Blue Jasmine

Blue_jasmineBlue and Cold
Woody Allen’s Ghost Roams Empty Halls

Woody Allen has bottomed out. His latest attempt at interpreting yet another global mecca — this time San Francisco — through a prism of flailing romance, barely manages to elicit a couple of subdued chuckles. Allen’s busy attempt to add more serious drama than humor on his romantic comedy scales is a depressing affair all around.

The ever-impressive Cate Blanchet plays the title character, a textbook white-woman-of-entitlement struggling to recapture her social status after a sudden fall from affluent grace in New York City. Her adulterous con artist ex-husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) gets the blame, but it takes two to tango. A nervous breakdown has turned Jasmine into a pill-popping ball of anxiety. Hers is the epic mid-life crisis of a woman who has never worked a day in her life. Blanchet’s thin-skinned performance is so convincing it hurts to watch. Too bad “Blue Jasmine” isn’t worthy of her estimable efforts. An Oscar nomination may yet be in the offing.

Allen’s signature fragmented storyline [reference “Annie Hall”] switches between splintered flashbacks of Jasmine’s recent past of marital restlessness in New York, and her current efforts to reinvent herself with the assistance of her similarly adopted “sister” Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco. Jasmine has burned Ginger many times in the past but Ginger still respects their relationship despite Jasmine’s outspoken disdain for everything about Ginger and her lifestyle.

Jasmine takes on a day job as a dentist’s receptionist while studying basic computer skills in preparation for an online course in interior design. Judgmental as the day is long, Jasmine can’t stand Ginger’s blue-collar boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale). Forget that Jasmine was partly responsible for contributing to breaking up Ginger’s former marriage by encouraging the couple to invest their recent windfall with Hal to manage the money at a promised 20% return. Windfall gone.

“Blue Jasmine” is Woody Allen’s sidelong, belated attempt to address fallout symptoms of America’s economic collapse. Tonally, the movie has a sleepwalking quality to it. Characters bump into things and people, but the effect is rarely funny or even sympathetic. The financially bankrupt Jasmine can still charm a wealthy potential love interest into a marriage, but the skeletons in her closet keep popping out at the worst possible moment. The same could be said for Woody Allen.

 Where there was once flesh and blood in his movies, now there are merely broken pieces of murky inspiration that don’t add up. Allen’s once-magical gift for connecting resonant story fragments now leaves sprinkled shards of visually appealing scenes that repeatedly drop off into an abyss of predictable gravity. 

Even Louis C.K.’s glorified cameo as Al, a potential love interest for Ginger, comes off as a disappointment. Andrew Dice Clay fares a little better as Ginger’s ex-husband Augie, but even he can’t help ground the movie. Bobby Cannavale’s character is a bull-in-a-china-shop who steals the movie through his sheer force of masculine will.

Regardless of his career-high box office success with “Midnight in Paris,” Woody Allen hasn’t made a movie as good as “Match Point” since 2005. His effort to build a more dramatically substantial comedy on his kneejerk time-flipping format backfires because the jokes simply aren’t funny. Woody Allen doesn’t know when to quit. That’s not a good thing.

Rated PG-13. 98 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)



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July 08, 2013

Stuck in Love

Stuck in LoveA well blended cocktail of familial connections, aspirations, and separations, “Stuck in Love” is a complex romantic comedy that keeps on giving even when you think it has run its course. Debut writer/director Josh Boone weaves together comedy, drama, and that precious je ne sais quoi that screenwriters desperately try to attain. Besides creating characters that exist just within the bounds of suspension of disbelief, Boone understands how to deploy the basic elements of human nature — both ugly and lovely — so that you empathize with every character. When was the last time you watched a movie that you felt comfortable in every character’s shoes?

Everyman actor Greg Kinnear plays William Borgens, a successful writer still pining over his ex-wife Erica (Jennifer Connelly) from the relative comfort of his idyllic beachfront home where he resides with his teenaged son Lou (Logan Lerman). Lou is a budding writer obsessed with his unattainable classmate Kate (played by the effervescent Liana Liberato ). Lou’s older sister Samantha (Lily Collins) is about to have her first book published. She isn’t on speaking terms with her mom due the way Erica treated her dad. As such, she submerges her need for emotional intimacy by having mindless one-off assignations with the dumbest boys she finds among her college classmates.

“Stuck in Love” manages to be both heavy and light, with a healthy dose of articulate intellectual expression from its well-read characters. From its cherry-picked ensemble cast to its dynamically contained narrative, here is that rare independent movie that takes you on an enjoyable emotional rollercoaster before safely dropping you off in a place of dramatic fulfillment.

Rated R. 97 mins. (A-) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)



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July 01, 2013

ANNIE HALL — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Annie HallInspired by Federico Fellini’s “8½”, “Annie Hall” contains the seeds of the deconstructionist template Woody Allen has avidly pursued throughout much of his career. Allen’s seventh film as a director — co-written with collaborator Marshall Brickman — was the result of an elaborate screenwriting process that abandoned a murder mystery plot in favor of an existential romantic approach in order to embrace the comedian’s self-reflexive humor from multiple angles. Animation, split-screen sequences, intertitles, inner monologues, and fourth-wall-breaking asides add to the film’s rollicking quality.

Allen introduces the film with a stand-up comic soliloquy given directly to the camera. Pain is written on his face. He dresses in the autumnal colors and style of a New England professor speaking before a class of sleepy college students. After a couple of vaudeville-style jokes about his quirky outlook on life, Allen’s alter ego Alvy Singer cracks his knuckles and shifts gears into a confessional mode about his recent break-up with “Annie.” Alvy — a Jewish leftist with a constant need to snivel — is consumed with “sifting” through the pieces of his broken relationship to figure out where “the screw-up” occurred.

Annie-hall

An actual clip from a Woody Allen appearance on the Dick Cavett television show adds a note of realism. In-the-know audiences, hip to fact that Woody Allen and Diane Keaton had been romantically linked prior to the making of the film, were naturally inclined to read between the lines.

The structure is a series of time-flipping flashback vignettes leading up to and including Alvy’s yearlong relationship with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), a free-spirited example of the ‘70s feminist ideal, albeit of the gentile variety.

A brief sequence about Alvy’s depressed childhood spent growing up in a Brooklyn house beneath the Coney Island rollercoaster during World War II provides a literal window into his hyper-verbally expressed tangle of neurosis. Even at the age of six, Alvy had girls on the brain and contempt for every one of his classmates. Alvy’s obsession with sex, death, and a compulsive need to dissect every social interaction to an unrecognizable distortion follows him through every waking moment. At 40, Alvy suffers from a midlife crisis that finds him incapable of peacefully coexisting in a lasting way with any of the younger — sometimes much younger — women he dates.

Anniehall

Like the Groucho Marx joke Alvy tells as representative of his philosophy — “I would never want to be part of a club that would have me as a member” — he paints himself into a self-defeating corner to keep a distance from the romantic closeness that he compulsively flirts with. At heart, Alvy Singer is a romantic dilettante; he dabbles at dabbling.

“Annie Hall” is filled with classic jokes and comic set pieces that have entered into common parlance, yet still retain their comic power regardless how many times you’ve seen the movie. The joy of “being reduced to a cultural stereotype” is up there with finding a spider “the size of a Buick” in the bathroom.

Annie-hall-03

Rated PG. 93 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)


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May 23, 2013

Before Midnight

Before MidnightGen X Grows Up
Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke Put a Cherry on the Cake

For better or for worse — mostly better — Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke may best be remembered for their romantically euphoric trilogy in collaboration with wunderkind Generation X auteur Richard Linklater. Each of Linklater's “Before” films — about a developing romance between a talkative American writer and a hyper-articulate Frenchwoman — has improved on its predecessor — and that's saying something. Fireworks of authentic stream-of-consciousness dialogue, spikes of emotion, and the madness of love reach a crescendo of palpable joie de vivre in “Before Midnight.” Audiences can't help but admire this bold expression of intellectually and erotically charged connection between two undeniably attracted souls.

The first collaboration “Before Sunrise” (1995) introduced romantically inclined couple Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) travelling on a train from Budapest to Vienna. Sparks of curiosity and lust ignited to the strains of Vivaldi, Straus, and Kate Bloom. “Before Sunset” (2004) found the lovers reuniting for a one-night-stand of sorts in Paris where Jesse — a successful author inspired by the events in the first film — reads from his latest book. Things got complicated.

Now, nearly two decades since they first met, the couple lives together in France with their twin daughters. The film begins at the end of a summer vacation in Greece where they have spent the past six weeks sharing the exotic home of a fellow author and his family. Jesse sees his son off at the airport, destined to return to Jesse’s ex-wife. [Celine can't stand the thought of the woman.] Hawke is a caring but awkward father who worries that his 12-year-old boy didn’t have enough fun during their time spent bonding together in the Mediterranean paradise. The naturalistic scene sets the film’s neo-realistic tone. We are hooked.

A real-time conversation plays out between Jesse and Celine as they drive back to their host’s house while the girls sleep in the back seat. They discuss the long-term effect on the girls of their decision to pass up a promised sightseeing stop at a natural landmark. The seemingly impromptu conversation hits a staggering number of relationship reference points that draw the audience inside their casually intimate style of communicating. No topic is off limits. Politics, sex, religion, literature, and economic realities all come percolating to the surface. It's clear that Linklater and his two actors spent much time together crafting and polishing the personalized script. The dialogue shimmers.

A farewell dinner with their hosts gives way to a gifted night at a resort hotel that promises the couple some welcome alone time. However, Celine’s possible bipolar disorder crashes the party late in the game, causing Jesse to reach deep into his pocket of tricks to bring Celine around to a romantic reality built as much on fantasy as on a unifying method for achieving harmony in the relationship. “Before Midnight” feels like two intimate weeks spent with Jesse and Celine, compressed inside a 108-minute movie. A higher compliment, I cannot imagine. Bravo.

Rated R. 108 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)



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