Tag Archives: Comedy

The Valet (La doublure)

[3 stars]

There is nothing quite like a well-controlled French farce to help put a smile on your face. And director and writer Francis Veber (Dinner for Schmucks, La Cage Aux Folles) certainly understands farce. His main strength is almost always going for the understated response from his main characters, while allowing the peripheral ones to go  broad. It keeps the entire story from ever getting too shrill or ridiculous, even when it is outlandish or ridiculous.

He also has a great touch for casting. Gad Elmaleh (Mood Indigo) is wonderfully comfortable with his life and choices, even when offered something much more. And Alice Taglioni and Kristin Scott Thomas (Tomb Raider), as pawns turned queens, provide some great moments as well as implying some deep backstories that we never really get to learn about directly.

There are many other amusing, smaller roles, some created by faces you’ll recognize from French and International cinema. They all add sparkle and entertainment, pushing the story along with many laughs.

For a bit of warm escape, this is a great choice…and also a good one to share with someone you care about. Pop the corn, pour the libations, and curl up together on the couch for a good laugh.

The Valet Poster

Admission

[3 stars]

Director Paul Weitz (Bel Canto) loves the unexpected, whether in plot or in character. Admission is no exception. Despite being pretty much a standard trope, it manages to make its own path with some nice, unexpected curves.

The success of the story is also very much down to the cast; if not their particular talents all the time, certainly for their individual charisma and personalities. Primarily this is with Tina Fey (This is Where I Leave You), both her direct story and the interactions with Paul Rudd (Ideal Home). Nat Wolff (Leap!), pulled along in their wake, manages to make himself known as well.

Outside the main three are some great supporting characters too. Lily Tomlin (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), Wallace Shawn (Vanya on 42nd Street), and Michael Sheen (Staged) sprinkle in a little magic in particular.

Writer Karen Croner (One True Thing) adapted the story. The result is a multi-layered comedy and look at life. It is still a broad comedy, but not over-the-top in ways that would normally turn me off. It has touchstones and core level of truth that makes the silly laughter a bit poignant while Weitz’s inventive presentation keeps it alive and engaging. And, of course, it has a wonderful sort of frisson with the current ways of the world where standardized test scores, like the SAT, are not being used for admissions for the foreseeable thanks to the dual pressures of the pandemic and recognition of endemic social inequality.

Admission

American Adobo

[3 stars]

This isn’t a great film. The script, by first-timer Vincent R. Nebrida, is painful at times. And the effort to overcome those lacks by director Laurice Guillen doesn’t help her break into the States, despite being widely celebrated in the Philippines and abroad. Even the fairly experienced cast had trouble finding an even rhythm and delivery.

But, there is a sweetness to the story and the performances that made it engaging. Certainly the peek into Philippine culture was interesting (even if aspects were overblown at times). In between cringing at the dialogue and some of the acting, it will reach you and make you smile as you grow to understand this group of friends who bond over the past and food while negotiating their way into their futures.

American Adobo Poster

Hannah Gadsby: Douglas

[4.5 stars]

In her follow-up to Nannette, Gadsby once-again defies tradition and description. It isn’t quite the power-blast of Nannette, but it is a brilliantly structured piece of comedy. She starts exactly where she needs to and drags you laughing through to the end, pulling everything together as she does.

Whether or not you liked Nannette, you should see Douglas. It has its serious comments, but it is very much a comedy special put together with deft hands and a wickedly sharp mind.

[But if you haven’t seen Nannette as well, you should. It is a different animal, but it is a brilliantly, near-perfect, piece of stage craft.  It isn’t comedy, per se, but it is funny, and cathartic, and a wonder to behold]

Hannah Gadsby: Douglas

Midsummer Night’s Dream (2016)

[4.5 stars]

Russell T. Davies’ (Years and Years) adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy managed something I’ve never seen in this play: a real sense of danger and motivation. Even Julie Taymor’s inventive take on it didn’t manage that. But Davies also had the courage to reconceive the story and edit it down to 90 minutes. Honestly, it is the better for it in this production. It helps balance the characters into a true ensemble and streamline the story without losing the intent. And director David Kerr took Davies’ script and ran with it.

From its opening, with John Hannah (Sliding Doors) blasting onto scene as a tyrannous Theseus, we know we’re in for something different. This Midsummer owes a lot to many films, from Richard III and Silence of the Lambs to Hunger Games and Wizard of Oz, and a slew of others too long to mention. Few of these are overdone, most are brushstrokes to evoke emotions. But it all works nicely.

Matt Lucas (How to Talk to Girls at Parties) and Maxine Peake (The Bisexual) as Bottom and Titania are two of the amusing standouts, though the young lovers acquit themselves well too, especially Matthew Tennyson (Pride) and Prisca Bakare. I wanted to like Kate Kennedy’s Helena more, but it is always a challenging role to believe, even with the changes that helped it this round. If anyone really got short-changed in this production it was Hiran Abeysekera, whose Puck is entertaining, but most decidedly a minor character rather than the typical scene stealer he has become over the centuries.

As a whole, this is probably the best interpretation, and nearest to perfect, I’ve seen of this play. It’s also one of the best riffs on Shakespeare as well, showing both reverence and a keen sense of its current audience to make it accessible and enjoyable.

Midsummer Night

That Awkward Moment

[3 stars]

Basically, this is a boys to men tale about three college friends: Zac Efron (The Disaster Artist), Miles Teller (Baby Driver), and Michael B. Jordon (Just Mercy). And “awkward” is a good word for the result. About the only things that set this rom-com apart from its peers is the cast and that it’s from the point of view of three guys rather than the the women. The women are the mature and stable ones: Imogen Poots (I Kill Giants), Mackenzie Davis (Terminator: Dark Fate), and, to a degree, Jessica Lucas (Pompeii).

For his first movie writing and directing, Tom Gormican did manage to do pretty well. The The dialogue and situations careen from the absurd and outrageous, to the heartfelt and real. Never one direction for too long or too far so that any one group of viewers can fall away. That isn’t an easy balance to manage. But it’s far from a brilliant result, and the denouement is patently ridiculous, which is a shame as the idea of that moment is really good. But the trappings of the film, of the rather rich New Yorkers, is a bit tired, and none (and I do mean none) of the characters are believable in their chosen careers, which made it a bit of a challenge for me.

If I sound a bit conflicted on this flick, I am. There were a lot amusing moments and an overall arc that was engaging. But the extreme choices by characters (and occasionally stupid choices) pulled me up short. Viewer age will definitely come into play for enjoyment here. Someone in their 20s is going to connect more than someone in their 60s, but a good romcom is accessible to just about any age. This is a somewhat entertaining tale of discovering love, but it isn’t a great movie.

Onward

[3 stars]

I was both touched and frustrated with this latest fantasy from animation powerhouse Pixar. At its core there is a wonderful tale of a young man trying to resolve the loss of a parent that he never met, not to mention trying to navigate becoming an adult. Tom Holland (Spies in Disguise) is suitably naive and intelligent for the role. And Chris Pratt (Avengers: Endgame, Passengers) as his older brother is well paired. Even Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said) makes a wonderful mom to the two, with her own minor plot running in parallel, with Octavia Spencer (Luce) at her side.

The story is, mostly, predictable and full of the Pixar-ish moments you expect. You’ll be charmed, laugh, and yes, weep. Dan Scanlon (Monsters University) knew how to use the templates and talent to get where he wanted.

So why, you may ask, am I not rating it higher? Well, frankly, it met the bare minimum on all those counts above, it didn’t exceed them. And while the animation is, as you’d expect, well done, the design was mediocre at best. Unlike, say, Zootopia, there was no thought put into how a world that had these kinds of creatures in them would actually look and work. The fact that cars don’t fit centaurs may be amusing to watch, doesn’t mean it makes any sense in a world where centaurs are common, if you follow. The concept behind a world that lost magic because it got lazy is just fine…that that world has to utterly mirror ours to make a point is just lacking in creativity. Also, how certain things worked (like when and how their father was aware and could function) was less than consistent. And, finally, that it was so lacking in female leads was a bit disappointing. Not that Dreyfus and Spencer weren’t tough characters in their way, but they were only bit players.

What I will grant Scanlon, and his fellow writers, is that they didn’t go for the easy ending. They, instead, took the more interesting route and in the process also utilized all the bits and pieces they had set up during the quest.

While Onward isn’t Pixar’s best creatively, it is effective and poignant. It may never live among its more successful cousins (and COVID-19 certainly didn’t help on that point) but it’s not a waste of light and magic. It’s just not what it could have been with a bit more critical thinking going on in the writer’s room.

Only You (1994)

[3 stars]

Romcoms never quite go out of style, though only a few retain their well-intentioned joy as years go by. Only You is somewhat on the cusp of losing its mandate due to cultural shifts. However Norman Jewison’s (Moonstruck) light romance, echoing Roman Holiday, had one aspect really going for its longevity: it’s cast.

Long before they were to match up (non-romantically) in Spider-Man, Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. got tangled up in this light comedy. And while Downey certainly has some fun and commands the screen, Tomei is the one to watch here. She is as luminescent as Audrey Hepburn, with the same vulnerability and strength. She takes the weakest of lines and moments and turns them into something magnetic, keeping the story rolling along despite any of outlandish choices Diane Drake’s (What Women Want) script forces her to make.

Along with Bonnie Hunt (Toy Story 4), and some smaller roles by Fisher Stevens (Motherless Brooklyn) and Billy Zane (Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight),  the story unspools across two relationships, one new and one old. And, of course, the question of destiny and love hangs over it all.

This isn’t a brilliant film. And, as I mentioned, it’s showing its ages at the seams. However, it is a reasonable distraction just to see Tomei work the screen and glow as she does. So if you’re in the mood for a light romance and to see a couple of stars in their younger days, turn this one on and let it wash over you. Just don’t expect too much or think too hard.

As You Like It (2006)

[3 stars]

Kenneth Branagh (All Is True) has been associated with Shakespeare since he burst onto the international scene in 1989 with Henry V. Though his career ranges wide, he has continued to circle back to the Bard, investing in and reinventing the canon as actor, director, and writer. This particular comedy is no exception, but it also marked the beginning of his departure from standard period presentations of the tales.

Branagh sets his As You LIke It in feudal Japan, though with a cast of British ex-pats in the main roles. And quite the cast he pulled together as well…frankly too long to list, but with a number of established as well as up-and-comers to enjoy. The important aspect of this transposition is that it provides a nice foundation for the initial coup and sense of danger necessary to get the tale rolling, and it adds a sort of magical aspect to the feeling of the piece.

The play itself, like all the comedies, is somewhat interchangeable with most of Shakespeare’s other secondary tales. It explores love in many aspects through four different couples and three sibling relationships. And thanks to Branagh’s deft directing and writing, those reflections and comparrisons stay crisp and interesting rather than just seeming happenstance as they often do in the longer play. He even shfits the coda to further embrace his theatrical audience and to remind the audience to not take anything too seriously.

There is little believable in the the actual story of As You Like It, other than the emotions and desires. It is simply a romp with reminders that our relationships and our hearts are more important than our possessions and power. It is a comedy, so despite any of the darker aspects, no one is left unredeemed or saved in some way. And it is, of course, funny (often laugh-out-loud funny). So for a light evening of entertainment in iambic pentameter, settle in for some pleasant escape and great performances.

As You Like It

Dolittle

[2.75 stars]

Director/writer Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) wouldn’t seem a likely choice for this classic children’s fare. You’d be right. While he brought an interesting darkness to the tale, he and the various co-writers couldn’t quite pull it all together into a movie.

What you get, instead, is a collection of moments. Many of them are really quite fun and/or funny. Enough so, in fact, that many kids may not mind the breezy plot that blows all those bits mostly in one direction. What’s a shame was the waste of talent in the main roles that give it what life it has.

Obviously Robert Downey Jr. (Avengers) toplines the flick. He’s amusing, but it is an odd and empty performance. He’s all show and little heart despite the big machinations going on. The comic timing is fine, but there is no foundation supporting it all. Michael Sheen (Good Omens) and Anotonio Banderas (Life Itself) each have pivotal roles to play, though only Banderas has any dimensionality to him. Sheen is just bluster and exageration. He’s not scary enough for adults and probably a bit too mean for young children.

There are many throw-aways as well, like Jessie Buckley (Judy) and Jim Broadbent (Le Week-End) not to mention a slew of voice talent too long to list, but it includes a fun scene with Frances de la Tour (The Lady in the Van) worth calling out. You may have noticed how many of these names are either up for awards or have received them in the past. Like I said, a lot of wasted talent.

I feel the worst for the two child actors, Harry Collett (Casualty) and Carmel Laniado (A Christmas Carol) who should have had this as a strong springboard for their careers, and instead are stuck with some nice reel footage and being associated with a financial bomb.

All that said, I did laugh a lot and enjoyed myself, but that was because I had set the bar very low going in. I recognized how weak the story was going to be and just went with it. Kids will find plenty to enjoy. Parents will probably split on the experience from beign slightly diverting to really disappointing. While it’s definitely filmed for the big screen, you can probably wait on this one if you’d rather not spend the time or dollars at the theater.

Dolittle