Tag Archives: datenight

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

The Half of It

[4 stars]

It isn’t perfect, and it’s certainly predictable in many ways, but The Half of It is also down-to-earth and earnest in the best possible sense. And I say this even with the framework of Cyrano with echos of Love, Simon and Hedvig and the Angry Inch paving the way. Director/writer Alice Wu (Saving Face) really came through in her Sophomore outing. She navigates the sea of high school awakening and romance with confidence, honesty, and a good dash of fantasy to allow for dramatic moments. But she never loses credibility, despite the well trod ground.

Much of the success here goes to the three leads. Leah Lewis (Nancy Drew) as our Cyrano is heartbreakingly lost in her world, trying to balance life and family. Daniel Diemer, is surprisingly effective as a “inarticulate jock” with hidden capacities. And Alexxis Lemire, as the object of affection, walks an interesting line without stumbling. With Wu’s guidance, each of them manages to remain both aware and innocent, intelligent, but naive. In other words, very much of their age rather than adults playing at being teenagers.

This is where the movie sets itself apart from another similar outing in 10 Things I Hate About You. 10 Things, while practically a classic, leans into its classical underpinnings and loses the pretense of reality. The Half of It leans more into life, and embraces the joy and the suck (at least to a degree) that is being a teenager in love.

There is also one wonderful bit part worth mentioning, as it is a real standout. Becky Ann Baker (Girls), as Lewis’s teacher, has a few fabulous moments that also serve to expose the town at large with a few brushstrokes.

Make time for this one, if you haven’t already. It will put a smile on your face without rotting your teeth. And the story, humor, and moments are certainly worth revisiting again down the road.

The Half of It

Darling Companion

[3 stars]

Imagine a Hallmark or Lifetime movie on steroids and you’ve got a sense of Darling Companion. It isn’t that it is over-the-top histrionic so much that it is loaded with acting talent for a script that is, well, a TV movie at best. It manages to capture tense but loving relationships, as Lawrence Kasdan (Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Big Chill) has shown he’s capable of, but it was all at the surface.

What I will give him credit for is that while the story revolves around Freeway, the foundling dog, it doesn’t focus on him. It really does spend almost all its time on the humans around him. There are no cutsey dog-reaction moments or inner thoughts. It is about how the arrival of this stray is the catalyst for those around him.

And the cast is a surprising wealth of talent, all of whom could be doing better things, but decided to do this. So take it in for what’s worth. I honestly was dragged into watching it, but wasn’t sorry I did. It isn’t that I don’t like sappy films (god knows, I do) but I really shy away from what I fear will be completely manipulative tales of children or animals with big eyes and forced moments. The Kasdans (as Meg Kasdan co-wrote) managed to avoid that almost entirely and give us a story about people finding themselves and romance in their own ways.

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.

Tasting Menu (Menú degustació)

[3.5 stars]

Honestly, the extra points for this film are for the food design, which is glorious. The story itself is definitely engaging on its own, but it’s fairly standard. Like the food being served, the story is a collection of smaller tales that come together into something a bit larger by the final course. It’s all a bit soapy, but it has plenty of humor and mystery to help drive it forward.

Director Roger Gual pulled together an international cast with such folks as Fionnula Flanagan (Song of the Sea), Stephen Rae (Greta), and Andrew Tarbet (This is Wonderland) on the English speaking side and Jan Cornet (Mallorca Files), Vicenta N’Dongo, Togo Igawa, Marta Torné (Night Manager), and others on the Spanish and Japanese side. The combination provides a range of humor from the farsacle to comedies of manners.

But what pulls together all the bits and pieces as we jump from story to story, even as they intersect, is the food. It’s a feast for the eyes as much as one for the senses (even if we don’t get to taste it ourselves). So go for the humor, stay for the meal, and enjoy it for what it is: a light comedy that will leave you feeling reasonably full.

Cyrano de Bergerac (2008)

[4 stars]

I haven’t seen Cyrano for many years…and had totally forgotten just how wonderful a story it is. And this production of it, with Kevin Kline (Last Vegas) as the titular man with the nose, is transcendent. His control of the language and the emotion is gripping.

And then there is the rest of the cast. While Jennifer Garner (Wonder Park), as Roxanne, eventually finds her feet in this play, she’s nothing particularly wonderful. On the other hand, Chris Sarandon (Fright Night) is more than up to the task of playing Kline’s nemesis, as is Daniel Sunjata (Manifest) for playing his handsome but dim-witted rival.

Filmed stage plays aren’t always successful. They often feel too distanced or too forced. But director Matthew Diamond guided the play and preserved the performance wonderfully. And the staging and set are clever, functional, and flexible. In other words, it is a feast for all the senses and aspects of theatre love.

Make time for this when you can. Honestly, it is so much better than you likely remember, in large part due to the fabulous Anthony Burgess translation, but also for the sheer romance and comedy of it all, no matter how dark some of it may get.

Cyrano de Bergerac

Frankie

[3 stars]

A rumination on the nature of love, life, and family against the beautiful backdrop of Sintra, Portugal. In many ways, Frankie is After the Wedding’s less overwrought cousin. There are several common themes and dynamics, though the stories are driven by different stakes and pressures.

Isabelle Huppert (Greta) is the lynchpin at the center of a blended family that spans multiple marriages. Her sense of entitlement as well as her own sense of self keeps bumping up against her recognition of the realities of that complexity, but all in very quiet and introspective ways. There are few histrionics despite the tensions between people and the situation in which they are mired. It is all about the reactions and silences, which director and co-writer Ira Sachs (Love is Strange) orchestrates with great confidence.

Along with Huppert, Brendan Gleeson (Assassin’s Creed), Marisa Tomei (Only You), Jérémie Renier (Double Lover), Vinette Robinson (A Christmas Carol), Sennia Nanua (The Girl With All the Gifts), and Greg Kinnear (Same Kind of Different as Me) fill out the other main roles. Their paths are all separate, but also all reflect and intersect on Huppert’s journey and life.

This isn’t a fast movie, but it is gripping in a very quiet way. And, ultimately, it brings together its point and moments in a wonderful bit of visual metaphor that is simply presented for us to absorb and enjoy. Frankie is about life and legacy and the meaning and complications of love. It is certainly bittersweet, but manages to avoid being maudlin or at all self-righteous. It’s simply a view and point of view of a collection of lives bound by blood and circumstance. And, like Sachs other works, emotionally hypnotic through to the end.

 

Frankie

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.

Five Feet Apart

[3 stars]

Yes, it’s a manipulative and predictable Romeo and Juliet riff, with cystic fibrosis as the wall between them, but it is executed relatively well if you’re in the mood for it.

Haley Lu Richardson (The Edge of Seventeen) and  Cole Sprouse (Riverdale, but more amusingly Grace Under Fire) are an inevitable couple, far too sharp witted and special for their own good. But, of course, we root for them as they discover what’s really important in life.

My biggest gripe, outside of a few saccharine moments, is that the one gay character, Moises Arias (Ender’s Game), is there for comic relief and to serve other cheap purposes in the script. He did well with the role, but his existence felt forced. While I get that this was a standard love story with a twist, it’s a shame they had to make the story so patently non-inclusive.

That aside, there are some nice turns in the hospital’s staff championed by Kimberly Hebert Gregory (Kevin (Probably) Saves the World)  and Parminder Nagra (Blinded By the Light).  Both manage to take standard characters and provde them some depth.

This is the first feature for director Justin Baldoni (better known as an actor in shows such as Jane the Virgin), as well as a first script for Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis. As a first attempt, this is fairly polished and tight tale. It isn’t groundbreaking, but it is pleasantly distracting for a night of light romance with a bit of medical issues. It will be interesting to see what lessons all involved take into their next projects.

Last Christmas

[3 stars]

I know what you’re thinking: It’s damned early in the year for a Christmas movie. And too bloody right you are. However, I am a sucker for a well-done romance. Fortunately, Last Christmas delivers more to the romance with a slightly cynical/amused eye to the holiday. A solid script, co-written by Emma Thompson (Late Night), and direction by Paul Feig (A Simple Favor) give it a leg up with sharp English wit and intelligence amid the holiday sweetness.

It doesn’t hurt, either, that Emilia Clarke (Solo: A Star Wars Story) has charisma and wonderful comic timing. She and Henry Golding (A Simple Favor) make a fun, reluctant couple while Clarke builds a family around Michele Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians), Emma Thompson, and Lydia Leonard (Abstentia). There are also some fun cameos from Maxim Baldry (Years and Years), Patti LuPone (Parker), Peter Serafinowicz (The Tick), Peter Mygind, Jade Anouka (Turn Up Charlie) and others.

As a solid date night film, with just enough brains and bittersweet in it to keep it from collapsing under its own weight in sugar, this is a fun outing. And I say that even if it is way too early to be starting the themed stories this year. Though, admittedly, it may well have gotten lost in the crush of tentpoles if they’d waited. Take someone you care about and enjoy being played like the proverbial piano in a way that will leave you warm, happy, and high on life.