Month: September 2016

The Perfect Man (2005)


You can’t get much lazier than The Perfect Man, a romantic comedy short on romance and comedy. Featuring a mother and daughter duo played by Heather Locklear and Hilary Duff, it instead serves up idiocy by the bucketfuls. The two engage in decision-making that will make you seriously question the judgment of both characters, with the prize for most irrational ending in a frustrating toss-up.

Jean, the mother, earns the distinction early on when she announces to her two daughters that the family is shipping out of town, again, and just when teenager Holly was readying herself for her first dance. The reason? Her latest boyfriend has just broken up with her. I guess one night stands, drunk karaoke, or yoga don’t exist in her world. This time, they head for Brooklyn, where it seems a single mother can settle into a cozy two bedroom flat on a baker’s wage. Ever on the hunt for The Perfect Man, she grabs opportunity wherever she finds it, and the first chance is at a PTA meeting at Holly’s new school. Jean’s desperation runs thick and fast, though not so much that she’ll say “yes” to an surprise proposal by her lumpy Styx-loving coworker (Mike O’Malley). Her desire to find love and to be a good mother earn sympathy, but someone help a girlfriend out. She needs to find herself, and a hobby.

Holly realizes this and, wanting the best for her otherwise loving mom, decides to set her up with a fake online date. I can see the desperation on her part; she’s the new girl in school and has already been pegged as the one with the lovesick mom. It’s meant to be a quick fix; Holly will write a few emails as TPM to humor her mother and take Jean’s mind off more embarrassing moves, but things get out of hand when Jean actually falls for her phantom lover. Holly has no choice but to perpetuate the lie by enlisting the help of her new best friend’s charming Uncle Ben (Chris Noth), a handsome restaurateur who advises the girls on how to woo women (it’s all about the orchids) and, unbeknownst to him, lends his likeness to the project.

But of course Holly does have a choice, the one in which she acts reasonably and either confesses to her mother or seeks advice from a sober adult, like Jean’s black best friend and boss (Kym Whitley). You could mine a lot more out of their characters, especially the root of Jean’s insecurity, if the whole movie didn’t turn on one long gag about the bad use of technology. Instead, it’s a joke that tries too hard. It goes the distance with whatever harebrained idea pops up, not realizing that crazy doesn’t equal funny or romantic. Who would want to spend time with people so misguided and unaware? Locklear doesn’t help the cause by acting like she has some bills to pay. I get it; we all have something better to do that doesn’t involve this movie.

Released: 2005
Prod: Billy Higgins
Dir: Mark Rosman
Writer: Gina Wendkos
Cast: Hilary Duff, Heather Locklear, Chris Noth, Mike O’Malley, Ben Feldman, Vanessa Lengies, Caroline Rhea, Kym Whitley, Aria Wallace
Time: 100 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

Hysteria (2011)

hysteria 2011

It was thought in the late 1800s, and probably long before then, that a woman suffering from hysteria required stimulation in her nether regions in order to “coax the uterus back into position.” This would right the body and mind, temporarily curing a woman of nervousness, stress, loss of appetite, and any number of symptoms owing to the her weak constitution. Of course, hysteria wasn’t a single disease so often as it was a manifestation of a basic human need. And the thing to satisfy that need – the humble vibrator.

The story of the first such electric massager is brought to humorous life in this film, which weaves a tale of invention with social and cultural change in Victorian England. Mortimer Granville (a wonderfully bemused Hugh Dancy) is a forward thinking doctor who insists on cleansing wounds in order to minimize the chance of infection by germs. The preposterous idea that microscopic bugs could cause so much disease and death gets him bounced from one hospital to another until he lands a position at Dr. Robert Darymple’s (Jonathan Pryce) clinic. Well respected for his ability to relieve women of their suffering, if one can call it that, he enlists the young Mortimer to assist in his hands-on practice, and possibly to form an alliance with his younger daughter, Emily (Felicity Jones).

It’s an amusing film that has great fun with its subject. That Dr. Granville could be so progressive on some areas of medicine yet still subscribe to the belief that women are “unable to experience pleasure without male penetration” garners knowing chuckles. The men are oblivious to the true nature of their work as they briskly oil their hands and finger their way past layers of skirt. Meanwhile, their patients are propped up on an elevated lounge chair, their lower halves covered with a gold and burgundy canopy that lends a certain elegance to the whole affair. Let’s say we’ve come, er, a long way.

And you see how easy it is to give into the temptation to make double entendres and other such coy winks at the audience. There’s sometimes a little too much tongue, and whatever else, in cheek, and the creation of the vibrator and the tremendous social changes that spurred its popularity can seem trite, as if the real significance of the story was brushed aside for some big masturbation joke. One of the first tests of the “feather duster,” as it was initially conceived by Granville’s inventor friend (Rupert Everett), is on an opera singer who’s lost her voice without her weekly sessions. Its success causes her to literally sing in ecstasy, to which I say, to each her own.

The film attempts to add context and seriousness, however, with Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Dr. Darymple’s fiery activist daughter and Granville’s intellectual match. She blazes across the screen, full of righteous indignation, demanding her dowry in order to support a poor house for the indigents who are also her friends. The woman is formidable, and so is Gyllenhaal; there’s never a doubt that Charlotte can determine her course in both work and pleasure, seeking gratification in her high ideals and, should chance allow, a partner who shares those commitments. So while Granville is a hero of sorts, the climactic scene shows Charlotte to be the true model of a liberated woman.

Released: 2011
Prod: Tracey Becker, Judy Cairo, Sarah Curtis
Dir: Tanya Wexler
Writer: Jonah Lisa Dyer, Stephen Dyer, Howard Gensler
Cast: Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Felicity Jones, Jonathan Pryce, Rupert Evertt, Ashley Jensen, Sheridan Smith, Gemma Jones, Georgie Glen, Anna Chancellor, Tobias Menzies
Time: 95 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2016

What’s Your Number? (2011)

whats your number

In the annals of romantic comedies, What’s Your Number? gets a mention only because of Anna Faris’s zany yet tender performance as Ally Darling, a woman who let’s herself believe that she’s had one too many sexual partners. The film, based on the book 20 Times a Lady, chronicles Ally’s attempt to win back a former flame so that her magic number doesn’t crest twenty, an idea she gets from a Marie Claire article. It’s not clear whose sensibilities she’s worried about offending, but she begins her quest to (re-)find The One and settle down like her younger sister Daisy (Ari Graynor).

As Ally moves forward with her maid of honor duties for Daisy’s upcoming wedding, she looks backward at all the men, and boys, she’s slept with, hoping that one of them has turned into something of a Prince Charming. She discovers that some guys are still up to their old tricks while others have taken a sharp turn for the better. She has her sights set in particular on Jake Adams (Dave Annable), scion of Boston’s wealthiest family. Her socialite mother (Blythe Danner) is ecstatic at the potential match and does what she can to encourage the pair, oblivious to her daughter’s changing feelings.

Romantic comedy laws dictate, however, that when there’s a merry-go-round of guys (including Zachary Quinto, Joel McHale, Martin Freeman, Anthony Mackie, and Faris’s actual man, Chris Pratt), the right one is the one closest to you, and hunky next door neighbor is always a good place to start. This is especially true when he looks like Chris Evans and spends not an insignificant amount of time without his clothes. Evans plays Colin, a musician and womanizer, though maybe not in that order, who uses Ally’s apartment to hide from his one night stands. In agreeing to help her stalk dig up dirt on her exes, he finds himself falling for her.

The role fits Evans like the tight t-shirts he’s constantly taking off. Handsome, dude-ish, but affectionate, Colin’s easy to shape into a lovable, roguish lump of a guy. He’s a nice character to pass the time with but not altogether memorable. For all his Captain America appeal, he fades into the background.

But then, most people do against Faris. It’s not so much that she steals every scene but that they are hers for the taking. She’s physically expressive but avoids crass exaggeration for comedic effect. Faris makes stuffing cake into her mouth both funny and relatable just as she makes a ritzy date with Jake a little awkward and heartbreaking. She’s also game for an embarrassing round of bad British accents. Ally could easily be an annoying character, one of those romcom heroines who sets an arbitrary goal and then enlists her whole squad to help her achieve her romantic project, but for all of her desperation, there is a spark of joy that Faris gives to her character. Even after getting dumped by her latest boyfriend, then fired from her marketing job, then caught sleeping with her now ex-boss, she springs back again, ready to start anew, even if it means going for something a little old.

Released: 2011
Prod: Beau Flynn, Tripp Vinson
Dir: Mark Mylod
Writer: Gabrielle Allan, Jennifer Crittenden
Cast: Anna Faris, Chris Evans, Ari Graynor, Blythe Danner, Ed Begley, Jr., Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Dave Annable, Heather Burns, Eliza Coupe, Tika Sumpter, Joel McHale, Chris Pratt, Zachary Quinto, Mike Vogel, Martin Freeman, Andy Samberg, Thomas Lennon, Anthony Mackie
Time: 106 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

Monte Carlo (2011)

monte carlo

Much better than expected is high praise for a film that starts out as a flighty cliché about three young women who escape their small Texas town and head to Paris to have a good European time. Singer-actress-Disney-startlet Selena Gomez leads the pack as Grace, a high school graduate who gifts herself the trip of a lifetime thanks to her part-time waitressing job. Joining her are her best friend, Emma (Katie Cassidy), and uptight step-sister, Meg (Leighton Meester). All three actresses turn in better performances than the script demands, and though the film still bats about average, I found myself easily cheering on their team.

Gomez doesn’t dazzle, but she portrays her character with a healthy dose of emotional honesty that made me warm to the actress. Grace is a teenager who’s easy to relate to; she’s a thoroughly decent, generous, hard working woman, a dreamer and, because of that, a little daring. When her Parisian tour, her raison d’être, turns out to be a bust and they get separated from their group, the three straggle back towards their motel d’horreur. Exhausted and disappointed, Grace stops at a far nicer hotel to compose herself. There, she is mistaken for a snotty British heiress, Cordelia Winthrop-Scott. She has no qualms about perpetuating identity fraud if it gets her a warm bed and room service for the night, but she loses her nerve a little when her party is whisked off to Monte Carlo for a week of charity balls and auctions.

Grace has to fake her way through a polo match and the heiress life without tipping off Theo (Pierre Boulanger), her host’s handsome son, or Cordelia’s aunt (a plummy Catherine Tate), but the movie is more than a cat and mouse game of mistaken identity. In between the deception, she craves authenticity, which is something our reality TV age tells us that young women don’t want. The film lets its characters reveal their insecurities in small ways and doesn’t get showy about its agenda of self-discovery. Though the film drags at parts and could exploit its plot in more ways, there’s an effort to make sure the character’s don’t descend into the shallow and catty.

Even Grace’s wing-women get a satisfying turn. Emma is the most eager to break out of her Texan bubble. A girl who hasn’t been anywhere or seen anything, Paris offers her a chance to find some spark and passion, but her possessive boyfriend (Cory Monteith) doesn’t see it that way. Hidden behind Cassidy’s bubbly and relentless optimist is a reserve of strength, which she employs gamely in just one scene. Meanwhile, Meg, I think, is the star of the show. Overly cautious and still grieving her mother’s death, she accompanies the other two as something of a chaperone, to everyone’s annoyance. But Europe, and a handsome Australian backpacker (Luke Bracey), help her to start letting go and to trust the people around her, including her step-sister. Meester, like the other actresses, is good at keeping a little something of her character to herself, giving some vulnerability to Meg that is often missing in young female roles.

Released: 2011
Prod: Denise Di Novi, Alison Greenspan, Nicole Kidman, Arnon Milchan
Dir: Thomas Bezucha
Writer: Thomas Bezucha, April Blair, Maria Maggenti
Cast: Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, Katie Cassidy, Pierre Boulanger, Cory Monteith, Catherine Tate, Luke Bracey, Andie MacDowell, Brett Cullen, Giulio Berruti
Time: 109 min
Lang: English, some French
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

Date Movie (2006)

date movie

I can be unforgiving when it comes to romance films, the carbs of my motion picture diet, but I’ll take a shitty romantic comedy over an even shittier parody of romantic comedies any day. Whether you loathe or love the genre, there’s nothing that can justify the torture of Date Movie, and you’ll be screaming for a Katherine Heigl marathon by the end of it. That is if you make it through the seventy-three minute run time. I wanted to bail twenty minutes in, fed up with the sexist fat shaming and the general laziness of this brain cell zapper.

Having seen Epic Movie, brought to you by the same crack producing-directing-writing team, I was primed to enter a different plane of filmmaking, the one that makes Gigli look like an Orson Welles classic. My expectations were more than met in the opening scenes in which obese and lonely Julia Jones (Alyson Hannigan) rocks her milkshake in order to bring all the boys to the yard. Not wanting to end up an old cat lady, she bursts out of her house and decides to find herself a man. The idea that full figured woman dancing in the street would cause a guy to nail gun himself in the head or firefighters to repel her with a water hose is offensive no matter how you look at it. And just to drive the point home, a desperate Julia then goes to a matchmaker who rejects her on sight, later helping her out of an uncommon pity. And if you’re still not convinced where the filmmakers stand on the attractiveness of larger women and how deserving they are of romance, Julia gets a makeover à la Pimp My Ride from a team of male mechanics eager to trade hot rods for upgraded hotties.

The degradation doesn’t end there though. To call this film a rip-off is generous. The movie lifts scenes, lines, and characters from over two dozen films and television shows, gives them a shoddy retouch, and then chucks them back out, letting things fall where they may. There is a plot to be sure. Julia finds love with Grant Fockyerdoder (Adam Campbell) on a reality show, and they quickly become engaged. The nuptials are threatened, however, when she discovers that his former flame (Sophie Monk) still has her eyes, and other body parts, on Grant.

I could mention that Julia aspires to be a Harvard-trained pastry chef instead of a waitress at her father’s Greek Restaurant, or that her very mixed race family points to some refreshing casting choices, or that Jennifer Coolidge does a mean Barbara Streisand. But that’s inconsequential in light of this great meaningless train wreck. Few of the parodies show any awareness of scene, tone, character, or any other quality that makes a romantic comedy memorable. Grant replicates Meg Ryan’s famous diner orgasm for no other reason that to make ordering a steak look funny. It’s not. Nor is Mr. Jinx, the toilet-using cat from Meet the Parents, more entertaining when he has a bad case of diarrhea. The movie strains to make us laugh, maybe even to get us to fill out Bingo cards and have some good drunken fun. But crying or punching walls seems the more appropriate response.

Released: 2006
Prod: Jason Friedberg, Paul Schiff
Dir: Aaron Seltzer
Writer: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
Cast: Alyson Hannigan, Adam Campbell, Jennifer Coolidge, Tony Cox, Fred Willard, Eddie Griffin, Sophie Monk, Carmen Electra
Time: 82 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016