Anna Faris

The Emoji Movie (2017)

If 2017 felt like a political nadir, then The Emoji Movie was the cultural low point. A film as lazy and uncreative as its title suggests, it ferries us inside the world of smartphone emojis who are confronting an existential crisis. The general idea is not terrible; children’s entertainment is full of gabby inanimate objects and there’s no reason smileys can’t have their day, but don’t be fooled by this poorly plotted app store marketing scheme. Do we really need a movie that encourages us to have a closer relationship with our smartphones?

The human in the story, Alex (Jake T. Austin), is a high school student with a crush. He is trying to win the affections of his classmate Addie by texting her, not crafty sonnets but strings of emojis. Sending these graphics is not simply a matter of poking an image and waiting for it to pop up on someone else’s screen, however. Buried deep in Alex’s phone is the bustling city of Textopolis where all the emojis live. When Alex chooses one, they must hold their pose while a camera scans their image, which is then sent to the receiver.

Gene (T.J. Miller) is a “meh” emoji and longs to get his face in the pictures as it were, but his parents (Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge) worry he’s not ready for the big time. Being “meh” emojis themselves, their impassioned plea registers as varying levels of indifference. Gene, on the other hand, is hyperactive for a “meh,” hence his parents’ hesitation to let him loose. They worry that he won’t be able to look sufficiently bored when called upon. In the end, he gets his way and the job but freaks out the moment he’s summoned by Alex. The camera captures him looking very un-“meh,” and he pulls a surprised-confused-horrified look that ends up on Addie’s phone, to her shock.

All emoji/smartphone hell breaks loose. Smiler (Maya Rudolph), an original emoji and therefore the one who’s running the joint, also has a freak out. But her anger paired with her megawatt grin is something out of a horror movie. She sends her bots to find and delete Gene, which is a terrifying prospect. Do you want your kids watching emoji murder? Luckily Gene finds some friends who are willing to help a fugitive. Hi-5 (James Corden) is seized with self-doubt and has some anger issues after getting booted from Alex’s favorites. Jailbreak (Anna Faris) turns out to be a princess emoji who’s sick of being a princess.

The message is about embracing yourself instead of your stereotypes. It’s about self-expression and being comfortable with your many emotions. Fine. I can get behind that completely. But omg ffs, as Alex might put it, does it have to be so boring? This movie is offensively dull. The humorless script reads like an engineer’s lab report. Part of this is my fault for being old and naturally tuning out when Jailbreak drones on about interfacing and the cloud and malware, but even if the young people understand it, I don’t think they’ll be entertained by it. Besides Jailbreak just telling us what she’s doing all the time, the movie too easily falls back on things that have been done before. The plot bears some resemblance to Inside Out but lacks all the emotional depth and sensitivity. It’s also a [insert eye roll emoji] parade of product placement. Looks like Candy Crush, Instagram, and Spotify have found another way to bully us into submission. Well let’s show them, and never watch this film.

Oh yeah, Patrick Stewart voices the poop emoji.

Released: 2017
Prod: Michelle Raimo Kouyate
Dir: Tony Leondis
Writer: Tony Leondis, Eric Siegel, Mike White
Cast: T.J. Miller, Anna Faris, James Corden, Maya Rudolph, Steven Wright, Jennifer Coolidge, Patrick Stewart, Christina Aguilera, Sofia Vergara, Sean Hayes
Time: 86 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

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Take Me Home Tonight (2011)

Take Me Home Tonight is a weak excuse for an 80s throwback reunion film, two of the lazier genres out there. It’s a needless movie that probably wants to distinguish itself by capitalizing on the nostalgia craze but doesn’t and slips out of your mind as easily as it goes in. The action takes place on one night in the late 1980s as a group of former high school classmates gather for a giant house party, as twentysomethings do. Matt (Topher Grace), a recent graduate from MIT, is wasting away at his job at Suncoast Video – look that up on Wikipedia, kids. While he isn’t putting his expensive education to good use, he does get a chance to reconnect with his high school crush, Tori (Teresa Palmer). In order to impress her, he lies about working at Goldman Sachs, which gets him an invite to the party.

He doesn’t need one though because the host is his twin sister Wendy’s (Anna Faris) boyfriend, Kyle (Chris Pratt). Wendy is adjusting to post-college life a little better than her brother. She’s awaiting an offer to study at Cambridge but needs to work some things out with her goofball, partying boyfriend. He doesn’t even know where Cambridge is, so you can guess where this relationship is heading. Rounding out their crew is friend Barry (Dan Fogler), an unhappy car salesman who’s just been fired for his devil may care attitude.

The story touches on all the usual clichés about reconnecting with your past in order to figure out your present and future. Matt and Tori are hitting it off, but the deeper they get into his fantasy, and lie, the bigger the fallout promises to be. It’s a similar situation for Wendy when Kyle proposes to her after an already tedious night of playing co-host. You can be sure that these friends will sort out some important life decisions though. There’s a bruising run-in with the law that involves a stolen car, cocaine, and Matt’s police officer dad, and if that doesn’t help clarify things, then a climactic giant steel ball race that ends in a near drowning surely will.

None of this helps the movie stand out. Faris, as usual, grabs the spotlight by alternating between very funny and very vulnerable. Fogler also has some moments as the resident wild man. But the extras don’t do much, like the 80s theme, chosen for no other reason than to add some extra neon and use a song-as-movie-title gimmick. The story diverges slightly because it’s not a high school graduation blowout or a ten year reunion, but the post-college timing is a bit awkward for this kind of reflective comedy. It’s at once too removed from high school and not enough to relive petty rivalries and reevaluate friendships. The big issue seems to be Matt’s lack of seriousness when it comes to finding a job, to which I say, the kid just graduated from MIT; I think he’ll be alright.

Released: 2011
Prod: Ryan Kavanaugh, Jim Whitaker, Susan Bowen
Dir: Michael Dowse
Writer: Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo
Cast: Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer, Chris Pratt, Michael Biehn, Lucy Punch, Michelle Trachtenberg, Demetri Martin, Michael Ian Black, Ginnifer Godwin, Bob Odenkirk
Time: 97 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2017

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

My Super Ex-Girlfriend

my super ex girlfriend

I’m trying to imagine the brainstorming session for this movie. Let’s be progressive and have a female superhero; we’ll call her G-Girl (Go, Girl? Great Girl? Gorgeous Girl?). Maybe she can get her super powers after being exposed to a meteorite as a teenager. Then she transforms into the cool girl and drops her nerdy boyfriend. When she’s an adult, she zips around the world and saves people from disaster. But make sure she looks like a librarian when she’s not flying around. Frumpy librarian, not sexy librarian. Give her a boyfriend. How about a boring architect? It’ll be more interesting if there’s a love triangle. Yes – and G-Girl gets insanely jealous, which can be one of her super powers. I want to see super sex. That can be another super power. What about the villain? Recycle the nerdy boyfriend. Don’t forget the shark.

Or perhaps I’m wrong. My Super Ex-Girlfriend has the beginnings of a good idea – if the idea was of a female superhero as a fully realized character and not a man’s nightmare stereotype. The movie gets lost in a cloud of male apprehension, however, and comes off almost as a cautionary tale, albeit shrouded in cheeky humor, about what happens when women are tasked with saving the world. During an uncomfortable three-way date, Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman), who has yet to transform into her alter-ego G-Girl, aggressively butters her baguette and ignores an incoming missile strike that only she can prevent, simply because she can’t stand being crowded out by her date’s friendly coworker.

When it comes down to it, G-Girl doesn’t seem to really care about good and evil. She uses her body as a bulletproof shield every now and again, but her super abilities are most handy when she needs to spy on her average Joe boyfriend Matt (Luke Wilson) or when they are engaged in raucous sex (Matt gets a unique induction into the Mile High Club). While men might project themselves onto Captain America or Batman, I don’t know any woman who sees herself as the possessive, hyper-jealous, and sexually aggressive G-Girl.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend is a bad imitation of superhero films, and it turns out that the spandex-clad, boot-stomping heroine isn’t even the main character. Matt’s attempts to deal with his crazy girlfriend, and soon ex-girlfriend, are the focus, but he’s not much of a personality. He spends most of the movie reacting helplessly to G-Girl’s shrieking, and Wilson gives him about as much substance as a slice of white bread. This makes it difficult for Anna Faris, who is sweet as Hannah, Matt’s other love interest, to pursue him in any meaningful way.

It’s up to comedy veterans Wanda Sykes and Eddie Izzard to rescue the movie. Both performances brim with scepticism though, as if they’re unsure where the film’s headed. Izzard, who has the larger role as Jenny’s erstwhile nerdy boyfriend Barry turned archenemy Professor Bedlam, at least plays up his character’s quirkiness in keeping with the movie’s tone, whereas Rainn Wilson as Matt’s best friend throws up a bag of crickets every time he tries to tell a joke.

Released: 2006
Prod: Arnon Milchan, Gavin Palone
Dir: Ivan Reitman
Writer: Don Payne
Cast: Luke Wilson, Uma Thurman, Anna Faris, Eddie Izzard, Rainn Wilson, Wanda Sykes, Mark Consuelos
Time: 95 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015