Anna Kendrick

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)

I’m not categorically against movies about idiot coeds – my love for Neighbors 1 and 2 is deep and abiding – but Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is aggressively stupid, an undisciplined free association of noise and puerility. The fact that it’s loosely based on a true story somehow makes everything worse since there are any number of people who deserve a film who aren’t boneheaded white dudes. Some won’t mind spending an hour and a half with such characters, but let’s at least have standards when it comes to storytelling.

The biggest problem is not the masseuse orgasm incident or the heart-to-heart between the titular bozos but the fact that the movie can’t bring these scenes together into one cohesive story. It’s varyingly raunchy and sincere, and you never know if you’re going to get Anna Kendrick doing a porn play-by-play or confronting feelings about being left at the altar. There’s potential for the characters to mature in a way that’s funny and touching, but their evolution needs to be grounded in something real. It’s surprising that a movie with a plot as simple as the title suggests has so much difficulty finding a sense of continuity.

Alcohol salesmen by day, party bros by, well, all day, Mike (Adam DeVine) and Dave Stangle (Zac Efron) need dates for sister Jeanie’s (Sugar Lyn Beard) wedding in Hawai’i, per dad’s orders. The two have a talent for destroying every family gathering, and dad Burt (Stephen Root) reasons that a sensible partner will limit the damage. It sounds like a recipe for more trouble, but maybe that’s me. The brothers post a Craigslist ad that leads to an appearance on Wendy Williams’s show that leads to Mike and Dave’s other, not necessarily better, halves.

It’s hard to best the Stangles’ juvenile behavior, but Alice (Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) are pros, two women with a drug and alcohol problem and absolutely no direction in their lives. While Alice tries to recover from her breakup, Tatiana tries to get her friend a free trip to Hawai’i. They take on the guise of “good girls,” that is a teacher and a hedge fund manager, and convince Mike and Dave that they are just the sensible dates the brothers need.

That’s about all that goes according to plan because everything thereafter is an excuse for chaos. Alice and Tatiana’s attempts to impress the guys and Mike and Dave’s attempts to impress their parents all go wrong and imperil the wedding. There’s some humor in what transpires, though the women’s sweetheart identities gets dropped halfway through, perhaps by bored writers. Nevertheless, things get so wacky at times (cue a very oily Kumail Nanjiani) that you can’t help but laugh. My favorite moments bookend the film, one featuring an exasperated Marc Maron and the other an exasperated fiancé, Eric (Sam Richardson). Richardson, who spends most of the film mute and in the background, could have easily added some quirk, but at least he’s paired with Beard who provides that in handfuls.

Still, you’ll get whiplash as the film goes from bawdy to more modest fare, and once again, Zac Efron finds himself pulled in two different directions. His character hides a lot underneath the frat boy veneer, more so than his brother. The only time I truly connected with Mike was when I learned he liked Ninja Turtle Raphael over Donatello. Taste. However, when Dave is not with his brother, there’s something sweet about his optimism, a life with purpose perhaps. Efron and Kendrick navigate the varying tones of the movie better than their costars and almost steer it into romcom territory, but Efron has a little more to work with. Dave could be an artist if he were a little more ambitious, which is how I feel about Efron’s career.

Released: 2016
Prod: Peter Chernin, Jonathan Levine, David Ready, Jenno Topping
Dir: Jake Szymanski
Writer: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien
Cast: Zac Efron, Adam Devine, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Stephen Root, Stephanie Faracy, Sugar Lyn Beard, Sam Richardson, Alice Wetterlund, Mary Holland
Time: 98 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2019

Trolls Holiday (2017)

I’m not embarrassed by my sixth grade Trolls collection, but I also wasn’t nostalgic for the fad’s return in movie form a couple years ago. So it caught me off guard when those ugly, naked, neon-haired dolls sang and danced their way into my heart. Now they’re back for a bite-size holiday special, though holiday is a loose term.

Basically the trolls will celebrate anything – socks, party foam, getting slapped in the face – and they want to spread the holiday cheer. Queen Poppy (Anna Kendrick) is especially eager to show her neighbors in Bergen Town how to live it up. You see, ever since the Bergens gave up Trollstice, their troll-eating festival, they haven’t had much to look forward to. Sure, they’re no longer blood thirsty murderers, but what’s to fill that void?

In parachutes Poppy and her gang with some ideas. No one is near as excited as she is about, well, anything in life, but the Trolls are a happy species (?) and they agree that they could teach the Bergens a thing or two about joy and sparkle, lots of sparkle. They mount a literal in-your-face song and dance for now Queen Bridget (Zooey Deschanel) and King Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), hoping the royal couple will adopt one of the Trolls’ many holidays as their own.

It turns out that the Bergens aren’t really into all that though. Mosh-a-shan-a, in which everyone jumps around, is not their thing. Neither is Tickle Day, a chance to get tickle-attacked by furry green spiders. Balloon Squeal Day gets a definite thumbs down. There’s a lot more there, about a kajillion by Poppy’s count, and kids and adults with a kid’s enthusiasm will appreciate the bonkers creativity on display. It gets to be a bit of an overwhelming pile-on though, which is exactly the point.

It becomes too much for Bridget and she kicks out her best friend, but in the nicest way possible because she’s super sweet. Poppy, smarting from the rejection and not quite seeing why her good intentions aren’t universally loved and accepted, goes into another funk. Once again, it’s up to her perceptive pal, Branch (Justin Timberlake), to sing her back to her good senses, and when he does, oh, the celebration!

There is so much fun and heart in this tiny special, and I love every second of it. I mean, a caterpillar bus driven by a cloud man that spits out rainbow exhaust? Yes. A neon paneled outdoor skating rink? Check. Glitter everywhere? Definitely. (Though maybe the environmentally friendly kind.) Sure, it helps that the Trolls world also matches my color aesthetic, but you have to have a cold Trollstice-era Bergen heart if you don’t want to jump up and sing and dance with these guys. Kendrick and Timberlake lead the way again, and the pair are perfectly zany; she’s hyperactive and he’s still a little neurotic, because Branch is getting used to this happiness thing and hasn’t mastered the smile. Deschanel is also the dearest, purest ex-scullery maid ever.

My only issue is abbreviated song list. There are three main numbers that will get you moving, the finale “Holiday” in particular, but I’m greedy and I want more. Timberlake launches into an appealing friend-themed medley that could have lasted for a few more hours if I had my way. Even without a full soundtrack though, since this is only a twenty-odd minute special, the holiday feelings are all there. You wouldn’t even classify this as a Christmas movie; aside from a snowy Bergen Town and some ugly Christmas sweaters, you can play this any time of the year and still get the fuzzies. Ultimately, it’s about friendship, about listening to one another and loving the love we share, and this should be celebrated all the damn time.

Soundtrack sampler platter:

“Love Train” by all the Trolls:

Songs about friends by Justin Timberlake, sadly not my friend:

“Holiday” by Trolls and Bergens:

Released: 2017
Dir: Joel Crawford
Writer: Josh Bycel, Jonathan Fener
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, James Corden, Ron Funches, Kunal Nayyar, Icona Pop, Walt Dohrn, Kevin Michael Richardson
Time: 25 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: NBC
Reviewed: 2017

Twilight

twilight

When Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) stands in the light of a dewy sunbeam to reveal his sparkling vampire skin, a familiar Rihanna refrain mentally kicked into play. “Shine bright like a diamond….Shine bright like a diamond….You’re a shooting star I see, a vision of ecstasy….Feel the warmth, we’ll never die.” That’s a nice emo tune for a vampire, I think, certainly a way of de-escalating things considering that Edward had just admitted to his human object of affection, Bella (Kristen Stewart), that he was an immortal, blood-sucking being.

But the conversation doesn’t go the pop chart route. Instead it gets weirdly dark and intense, violating so many rules of what a healthy, romantic relationship should be. Leaving aside for a moment that Edward has just dragged Bella into the remote forest interior in order to better bare his soul, and chest, to her, he repeatedly tells the woman he loves that he’s a killer, a creature designed to murder people. If that’s not enough to get your crush’s heart racing, he then waxes poetic and compares her to his “own personal brand of heroin,” because really, what girl doesn’t think of herself as an illegal substance that can lead to multiple organ failure?

At this point in the movie, I’d had enough of Edward’s abusive behavior and was angry that Bella was being set up as a collaborator. For every one of his condescensions or outright threats, she responds with more emphatic trust in his basic goodness, or sexiness – it’s never made clear. After Edward uses his superhuman speed and strength and saves her from an out-of-control car, she begins to suspect something otherworldly about her pale, moody lab partner. He coolly responds that no one’s going to believe her and suggests that the silly little girl just hit her head. When she won’t give up her suspicions, he basically tells her to fuck off if she values her life. Edward’s not always so abrasive though, swooping in to save Bella from some thugs while she’s wandering alone at night down a dark alley. It would have been chivalric had she not been in another town a hundred miles away. In this case, it’s just stalking.

But I couldn’t turn away, and not because I was captivated by Pattinson’s beauty (Long live Cedric Diggory!). It was because I’d naively promised a friend to watch the whole film and because there was actually a plot to this that didn’t involve the tortured lovers spouting fan fiction dialogue to one another. Bella is a newcomer to Forks, Washington and attempts to re-establish a relationship with her father (Billy Burke). She quickly makes a few friends, including a chatty Anna Kendrick, one of the few spots of sunshine in the whole film.

They aren’t nearly as interesting as the lab partner though. For all Edward’s talk about being a killer, he belongs to a “vegetarian” vampire family, led by the town doctor (Peter Facinelli), that feasts on animal blood. This annoys a group – or coven – of itinerant vampires, who also dislike Edward and Bella’s inter-species affair. (Cue Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.”) There’s a showdown and lots of pearly white fangs, but there is also a rush of energy once the vampire battle gets going. Watching people, or vampires, clawing and gnashing at one another is infinitely preferable to watching two people fail at building a healthy relationship.

When the film isn’t setting a bad example for its young audience, however, it takes beautiful advantage of its Pacific Northwest landscape. The movie is saturated in dusky blues and greens and makes living in a place with ancient, towering trees and no sun seem almost dreamy in a supernatural way. At the same time, it weighs down the angsty teen relationship, which may be how high schoolers like it. But for those of us in our mid-thirties and not drawn to vampire films, there are too many overdramatic flourishes that end up being tedious rather than mysterious. There are only so many times we need to see the lovers stare into each other’s soul or try to undress each other with their eyes, whatever they are doing. I’d prefer more Bella and Jacob (Taylor Lautner), her shy admirer who, because he is still human and not yet a werewolf capable of tearing her to pieces, doesn’t get much screentime. Thankfully, there are four more films in this series.

Released: 2008
Prod: Wyck Godfrey, Greg Mooradian, Mark Morgan
Dir: Catherine Hardwicke
Writer: Melissa Rosenberg
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Ashley Greene, Kellan Lutz, Nikki Reed, Jackson Rathbone, Billy Burke, Cam Gigandet, Rachelle Lefèvre, Edi Gathegi, Taylor Lautner, Gil Birmingham, Anna Kendrick, Christian Serratos, Michael Welch, Gregory Tyree Boyce, Justin Chon
Time: 121 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2015