La La Land (B+). To me, musicals are like Westerns—it’s such a novelty when a new one gets made, you just have to go see it. But when I set out to see this new musical from the director of Whiplash, I had no idea it was getting so much love from the critics. Apparently it has lots of Oscar buzz, especially for star Emma Stone (Magic in the Moonlight). It’s not perfect, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. It hearkens back to the glory days of the movie musical, with a few big, show-stopping song-and-dance numbers, and with the simplest of plots. Aspiring actress Mia (Stone) and jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling, Crazy, Stupid, Love) meet in Los Angeles, sing some songs, fall in love, sing some more songs, and hit complications in their relationship and their careers. Stone and Gosling aren’t natural-born singers, but they have charisma and chemistry to burn, and they really make the show work. If Rogue One is sold out, why not give La La Land a try?
Maggie’s Plan (B). I rather liked this little independent comedy, even though it chronicles the ongoing destruction (deconstruction? displacement?) of traditional marriage as the customary and assumed center of family life. Indie queen Greta Gerwig (Damsels in Distress) stars as Maggie, an unattached thirtysomething New Yorker who is on the verge of attempting to become a mother via sperm donation (but not from an anonymous donor; she picks a smart guy she knew in college who’s on the verge of great success as a pickle entrepreneur).
ARGUABLE SPOILERS FOLLOW.
But this whole plan gets derailed when she meets and falls in love with John (Ethan Hawke, Before Sunset), an anthropologist and would-be novelist. The feeling is mutual, but John’s married to Georgette (Julianne Moore, in full-out Teutonic The Big Lebowski mode) and has two kids. But then, lickety-split, John and Georgette are divorced, John and Maggie are married and have a little girl—and Maggie starts falling out of love with John and hatches a plan to get Georgette and John back together. As Maggie’s pal Tony (Bill Hader, Trainwreck) asks, why can’t she just leave John like a normal person? I guess it’s because Maggie is played by Greta Gerwig, and that’s not how a Greta Gerwig character rolls. Anyway, Greta Gerwig brings her usual charm to the proceedings, and I pretty much enjoyed it.
Perfect Match (A+). Remember adorable girl-next-door Winnie Cooper in TV’s The Wonder Years? Well, actress Danica McKellar is all grown up, and she gives a “Hallmark” performance in this twisty little made-for-TV romance. McKellar plays Jessica, a divorced and rather tightly wound wedding planner. In an early scene, Jessica is arranging a wedding at a hotel ballroom when a suave jerk named Adam (Paul Greene, Somewhere) comes along and tries to steal the venue away from her! Jessica quickly puts him in his place, and you think, “I sure am glad that creep is gone. Now, where’s Jessica’s love interest?” But the movie has a few tricks up its sleeves. A scene or two later, Jessica is meeting with some young clients about their wedding plans, and who should show up but Adam! He’s like the groom’s cousin or something, and his Aunt Gabby (Linda Gray, TV’s Dallas) wants Jessica and Adam (who is an event planner) to team up on planning her son’s wedding. Of course, such a pairing would be a disaster in real life, and there is a little friction to be sure, but would you believe it—eventually Jessica and Adam hit it off and make a pretty good team! And is there romance in the air? Surely not! Jessica is all neurotic and schedules everything down to the minute, while Adam is Mr. Spontaneous. But Aunt Gabby ignores their obvious incompatibility, and she nudges them into what is sure to be a painful and doomed relationship. Thankfully, the filmmakers spare us the grim details of Jessica and Adam’s eventual break-up, and we can just enjoy the irony of the movie’s apparent “happy ending.” It’s a masterpiece.
How to Be Single (F). Time is running out!!! I don’t mean time is running out to see this movie; unfortunately it’ll be in the theaters a few more weeks before shuffling off, unloved and unmissed, into the movie half-life of DVDs and streaming. I mean that time is running out for cute Alison Brie (The Five-Year Engagement) to get her movie career going! Her recent vehicle Sleeping with Other People was horrendous, and her small fourth-wheel role in this stinker will do her no favors either.
Anyhoo, this is a terrible movie about “relationships.” It reminded me a little of He’s Just Not That Into You, another terrible movie about relationships, only this one was terrible right from the get-go. Alice (Dakota Johnson, The Five-Year Engagement) is a bland college grad who “takes a break” from her boyfriend and finds herself floundering around, socially speaking, in NYC. Her older sister Meg (Leslie Mann, The Other Woman) is an obstetrician who has apparently never looked closely at a baby before because as soon as she does, she wants one. Alice’s friend Robin is played by Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect) acting like Rebel Wilson always does. And Alison Brie’s character, Lucy, doesn’t seem to know any of the other three and thus seems to be in a separate (very short) movie all her own. The characters are generally crass and always unbelievable, and toward the end (which is way too far away from the beginning) annoying pseudo-profundities about “being single” start dropping like anvils. If you want an R-rated romantic comedy, skip this movie and look up Drinking Buddies or rewatch Bridesmaids instead.
Laggies (C). It seemed like this 2014 release was barely in the theaters at all, even though it stars the winsome Chloë Grace Moretz (Dark Shadows) and the toothsome Keira Knightley (Atonement). It isn’t terrible, but it isn’t very good either. Knightley stars as Megan, a 28-year-0ld Seattle woman who has failed to launch. She’s been dating her high-school boyfriend for 10 years, and despite having some sort of graduate degree she “works” by twirling an advertising sign in front of her dad’s accounting firm. She chances to meet some cool high-schoolers, and she winds up running away from her real life and staying with Annika (Moretz) and her divorced dad (Sam Rockwell, Moon) for a week. Not sure I’d let some stranger move into my house for a week on my kid’s say-so, but okay. Ellie Kemper (They Came Together) has a thankless supporting role as a humorless member of Megan’s old high-school posse. Gretchen Mol (The Notorious Bettie Page) pops up in a tiny role. It’s not a very believable movie, and Megan isn’t a particular believable (or likable) character. Still, I liked this better than Your Sister’s Sister, also by director Lynn Shelton.
She Loves Me, by the Greater Lewisville Community Theatre. I saw this musical three years ago over in Fort Worth and liked it quite well. (Click here for that review.) If you like old-fashioned romantic musical comedy, this is one you should see if you get the chance. The main plot is that two lonely people have fallen in love by writing to each other through a lonely-hearts club, but unbeknownst to them they have also started working together at the same perfume shop—and they can’t stand each other in real life. (The movie You’ve Got Mail is loosely based on the same premise.) Anyhoo, this production’s run ends tomorrow, so my main point is to say a few words about GLCT, which I had never experienced before. In a nutshell, I liked it fine and wouldn’t hesitate to go back. The facility is old and a little time-worn, and the sound system was a little spotty at times. But the theater itself was fine (and cozy, seating maybe 100-120 people I would guess). The performances were mostly good, and a couple of the guys could really sing. And at $22 for a full-price ticket, it won’t break the bank. I’ll be back next time they do a show that catches my eye.
Sleeping With Other People (F). Is there an actor or actress out there that you just instinctively like and root for and want to be in good movies? I have a few. Nicole Kidman, of course. Chris Pratt (not that he needs my help, with the roll that he’s on lately). Paul Rudd. And the female lead of this absolutely terrible movie, Alison Brie. I’ve liked her ever since I first saw her six or seven years ago on the sitcom Community. Maybe you know her as Trudy Campbell on Mad Men. She’s pretty, and she can be funny. But there’s nothing funny about this this misbegotten attempt at romantic comedy. It is relentlessly trashy and vulgar, but not in a genial Judd Apatow kind of way. Plus Brie is unlucky enough to be paired with Jason Sudeikis (We’re the Millers). Maybe Sudeikis is a lovely person in real life, but I found him insufferable both in this movie and in We’re the Millers—he excels at playing the smug, smarmy, superior, hyperarticulate jerk. (Adam Scott (Friends With Kids) is another actor I can’t watch without disliking, for much the same reason. And he happens to be in this movie too.) Anyway, Brie’s character is messed up and pathetic, and Sudeikis’s is, of course, an unlikeable jerk. And, as previously suggested, the movie is crass and icky throughout. Please do not waste your money or your time on this movie. But do give Community a try if you haven’t yet discovered its quirky charms. It’s now available on the internets, or so I am told.