Metropolitan (A-). Well, your reviewer was feeling a bit under the weather, so I wanted something light and cheery. I had fond memories of this 1990 indie flick but hadn’t seen it in years, so I pulled down my unwatched Criterion Collection DVD and gave it a spin. Suffice to say, it was as good as I remembered it being. It is about eight young people—four girls and four guys, early college-age, as best I can tell—who gather almost every night in Manhattan over one Christmas break to go to various debutante parties or balls or whatever they are. We don’t see too much of the parties themselves—the focus is on the after-parties, where the youngsters earnestly discuss all sorts of things you might not expect, like Jane Austen, the existence of God, and the relative merits of the bourgeoisie. Hm, I’m not really selling the movie very well. There are plenty of romantic complications too as sweet and inexperienced Audrey gets a crush on group newcomer and professed socialist Tom, who is still hung up on his ex-girlfriend Serena, who was last known to be dating the repellent Rick Von Sloneker. And the dialogue really is very funny, at least if you think it’s funny to hear lines like “Ours is probably the worst generation since the Protestant Reformation” delivered by very young people with drop-dead seriousness.
Writer-director-producer Whit Stillman went on to make two other excellent films in the 1990s, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco, (starring Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale). Enough people took notice of his work to result in the 2002 publication of a book called Doomed Bourgeois in Love: Essays on the Films of Whit Stillman. Stillman then went quiet for a long time. Then in 2011 he released Damsels in Distress, which I thought was good but not as good as his prior work, and then in 2016 he released the better Love & Friendship. IMDB.com doesn’t show that he has anything new in the works, but I’m holding out hope. If you are new to his work I recommend you start at the beginning and give Metropolitan a try!
The 39 Steps (B). Well, I intended to see a movie at the theater today, but I got some bad information from the internet and wound up seeing nothing. So I decided to get some use out of my DVD collection and pulled down The Criterion Collection edition of this 1935 Hitchcock thriller. Robert Donat (Goodbye Mr. Chips) stars as Hannay, an ordinary Londoner caught up in a web of intrigue when he takes a beautiful woman back to his flat one evening and she turns out to be a spy—and gets herself murdered that very night! Suddenly, Hanney is on the run—wanted by the police on suspicion of murder and by sinister spies who are trying to steal British military secrets. On a train to Scotland he has a meet-cute with Pamela (Madeleine Carroll, Secret Agent), and they later team up to try to foil the foreign plot. The film is not terribly suspenseful but has some pleasant romantic-comedy aspects to it. And at 86 minutes, it’s quite efficient. I didn’t watch all the extras that Criterion packed onto the disc, but a short feature about Hitchcock’s film career in England before moving to Hollywood was interesting, and a critic’s discussion of The 39 Steps itself was also interesting and entertaining.
The Big Sick (B). This is a pleasant and affable little romantic comedy with a couple of twists. First, it’s apparently based on the star’s real life romancing of his wife. And second, the main plot point is that the female lead (Zoe Kazan, What If) gets a mysterious illness that puts her into a coma halfway through the movie. After that, it’s mostly about the fellow, Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani, Life as We Know It) having to deal with the girl’s parents (well-played by Ray Romano, TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond, and Holly Hunter, Thirteen) while their daughter is in potentially mortal danger. Also, he’s juggling his would-be career as a stand-up comedian and his overbearing Pakistani parents’ attempts to push him into an arranged marriage. Not everything totally worked for me, but there were enough chuckles, and the leads were likable enough, that I enjoyed it.
Everybody Loves Somebody (D). Maybe so, but everybody definitely does not love this movie. It reminded me a little bit of Trainwreck, oddly enough, although our heroine is not quite as bad a trainwreck as Amy Schumer was. Karla Souza (From Prada to Nada) stars as Clara, a Los Angeles obstetrician who likes going to bars and picking up one-night stands. Obviously, she has some grievous hurt in her past, and we find out soon enough that she hasn’t gotten over bad-boy Daniel (José María Yazpik, Beverly Hills Chihuahua), who left her broken-hearted eight years earlier. Of course Daniel pops up just as a nice, bland Aussie doctor (Ben O’Toole, Hacksaw Ridge) is starting to show some interest in Clara. As an added gimmick, the movie is bilingual–Clara and her sister think nothing of jaunting off to Baja on a moment’s notice to visit their parents’ stunning seaside villa. The movie didn’t work for me; Clara was too annoying for me to get invested in her problems, and neither of the two guys was particularly compelling. If there were any really funny moments, I don’t remember them. I say give this one a pass.
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.