Emma. (B+). Did we really need another movie of the beloved Jane Austen novel? I guess the box office will tell. This is a fine and, I believe, faithful adaptation of the book, so being an ardent disciple of the divine Miss Austen I quite enjoyed it. Anya Taylor-Joy was an interesting choice for the title role; her large, wide-set eyes give her a somewhat exotic appearance that may have worked better in her other movies like The Witch and Split, but she does a good job on the whole. In this version, I think Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn, Clouds of Sils Maria) at least looks quite a bit younger than he was in the novel (and the familiar 1996 movie version starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam), and perhaps as a result this Emma–Knightley combination actually generates a little romantic heat. What else to say? The music stands out; there’s quite of bit of it, and a lot of it sounds like religious music of the period (or at least some long-past period). In this version, Emma’s older sister and her family come to Highbury for a visit and make a vivid impression; I don’t remember them from the book or prior movies. Anyway, if you like Jane Austen, or period pieces, or romantic comedies, I think you should like this movie.
P.S. Yes, the title of the movie really does have a period at the end, which I noticed on the opening title card. According to Wikipedia, “The title of the film has a period attached to signify it being a period piece.”
Christmas Wedding Planner (A). Well, my sister doesn’t have cable, so I couldn’t watch a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie before the holiday rolled around. Fortunately she does have Netflix and we were able to make do with this little treat—commercial free, too! It checked off most of the critical boxes:
A cute and quirky heroine to root for. In this case, her name is Kelsey, and she is trying to kick off a wedding-planning business by arranging her cousin Emily’s Christmas wedding to the lackluster Todd.
An unattractive, uncharming romantic interest for the heroine. This role is filled by Connor, who starts showing up at Emily’s pre-wedding events uninvited. He tells Kelsey that he’s a PI who’s been hired to look into this lackluster Todd guy for Emily’s protection.
Musical montage. Kelsey reluctantly agrees to help Connor, since he’s looking out for her beloved cousin Emily, and they indulge in said montage while doing a stakeout on the sinister yet lackluster Todd.
C-list celebrities in minor roles. Here, Kelly Rutherford (TV’s Melrose Place and Gossip Girl) and Joey Fatone (boy band NSYNC) fit the bill.
With all the ingredients in place, this 86-minute Christmas confection is ready to please. Kelsey and Connor experience the obligatory misunderstanding that briefly drives them apart, but everything hurtles to a satisfactory conclusion. Well, satisfactory for all except poor Emily, who winds up not a Christmas bride but a maid of honor at Kelsey and Connor’s Christmas nuptials instead. But even Emily really seems pretty okay with it, so we don’t have to feel guilty about shedding wedding tears of joy for the winsome Kelsey and the homely Connor. Happy holidays!
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.
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.
Trainwreck (B). Two friends of mine separately went to see this movie without really knowing what it was about, and they both emerged appalled, if not scarred for life. Apparently I have become desensitized to envelope-pushing vulgarity in word and deed on the big screen, because I wasn’t particularly scandalized by this new Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin) comedy. In fact, I kind of enjoyed it. It was written by its star, Amy Schumer (TV’s Inside Amy Schumer), and it fits the Apatow mold of being simultaneously pretty conservative and very vulgar. Schumer plays Amy, a hard-drinking and promiscuous writer for a sleazy men’s magazine. (Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive) is unrecognizable as her hard-as-nails boss.) She has absorbed her oafish father’s philosophy that “monogamy isn’t realistic,” and she belittles her little sister (Brie Larson, Short Term 12) for being happily married and happily a step-mother to a nerdy little boy. Then Amy meets a super nice guy, Aaron Conners (Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins), who is a sports surgeon for superstar pro athletes but also volunteers for Doctors Without Borders. She actually likes him, which rocks her world, and he actually likes her, which is kind of mystifying. All I can say is, if you have liked Apatow’s other movies (and I generally have), you’ll probably like this one.
The Music Man (B). Greetings, loyal readers, and my apologies for the long delay since my last post. Alas, this new review does not involve a new movie. Last week I saw the movie of The Music Man for the first time, and I thought it was very nice. Shirley Jones (Oklahoma!) is just beautiful as Marian the librarian. Robert Preston (How the West Was Won) was previously unknown to me, but I thought he turned in a fine performance. As you probably already know, the story is about a con man whose scam is to blow into a small town, puff up excitement for a new boys’ marching band, sell everyone uniforms and musical instruments, and then skip town without teaching any of the kids to play a note. The Simpsons once did an homage to The Music Man in which the great Phil Hartman voiced a con artist whose racket was to sell monorail systems to towns that didn’t need them. But I digress. I liked The Music Man a lot, but it could have been improved; 2 1/2 hours is way too long, and a few of the songs are so corny that they would not be missed. Still, I enjoyed it.
I Married a Witch (B). This is a 1942 comedy starring Fredric March (The Best Years of Our Lives) and Veronica Lake (Sullivan’s Travels). I had never heard of it before, but I saw that it was in “The Criterion Collection,” a fancy-shmancy series of DVDs “dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions of the highest technical quality.” Plus, it was on sale, and I was curious to see what Veronica Lake actually looked like. (You’ll recall that Kim Basinger played a supposed Veronica Lake look-alike in L.A. Confidential.) Anyhoo, I Married a Witch is an enjoyable, if offbeat, little movie. The opening scene establishes that back in Puritan times, a witch and her warlock father were burned for, well, witchcraft. The witch (Lake) puts a curse on the Puritan fellow who accused her such that he (March) and his descendants will always marry unhappily until the curse is lifted. Fast forward to 1942, and the father-and-daughter team are on the loose. The Puritan’s descendant Wallace Wooley (also March) is running for political office and about to marry an obvious shrew played by Susan Hayward (Garden of Evil). The witch decides to torment Wallace a little bit, and the movie goes on from there. It’s a quirky little movie; the DVD booklet says that director Rene Clair was one of the early innovators of the cinema. The TV show “Bewitched” seems to owe a little something to this film, and it also bears a certain resemblance to the much-worse movie Kitten With a Whip. Worth seeing if the opportunity presents itself.
Magic in the Moonlight (B). Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris) returns to a favorite preoccupation of his—the practical consequences of atheistic materialism. (See, e.g., Vicky Cristina Barcelona.) But he does it with a reasonably light touch, and this slab of hip nihilism is sprinkled with enough confectioner’s sugar to make it go down easy. The year is 1928, and Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth, The Railway Man) is our Woody Allen stand-in. He’s a traveling magician by trade, an evangelical ultra-rationalist by philosophy, and an avid debunker of spiritualists and mediums in his free time. A buddy of Stanley’s persuades him to visit the south of France, where a lovely young American seer named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone, Crazy, Stupid, Love) is beguiling her way into a wealthy family’s good graces. Will Sophie challenge Stanley to re-examine his rationalist prejudices? Will Stanley unmask Sophie as a fraud? And will skeezy old Woody, against all good taste, try to conjure some romantic sparks between the 53-year-old Firth and the 25-year-old Stone? The superficial stuff is entertaining enough, but I also enjoyed Stanley’s clear-eyed admissions that atheistic materialism is not the sort of philosophy that is going to make you very happy; if anything, it’s pretty depressing.
What If (B-). This is a fairly standard romantic comedy, elevated slightly in my estimation by the winsomeness of the female lead, Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks). Our male lead is a pallid, cynical fellow named Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe, from those interminable Harry Potter movies). Wally dropped out of med school after breaking up with his cheating girlfriend, and now he has a dead-end job and lives in his sister’s attic. But then he goes to a party and meets a quirky gal named Chantry (Kazan) (yes, her character’s name is “Chantry”). Before you can say “Zooey Deschanel,” the two hit it off and he walks her home—to the home, he unhappily discovers, that she shares with her boyfriend of five years, Ben (Rafe Spall, Prometheus). But the emotionally unavailable Chantry still wants to be friends with Wallace, and after a second encounter with Chantry the obviously smitten Wallace decides to live in the Friend Zone and see how things go. It’s decent, as rom-coms go, and I like that the filmmakers didn’t go the obvious route of making Ben some sort of hideous jerk. But on the other hand, the cutesy scenes comes off as contrived, and the supposed-to-be-clever dialogue is occasionally coarse and seldom clever. So, call it an average movie with an above-averagely appealing female star.
They Came Together (B-). This spoof of romantic-comedy clichés is occasionally amusing and certainly better than hack parodies like Scary Movie, but nevertheless I thought it eventually wore out its welcome—which is a bad sign for a movie that’s only 83 minutes long. Paul Rudd (Role Models) and Amy Poehler (Baby Mama) play Joel and Molly, who are out having dinner with another couple (cute Ellie Kemper from TV’s The Office and Bill Hader (Adventureland)). The other couple makes the mistake of asking Molly and Joel how they met, and the rest of the movie is an extended flashback of their entire relationship, which incorporates every rom-com cliché you can think of. I can’t deny I laughed out loud several times at the over-the-topness of it, but there was a little too much unfunny vulgarity for me to give it an unqualified recommendation. Still, if you are a fan of romantic comedies and don’t mind a hard R rating, you’ll probably get a kick out of this one.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (B-). The Magnolia Theater in Dallas continues to show classic movies on Tuesday nights, and I took advantage of the opportunity to see this 1953 release this past Tuesday. As I understand it, the movie was not based directly on the 1925 novel by Anita Loos (reviewed here), but on a stage musical version of the novel. Marilyn Monroe (All About Eve) plays Lorilei Lee, a blonde gold-digger from Little Rock, and Jane Russell (The Outlaw) plays her best friend Dorothy Shaw. The plot (Lee wants her rich dork of a boyfriend to marry her; his father doesn’t) is a fairly thin excuse for some passable musical numbers and a boatload of mild double-entendres. If you ever wondered where Madonna got the idea for her “Material Girl” video, look no further than Monroe’s show-stopping performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Not bad.
Mystic Pizza (B). I found this 1988 flick in a bargain bin at Big Lots! for $1.50. As fate would have it, I had just read a piece about it in Entertainment Weekly, so I decided to give it a try. It stars a young Julia Roberts (Charlie Wilson’s War) as a poor young woman named Daisy. Daisy is a waitress working at a pizza joint in Mystic, Connecticut, alongside her Yale-bound younger sister Kat (Annabeth Gish, Beautiful Girls) and their best pal Jojo (Lili Taylor, Ransom). The movie spans several months in their lives as they try to deal with man problems—Daisy has attracted the attention of a rich but potentially untrustworthy suitor, Jojo can’t decide whether to marry the fisherman she loves, and Kat falls for a married man after she starts a part-time job babysitting his daughter. It’s a pretty cheesy movie, but it apparently attracted a strong cult following, and I can see why. The characters are appealing, and their trials and tribulations are fairly realistically drawn. Director Donald Petrie would go on to direct Grumpy Old Men and Miss Congeniality. Look fast and you may spot a young Matt Damon (We Bought a Zoo) as the brother of Daisy’s rich suitor.
Enough Said (B-). I was lured into this movie by the favorable reviews (a score of 79 on Metacritic, 95% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes), and it was decent enough. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (TV’s Seinfeld) stars as Eva, a divorced masseuse of a certain age who is fretting over her daughter Ellen’s imminent departure for college. I was not a big Seinfeld fan, but I get the impression that Louis-Dreyfus specializes in playing characters who make bad and self-sabotaging choices. That’s certainly the case here. Eva starts dating a nice-enough fellow named Albert (James Gandolfini, Zero Dark Thirty), and she simultaneously picks up a new client named Marianne (Catherine Keener, The 40-Year-Old Virgin). She quickly figures out that Albert and Marianne used to be married, but [bad decision #1] she decides not to tell either Albert or Marianne about this connection so she can get information about Albert from Marianne. Meanwhile [bad decision #2], she latches onto her daughter’s needy best friend Chloe (Tavi Gevinson, a dead ringer for a young Michelle Williams) as a surrogate daughter before her real daughter is even out the door. Given the set-up, the outcome is a little over-determined. Billed as a comedy, Enough Said really doesn’t generate many laughs. But as a character study, it is not bad.
Drinking Buddies (B). The Dallas Morning News gave this independent dramedy a good review, but I almost let it slip through my fingers—I had to skip out of work a little early a few days ago to catch it before it disappeared from the theaters. I found it a worthy effort. It’s basically about a couple of co-workers who dance interminably around the edge of romance. Kate (Olivia Wilde, Cowboys & Aliens) and Luke (Jake Johnson, Safety Not Guaranteed) work together at a small brewery, and they have an easy camaraderie about them. But they are both in serious relationships, she with Chris (Ron Livingston, Office Space), and he with Jill (Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect). Then the two couples go off to a cabin for a weekend getaway together, and you start to wonder if things might—or should—get rearranged a bit. Olivia Wilde gets to play a real person for a change, and she’s pretty good. The dialogue seems pretty realistic, and the characters (except for Chris, who’s kind of a dud) are pretty likable. Check it out on Netflix or Pay Per View or wherever technologically savvy people get their movies these days.
Xanadu. Your time is almost up if you want to catch this show at Addison’s Watertower Theatre. I believe the last performance is tomorrow afternoon. Anyway, I saw it last night and thought it was a lot of fun. Apparently it is based on a fairly ridiculous Olivia Newton-John movie that I have never seen. The stage version plays it strictly for laughs. The Greek muses descend on Venice Beach, California in 1980, and head muse Clio decides to lavish inspiration on a brain-dead mural artist named Sonny Malone. Meanwhile, two of Clio’s sister muses become envious of Clio’s status as favored daughter of Zeus and plot to make her fall in love with Sonny–a big no-no under Zeus’s decree. It’s pretty silly–Clio spends much of the show in roller skates and leg warmers–but quite entertaining. The songs are enjoyable and include at least a couple of ELO’s hits, “Evil Woman” and “Strange Magic.” Check it out–if tickets are still available!
Hate Mail, a play by Bill Corbett and Kira Obolensky. (Playing August 2 – 17 at Dallas’s Bath House Cultural Center.) I like going to musicals, but I almost never go to regular old plays. But the Dallas Morning News gave this one a favorable write-up, and the price was not too high, so I gave it a try. It’s a two-person romantic comedy in which we never see the two characters converse–the entire story is conveyed through their reading their written communications aloud to the audience. (It’s a little anachronistic in that most of their communications are actual letters, and I don’t think any of them were text messages.) The guy is a stuffy rich jerk from the Midwest, and the gal is a pretentious would-be artist in NYC, and at first their correspondence is all about his demanding a refund for a broken snow globe he bought from a cheap tourist trap, but things turn zany pretty fast. It’s a little vulgar in places, and pretentious artist-types make a pretty easy target, but I still thought it was pretty funny. I was probably predisposed to like it because co-author Bill Corbett is a veteran of my beloved Mystery Science Theater 3000, but I think I would have liked it regardless. If you’re in Dallas, check it out and support the local art scene.