Tag Archives: romantic comedy

Much Ado about Nothing (2012)

MV5BMTgxNjQ0MjAwMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjI1NDEyOQ@@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Legend has it that when Joss Whedon was filming The Avengers, he was forced by union rules into a two week break. During that break, he decided to adapt, direct, and score a Shakespearean comedy, because that’s just the kind of guy he is. (Okay, technically, probably only the principle photography happened during the fortnight and the rest came before and/or after, depending on what would make sense. But I have no way of knowing it didn’t all happen during his vacation, so!) It being the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death, the Alamo Drafthouse has been showing lots of adaptations lately, and Monday night, off we went to sup on the fruit of this legend.

Despite my utter lack of qualification to review Shakespeare, I’m kind of forced to by circumstance. The acting is as good as you’d expect[1], and the direction was modern and noirish, both of which displayed some… well, I can’t tell if flaw is right, but it probably is, and that’s my English Lit degree focussed on mid-millennium British masters bias showing. So, let’s say, displayed some flaws in Bill’s work and then see if I prove my case.

Much Ado about Nothing has two plots. In the first and far superior one, two acid-tongued frenemies reunite after the fellow of the pair returns from campaigns abroad, and their friends trick them into either falling in love or admitting their real feelings for each other[2]. As far as I’m concerned, this story has no problems and is basically 100% hilarious. In the second story (which contrary to my ordering appears to be the main plot of the thing and the source of the title), the prince sets up his best friend with their host’s daughter after the friend has fallen in love at first sight, but the prince’s bastard[3] brother arbitrarily decides to interfere in the pre-wedding proceedings.

That story… well, first it does the “we love each other after five minutes because we’re both so very pretty” thing that Shakespeare parodied in Romeo and Juliet, only this time he plays it straight, which while not a story-breaker is certainly an odd choice. But then when John the Bastard enacts his evil plan to make it look like the host’s daughter bangs random people on the verandah every night, the prince’s friend doesn’t just break up with her, he publicly humiliates her at the altar. Which, you know, some people are assholes, and that’s fine. But her father joins in on the humiliation, and that’s less fine, although I’m forced to acknowledge that virginity in the 1500s was more important than family, however insane that sounds.

But least fine of all is that she wants him back and everyone sets about proving her innocence to win him back. I mean, the innocence, sure, but she wants him back??? That’s too skeevy, even for the 1500s.

But okay, that’s Shakespeare and the 1500s, and what can you do? It’s central to the plot, and however delightful Benedick and Beatrice are, whether in banter or askew courtship, there’s not enough there to fill both reels. The biggest failure was Joss’s alone. At the big wedding scene in the finale, the prince’s friend (now penitent and set to marry the host’s other female ward by way of apology for embarrassing the first daughter unto death[4]) says that he’ll marry whoever he’s been asked to marry, even “were she an Ethiope”, while the camera lingers on a black lady standing nearby, who we had never seen before and, the movie ending some five minutes later, were certainly never to see again. And it’s like, I get what he was going for, “look how uncomfortable this line that Shakespeare wrote is, you guys!” But it just didn’t work. I can’t really explain why, scenes that were far worse have worked far better for me[5], but after my gasp of shocked laughter acknowledging what Whedon had pointed out, I couldn’t really agree that it was worth the scene existing.

But these are, if not nitpicks, certainly neither of them enough to detract from how wonderfully presented the so-called backup plotline was. Lovely film, would watch again.

[1] I mean, yes because they’re all Whedon alums, but also because it’s Shakespeare. I assume it’s that people won’t submit slipshod quality if it’s the bard rather than that his writing is so good, people are forced to be better actors.
[2] Reader’s / viewer’s choice, really. Take your pick.
[3] Bastards are evil by virtue of their ungodly births. It is known.
[4] Because, 1500s. JFAM, the past, what is wrong with you?
[5] Tropic Thunder springs frequently to mind. “What do you mean, ‘you people’?” “…what do you mean, ‘you people’?!”

Ted (2012)

I have a theory, which is that Ted is probably not the movie you think it is. The previews play it up as a black comedy where an evil bear corrupts the youth and continues to ruin his life years later while doing darkly hilarious things to everyone else around. Instead, it’s a bog-standard romantic comedy where the buddy is the sticking point between the boy and the girl. Except, that’s not fair either, because it’s so much funnier than that. Also, I think it had maybe a little more heart than that.

Which is really all I can say, because funny is different to different people. All I know is, I and the two other people I saw it with quoted lines to each other all through dinner, cracking up all over again the second time around. Oh, and the CGI bear is pretty great, if you’re into that kind of thing. (I mean, not into it. Jesus, keep that to yourself!)

Wanderlust (2012)

Wanderlust is really a pretty standard by the numbers married romantic comedy. (New relationship romantic comedies have different numbers.) Couple run into difficult situation, get frustrated with each other, end up in unrelated extreme fish out of water situation, determine how to integrate that into their relationship, inevitably growing closer in the long run but probably further apart first. Hmmm. Upon reflection, steps one and three can happen independently of each other, but one of them as well as steps two and four are mandatory.

So, why do you care about this particular one? Well, you may like Paul Rudd and/or Jennifer Aniston. Or, like me, you may have some small experience with the hippie commune that was the fish-out-of-water aspect of this particular romantic comedy. I’ve never lived in a permanent hippie commune, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve spent enough time in the temporary ones to immediately recognize that whoever wrote this movie understands the concept pretty darned well. So, I found it to be incredibly true and therefore incredibly funny.

Also, there are naked people. (In a hippie commune?? GASP.)

Friends with Benefits

I’ve been trying to figure out what makes Friends with Benefits such a good movie, in spite of looking on paper like every other date-friendly romantic comedy on the block. It’s not that they subvert Hollywood clichés, despite an effort in that direction early in the film whose sole benefit was Jason Segel hilarity. It’s not that the lead actors (Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis) have any especial talent or affability above and beyond the common crowd, either, although both they and the supporting cast are all quite good, and nobody is wasted or overused. It’s… you know what I think it is? It’s consciously adult, in concept, theme, and humor. Mainly the humor, as there are plenty of romance-themed dramas that cover the other issues well enough, but most romantic comedies don’t really try to do anything bigger than a middle-of-the-pack sitcom would do, I suppose because they know they don’t have to. This movie, though, tried to be a real, full-on comedy every bit as hard as it tried to be a romance. I don’t think I knew that hardly ever happens until I saw someone try. Good for them!

Killers (2010)

Dollar theaters, as I have surely said before, are awesome because they give you a chance to fill in gaps in your summer movie experience that would otherwise be relegated to Netflix or cable channels, both of which I am largely terrible at. Also, I suppose, if you are poor (or temporarily jobless for four months), they would then be awesome for different reasons. Of course, another factor is that these gaps occurred because you try to see the best stuff first, and the ones that slip through the cracks, you probably feel better only having paid a buck or two to see. Which is not to imply that Killers is a bad movie! It had several pretty funny moments, and the action was decent without resorting to any kind of fireballs-per-minute equation that some producers do when they ran out of budget for a script doctor[1]. It’s just the kind of movie that benefits from lowered expectations and, yeah, a smaller hit on the wallet.

Another upside to it, though, it that the premise was very, very simple. It’s exactly the same kind of family drama you saw all over the place back in the early ’80s, when Hollywood was beginning to admit that sometimes marriages end and people get angry with each other and have to deal with a big mess and see if they can put their lives back together[2]. Which is not to say that Ashton Kutcher is going to fail to have the manly wherewithal to convince Katherine Heigl that their relationship is worth saving, or for that matter to say the opposite; my point is, the topic of the movie is the impending dissolution of a marriage. But then they cleverly did the thing where they increase their audience share by putting that movie in a blender with a completely different movie; in this case, it’s about spies. To hilarious result? Y’know, maybe; like I said, it was pretty funny. But there’s something funnier to me about the pitch meeting where some guy was telling Ashton Kutcher’s manager, “No, no, it’ll be great, it’s a relationship drama, but with guns!”

[1] I know this makes no sense; I can only speculate that something about the oxygen/pollution ratios in Los Angeles make explosions cost far less to accomplish there than anywhere else, or else that nobody told them most writers don’t make anything approaching a living wage from their craft. Or both?
[2] But before the late ’90s when this genre lamentably metamorphosed into the celebration of relationships ending so that the girl could clear the way for the fairytale guy that was obviously right around the corner. (I suspect I’ve made this complaint this before, though.)

Date Night

Despite the near-universal panning of Date Night, I pretty much had to go see it, because of my very great love for Tina Fey. And the thing is, it’s honestly not all that bad. But it is barely north of mediocre, which fails in every way to match the talent involved. (I include Marky Mark in this assessment, as undoubtedly do you.) I expect its flaws were highlighted by the conditions in which I saw it, those being a completely empty theater yesterday afternoon. Inherent irony of that venue aside, I really think it needed the crutch of other people laughing aloud at things I only found amusing.

So, anyway, there’s this married couple, and they are in exactly the kind of couple-rut that has spawned so many movies in which the woman empowers herself by finding someone who is more attractive, more stylish, smarter and more funny but for whom she inexplicably didn’t look in the first place, in favor of screwing over a perfectly decent but not movie-quality husband-or-boyfriend that never did anything wrong except for failing to create the fairy tale she was expecting, and has now finally found.[1] Thankfully, this is the rarer movie that shows them trying to struggle past that and rediscover each other, actually admitting that there was a reason they were together in the first place. They break out of this rut by, you guessed it, taking over the reservation of a missing party at a swank Manhattan dinner spot, and thereby accidentally getting tangled up in a case of mistaken identity involving secret information on a flash drive, hired guns, a mafia boss, and Mark Wahlberg’s pecs. (Possibly his abs as well.) Which sounds like a perfectly serviceable zany action/comedy, except that for some reason it just wasn’t funny the way you’d expect that to be. Script problems are an inevitable aspect, and the credits make it clear that the funniest scenes were adlibbed multiple ways by Ms. Fey and Steve Carell anyhow. But I also kind of figure that they tried too hard to be both a good romantic comedy and a good action comedy, and neither element came out as well as they might have if it had been a single-genre flick.

Maybe next time! I’m pretty sure chemistry was not the issue, so letting them try again would be worthwhile.

[1] …what’s your point?

Youth in Revolt

Hello there, movies. I know it’s been a while, but I haven’t forgotten about you. I even wanted to see some of you, despite how it has looked. Soon, I will be back onto a schedule you can trust, and it will be like we’d never been apart. I would never give you up, nor let you down, and I would certainly never run around and hurt you.[1]

The movie I spent some time with last night was Youth in Revolt, based on a generally positive review from Fresh Air and my ongoing amusement with Michael Cera. It tells the highly episodic story of a sixteen year-old boy with a probably average and certainly miserable life, a downright horrible name (Nick Twisp), and a nagging virginity. After meeting the girl of his dreams in a northern California lake’s adjacent trailer park[2] and determining that she must surely take said virginity lest he die miserable and alone, he develops a split persona with an ironically wispy mustache and an endless supply of cigarillos that he names Francois Dillinger. With that character finally on screen at the end of the first act, the movie finally lurches out of its snail-paced romantic comedy first gear, rife with ubiquitous excessively cultured and vocabularied teens[3], and putts into black comedy at a stately second gear. This pacing issue, really, is its only serious problem. The laughs are sincere and sometimes side-splitting while they’re happening, but the flick is so very, very slow in between. Well, and there’s also the problem of Justin Long’s character, in that he seems to exist for no other purpose than to fulfill the deus ex marijuana role. Long story short? Probably not a movie worth seeing in the theater, but it was pretty funny if you’ve got an otherwise slow night and a DVD player somewhere in your future.

[1] Look, I… it happened so fast! I don’t know how to explain it.
[2] Although Sheeni manages to occasionally rise above that, it really is as intentionally trashy as it sounds.
[3] Likely in a (differently from the film’s main theme) rebellious response to their trashy or overly religious parents.

The Invention of Lying

I know that October isn’t really the right time of year to watch comedies. I mean, it’s really a pretty straightforward process. October and February are for horror, November is for family movies and James Bond, December is for OMG-Drama, spring (and September? I’m not entirely sure where September fits) are for comedy, summer is for action blockbusters, and January is for movies that honestly shouldn’t ought to have been released. But, okay, Hollywood doesn’t always do the right thing, and also sometimes I am in the company of people who have an aversion to this or that type of movie. In this instance, despite there being a couple-few horror movies left for me to catch up on for the month, I ended up seeing The Invention of Lying.

Imagine, if you can, a world in which humans never learned how to lie. I mean, not about anything. They don’t even have that polite society filter that keeps them from saying whatever crosses their minds. And Ricky Gervais is one of this world’s losers, near the bottom of the genetic lottery, and almost out of job prospects despite talent, because of nothing more than unfortunate luck. And in this moment of disaster, a neuron fires in a way that has never happened before, and he, y’know, invents lying. Next thing you know, he has achieved fiction andreligion, not to mention a ton of cash, yet despite all his efforts, he cannot win what he wants most of all: the love of Jennifer Garner. The rest, well, romantic comedy, I guess? Will he learn a valuable lesson, will it come too late, etc.

And you know, it was funny, and it was sweet, just as you’d expect. It was even funny for a regular funny movie, so quite a bit moreso than the usual romantic comedy. (It may have been sweeter than usual too, but as I had been rendered tipsy earlier in the evening, I do not fully trust my opinion on that matter.) The one thing I didn’t like was the religious angle, because it seemed, well, a little cruel. I mean, in the movie it wasn’t at all, but there was still this underlying snicker, like even though Ricky Gervais isn’t a jerk, probably whoever invented religion the first time was. And I figure that as many good religious people as there are, it didn’t have to be that way at the start. My headspace on this point may be all jumbled, I admit. It’s not like I disagree with the underlying point at all, I just don’t think it needed to be mean. So, there’s that?

Management

Last week I think was a good week for catching an indie romantic comedy. Management was an enjoyable, if deeply flawed, example of the genre. There’s this guy, Steve Zahn, who is the night manager at his parents’ small-town motel. He’s the kind of actor that you know who he is, but have no way of saying what it is you’ve seen him in before.[1] One day, corporate art saleswoman Jennifer Aniston stays at the hotel, and he gets the idea to give her gifts, courtesy of “management”, in the hopes that… well, I doubt he knows exactly what it is that he hopes for, being the sad sack of a lonely man that he is. Whatever he hoped for, he got a whole lot more than that. But what would have been an unlikely one night stand is turned on its head when he flies out to see her after her departure the next day.

And that’s where the implausibility comes in. I don’t think he was a stalker, so much as a sad sack of a lonely man who also has no sense of realistic boundaries. But she didn’t have the audience’s insight into his head, and would surely have seen him as nothing but a stalker. So, we have about 75% of a movie that is predicated on the least likely reaction I can conceive of, wherein she decides to keep him in her house overnight so that they can hang out for a day or two. There are many more obstacles on the path to what may or may not be true love, as the genre dictates, but it’s hard to really buy anything after that one glaring flaw.

Still, if you can ignore that, it’s pretty decent, starting out with Office-style discomfort humor but frequently branching out into the genuinely funny kind that has no need to be preceded by “horrified”. The best acting is turned in by Steve Zahn’s mom and by his Asian sidekick; as you would expect of an indie comedy, the bit characters are the ones to shine. And I guess that’s mostly why I still watch these: yay, acting surprises!

[1] But not, I think, a character actor. It’s hard to explain why not, which possibly indicates my inaccuracy as to this point.

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

This is a really easy review, because of how the story is well-covered ground. You know, A Christmas Carol? Or the Disney version, or the Muppets version, or the Bill Murray version? I’m saying, you know this story, and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past does itself the service of not leaping out with a sudden surprise twist that leaves you wondering if you’re watching the right movie after all. The question, then, is what’s the point of watching a romantic comedy remake of an old story you’ve already seen (or read) several times? The point is this: it’s very, very funny. Funny via quite a few different genres of humor. It’s also a little bit sweet, like you’d expect from the “romantic comedy” tag, but it’s not cloying by any means. Mostly, though, funny. If you like laughing for an hour or two, check it out!