Together Together

Release: Friday, April 23, 2021 

👀 Theater

Written by: Nikole Beckwith

Directed by: Nikole Beckwith

Starring: Ed Helms; Patti Harrison

 

 

 

 

****/*****

More than an acting showcase for its two leads, Nikole Beckwith’s romantic comedy Together Together is a wonderfully subversive effort that reconfigures the way we look at intimate relationships and how they can be formed.

If not wholesale reinvention — structurally this is still beholden to a formula — her sophomore feature film, following 2015’s psychological drama Stockholm, Pennsylvania, proves there are still nooks and crannies to explore within an overcrowded genre rife with trite titles. Written and directed by Beckwith, the story tells of a pair of strangers brought closer together through the shared experience of a surrogate pregnancy and how they reconcile the ephemeral nature of their connection. So the movie builds from an already intriguing and specific place. When you add in the sensational performances from Ed Helms and transgender actor Patti Harrison, you have something pretty special.

The film’s penchant for surprising you begins with the characters. In a career-best performance Helms plays Matt, a 40-year-old app developer who wants to start a family but the pieces just haven’t come together. What reads on paper or might come across in another rom-com as a potential sad-sack is brought to life by Helms as an average Joe with an unyielding optimism that makes you gravitate to him quickly, warts and all. Matt is undeniably an awkward dude, but his bouts of overbearingness and invasiveness come from genuine caring and excitement. His confidence and sense of purpose separate the character somewhat from the archetypal drifter or forever bitter man-child. It’s the fact his search for fulfillment involves having offspring rather than hooking up that makes him a rare breed of male rom-com lead.

Similarly, the pregnancy does not define the woman. Matching the established funnyman stride-for-stride, and in many instances besting him, is Patti Harrison in her début lead role. As Anna, the relative newcomer brings an authenticity that seems effortless. She, a 26-year-old single woman working as a barista, is of an obviously different social sphere and, less obviously but more significantly, a different background than Matt. Her own past is marked by controversial decisions that have led to strained familial relationships. In contrast to Matt’s to-a-fault enthusiasm Anna is more enigmatic and downbeat, not morose or depressive but rather more emotionally conservative despite the chaos under the surface. She also has aspirations beyond helping Matt fulfill a dream, using the money she will make from the transaction to fund her college tuition.

While Beckwith’s story is most interested in the awkward tension between her two principles, she also has an eye on external factors, such as the social norms that compel outsiders to speculate, judge, assume and/or in some way push back against something they view as weird or even amoral. In supporting roles (not all of which are necessarily supportiveTogether Together features the likes of Fred Melamed (In A World. . .; A Serious Man) and Nora Dunn (Pineapple Express; Bruce Almighty) as Matt’s parents, the latter the most overt representation of disapproval. Tellingly, Anna’s parents never appear on screen.

Conspicuous meta commentary on infamous Hollywood perverts notwithstanding, this is a charitable movie that considers a lot of different perspectives, and those who aren’t necessarily supporting the team aren’t made out to be villainous. Others, if not fully-realized characters, are at least enjoyable to be around: Tig Notaro warmly plays a therapist who monitors the not-couple’s psychological and emotional progression across the weeks, while Sufe Bradshaw (Murder Mystery; VEEP) as an irritable technician and Julio Torres, in his first feature film appearance as Anna’s self-destructive coworker Jules, are here to kick the comedy factor up a few notches.

What’s impressive is the way Beckwith keeps the parameters of a more traditional romantic plot in place (the awkward dinner, the moving in together, the “break-up” and reconciliation) while never losing sight of the unique stakes. Rather than feeling like lazy checkpoints the tropes feel entirely plausible and, with the exception of a couple of overly quirky scenes, natural.

Delivered in three distinct acts turned appropriately into trimesters, Together Together opens with an interview as Matt vets Anna as a potential surrogate. These candid minutes are the first uncertain moves in what ends up becoming a complex, difficult and ultimately rewarding dance that the two characters engage in on a journey from strangers to something more than friends but less than lovers. The tricky part is not getting too emotionally attached. As it turns out, that might be even harder for us as viewers than it is for the participants.

We love Lamp.

Moral of the Story: Short, sweet, and as poignant as it can be funny, Together Together doesn’t set a new standard but it comes with a level of humanity that feels really rare in the genre. Even better, there is such great balance from a writing standpoint, neither character or their concerns overshadowing the other. Nikole Beckwith’s compassionate, sensitive direction is not to be taken for granted. Now streaming on Hulu. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 85 mins. 

Quoted: “It’s weird to be perceived as hopeless in this moment when I’m feeling incredibly hopeful.”

Get a taste of the meet-awkward in the Official Trailer from Bleecker Street here! 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; www.nytimes.com 

Coffee & Kareem

Release: Friday, April 3, 2020 (Netflix)

→Netflix

Written by: Shane Mack

Directed by: Michael Dowse

I really like Ed Helms. He is an actor I apparently will follow even into the seedier, more desperate corners of Netflix. I don’t know much about director Michael Dowse, other than the fact his résumé is populated with such silly titles as It’s All Gone Pete Tong (2004), Goon (2011) and Stuber (2019). Now there’s Coffee & Kareem, a ridiculous, over-acted (and, at times, ridiculously over-acted) crime comedy set in Detroit where the only things being enforced are stereotypes about white cops and black citizens.

Objectively speaking, this movie is uh, it’s . . . well, not . . . uh, not very good. Did I laugh, sure. I suppose the more accurate word would be giggled, like fans of Anchorman do the first six times they listen to Steve Carell utter random nonsense. That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel kinda bad about it later. Coffee & Kareem is a really crass movie that annoyingly uses racism for the basis of most of its comedy. The crime is that this Netflix “original” casts the likable Helms as James Coffee, a feckless cop who gets swept up in an increasingly violent and ludicrous conspiracy plot involving dirty cops and inept criminals.

The cards are stacked against Coffee from the moment he appears on screen rocking a “molester ‘stache.” He’s the laughingstock of the precinct and Detective Watts (Betty Gilpin) has it out for him. He gets demoted after allowing a criminal to escape his squad car, which, yeah that’s justified. What isn’t justified is the violent plot being fomented against him by his girlfriend Vanessa (Taraji P. Henson)’s bratty teenage son Kareem (introducing Terrence Little Gardenhigh), who already harbors a disdain toward white cops. But this is personal, so he seeks help from a thug to scare away Coffee once and for all. Actually, he wants him crippled from the waist down. He’s a charming kid, one who makes the foul-mouthed child actor from Role Models look like an angel.

In step one of like, a thousand in this grand plan to show his commitment to getting to know the family Coffee reluctantly gives sweet little Kareem a ride to his friend’s in a bad part of town, but really he’s inadvertently expediting his own wheelchair-bound fate. Kareem then witnesses the murder of a cop and soon the two find themselves scrambling to escape a trio of thugs (RonReaco Lee; Andrew Bachelor; William ‘Big Sleeps’ Stewart) and then things go really pear-shaped when Vanessa becomes involved. Hell hath no fury like a mother tased by her own child, and later assaulted by the same thugs after her son.

If cliches were a crime, screenwriter Shane Mack would be doing hard time. If predictability were its only offense, Coffee & Kareem might have gotten away with just a slap on the wrist. I get it; madcap is supposed to be high-energy and kind of crazy, but this particular story just falls apart the further it progresses. The wannabe-gangster kid becomes an irritant while the adult actors flounder. Helms is given few scenes in which he can shine, and Henson even fewer (though she does get one of the film’s highlight scenes in a motel room when she gets to open a can of whoop-ass on her assailants). Meanwhile, Gilpin has to be a better actor than what I’ve witnessed here.

With sloppy attempts at social commentary, ridiculous caricatures and often shockingly violent exchanges Coffee & Kareem is, in the vernacular of kids these days, a bit extra.

Don’t roo-doo-doo-doo-doo it, Andy!

Recommendation: Contrived odd couple comedy shoots for the heart but ends up hitting you right in the crotch instead. Fans of Ed Helms could leave disappointed with what he’s able to contribute. And I think I need to see another movie with some of these other actors (specifically Gilpin and Gardenhigh) in them before I make a decision on them. But on this evidence alone, yikes . . .

Rated: R (for ridiculous)

Running Time: 88 mins.

Quoted: “You f–k my mom, I’m gonna f–k your life.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: IMP Awards; IMDb

Stretch

Release: Friday, March 21, 2014

[Netflix]

Written by: Joe Carnahan

Directed by: Joe Carnahan

Where this guy’s going, he’s definitely going to need roads . . . and a lot of luck.

Joe Carnahan’s Stretch is best enjoyed when your guard is down, when you’re in the mood for watching something that, taken scene by scene, makes little to no sense but is a perfectly harmless distraction when looked at as a whole. It’s messy and clunky and clichéd and occasionally poorly acted but the whole point of Stretch is embracing the ridiculous. If having fun in a movie is all that you require, jump in the backseat and buckle in for a wild ride.

Patrick Wilson and Chris Pine make the most out of a rather bizarre script that has the former playing a down-on-his-luck L.A. limo driver and the latter a bearded whack job with more secrets than the American government. The driver (a.k.a. ‘Stretch’) has recently been dumped by his gorgeous girl Candace (Brooklyn Decker, ouch) and, reeling in the aftermath, has allowed himself to spiral out of control again, though careful not to reignite his cocaine and gambling addictions from years past.

One afternoon Stretch is pulled aside by his boss who tells him that their main competitor is putting them quickly out of business by stealing their clients. Making matters worse is a $6,000 gambling debt he owes to a thug who promises some very bad things if he doesn’t pay up by midnight that night. Desperate, Stretch begs an employee named Charlie (Jessica Alba) to help steal clients from the competition — a mysterious entity known only as The Jovi — to help him keep his job and to raise the money needed to . . . um, keep his life.

Over the course of the evening Stretch contends with a litany of oddballs and lunatics, starting with a very unhappy David Hasselhoff who, lo and behold, is swept off his feet by The Jovi at the last second. In retaliation, Charlie directs him to a client The Jovi usually picks up, the one and only Ray Liotta. Neither of these dramatized cameos compare to the eccentric billionaire playboy/lunatic that is Chris Pine’s Roger Karos, whose outrageous physical appearance conceals the Hollywood hunk inside (save for the piercing blue eyes). Karos promises he will make Stretch’s efforts worthwhile if he commits to not only being his chauffeur, but to retrieving a briefcase from a certain someone.

Stretch is packed to the brim with absurdities, but they mostly exist in the visual presentation and a few chance encounters. Narratively — as a story of redemption — the film couldn’t be more pedestrian. Wilson clearly relishes the opportunity to cut loose, to become the “fire starter” Karos believes he can be. Wilson brings the fire in his performance, becoming the glue that holds together a lot of delicate pieces and thankfully he is quite the amiable fellow despite his history. As he journeys through the night, an eye on the clock as his midnight deadline rapidly approaches, Stretch receives a crash course in confidence-boosting. He transforms from a drunken pushover (or a fatalist, as Charlie describes him) to a man pushing over a lot of drunks to get to what matters most to him: delivering on his promises.

Carnahan certainly makes some trade-offs in his enthusiastic, over-the-top approach. There are a few moments where the goofiness is overbearing — do we really need the foreign subtitles placed beside a villain as he shouts his threats in perfectly understandable English? — and where the acting isn’t really acting, it’s shouting lines excitedly. It’s nonchalance. A good time to be a paid actor or actress. It may stretch credulity to the breaking point but ultimately the film manages to get to the end with minimal bumps and bruises.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a quick Friday night jolt of entertainment, I suggest firing up Netflix and taking in all that Stretch has to offer: pure, unadulterated ridiculousness with fun cameos and an absolutely zany supporting role from Chris Pine. Fans of him and Patrick Wilson are sure to find them highly enjoyable.

Rated: R

Running Time: 94 mins.

Quoted: “If you like stories about chance and coincidence and fate, then here’s one you’d never heard. Boy meets girl. Girl almost kills boy by running a red light at rush hour. Boy is T-boned at over 60 miles an hour.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com  

The Hangover – Part III

hang-1

Release: Thursday, May 23, 2013

[Theater]

…..sigh. I suppose the momentum of the party had to slow down sometime. Too bad that it happened when we all needed energy the most. In a trilogy, it’s never a good move to make your third and final installment the weakest in the series, even though that’s usually what happens.

Many Most trilogies spend a lot of time introducing characters, creating atmosphere, and providing a storyline in the first installment that will have us addicted at the get-go. The second film, ideally, is an expansion on what made the first film a success while managing to go to new places and new heights. It is most often where fans of the original, and even some newcomers, will butt heads with their opinions about the direction we’re going in — whether or not these are directed at that particular sequel or the differences/similarities between one and two is a matter of opinion that will widely vary. Regardless, a sequel more often than not bears the burden of living up to a standard. The first is free of such pressure, hence we often think back on the first film with fond memories, more often than not tagging them as THE film in the series to see.

And then we get the finale.

The third film has the most difficult job to do: expand further on where the others were taking us while bringing everything to a logical and fitting conclusion that not only contributes to the overall tone of the piece but satisfies this particular link-up of the story. A lot of the time, either one of these elements do not get met (and in some really bad cases, neither do), leaving us at times wishing they never continued to add to the story.

Todd Phillips’ drunken debauchery comes to a slam-bang close in The Hangover – Part III, but this time he has scrapped one of the major elements that made his previous two so funny: that moment you wake up and have no idea why you’re missing a tooth, parenting a random baby, or you’ve had your face tattooed in the style of Mike Tyson. “The morning after” discoveries really don’t have a place in this film since it is now time to prove what each member of the Wolfpack is made of. Phillips replaces this hilarious shock value with a much more traditional and quite frankly, boring, storyline that caters more to the likes of one Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) after he escapes prison and is being tracked down by some very mean gangsters indeed (led by none other than John Goodman) when he steals $21 million in gold bricks.

The involvement with our beloved Wolfpack is a bit of a stretch, to say the least. Whilst the gang is minding their own business taking Alan (Galifianakis) to a facility where they hope he can receive the mental help he’s been clearly needing for a long time, they are run off the road by Goodman and company and find themselves with no other option but to help find the missing gold and Chow, otherwise Doug gets killed. At this point, Doug’s gotta be thinking his friends’ shit is just not worth putting up with anymore.

Regardless, the trap has been set and off we go on the third adventure that involves burglary, the defiling of bodies and the use of bath salts. The resultant story to justify it all is nothing more than a mess. Alternately chuckle-worthy and depressing, Part III demonstrates why comedy is not  the best foundation for making a trilogy. Most of this film focuses on Chow’s hijinks, some of which are hilarious, a lot of them not so much. We are no longer truly having a good time here. Part III is far less a comedy than Part II was (if you can believe that), and we really struggle to understand how any of these idiots have become married men.

If they’re not as dedicated to their wives, they are at least dedicated to trying to sell us on the same levels of panic and anguish as they had evinced in Bangkok — because, let’s face it, the stakes were much higher there than in Vegas the first time around. However, when Stu screams “What the f**k is going on?!!” in response to some bizarre sequence of events, the line comes across as more of a film tagline than an earnest reaction. This is but only one example of the many fraying edges we witness as the story goes on.

There are, however, a few redemptive moments throughout that come close to the spirit of earlier scenes in the trilogy. The house raid scene with Chow and Stu is priceless, as well as the climactic scene in Vegas. . . where it all began. Phil (Cooper) very boldly declares that “It all ends tonight.” Let’s hope so. I’m not sure anyone — the Wolfpack especially — can withstand anymore of this abuse. At the very least, Part III has worn out the comedic element; there’s plenty of drama to still go around. But that’s not why we paid for our Hangover really. And of the drama we really care about here, a lot of it is really just dumb melodrama, spurred on by Alan’s immutable stupidity.

As far as tying together all the loose ends, Phillips manages the job fairly well. The end is not so much predictable as it is appropriate, and may give some of the more hardcore fans of this trip some goosebumps. It would be a stretch to call it a bittersweet goodbye, but I would be remiss in not giving Phillips at least one thumbs-up for wrapping up the story nicely. It’s nothing even close to realistic, but then again, none of these films were! At the heart of The Hangover is a story of brotherly love, of sharing all the good memories one could ever want along with the bad, and surviving it together, come hell or high water. Or hookers. Or Mike Tyson. Or roofies.

Without getting too sentimental (considering this is surely the worst of the three), I’ll miss seeing this group of actors together but it’s good to finally get the hangover out of the way so we can move on about our day and get on with what we were meaning to do before we got so fucked up we couldn’t tell left from right. Shall we toast to that at least? I think we should.

hang-3

2-0Recommendation: I would try to avoid seeing for as long as possible. Try visiting Vegas this time at your local dollar theater; this is by far the worst in the series and is not worth $10 since you’re not getting nearly the number of good laughs as you did in the first two. It’s a different story structure, which is a commendable risk that the director took here, but it resulted in unfamiliar territory that may take awhile to get used to. It’s less of a Hangover story as it is a drama with some very funny moments peppered throughout.

Rated: R

Running Time: 100 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com