Movie Review ~ Girl Most Likely

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A failed New York playwright awkwardly navigates the transition from Next Big Thing to Last Year’s News.

Stars: Kristen Wiig, Annette Bening, Matt Dillon, Christopher Fitzgerald, Darren Criss

Director: Robert Pulcini, Shari Springer Berman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 103 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: Oh boy.  This is a rough review to write because I’m such a fan of Kristen Wiig but Girl Most Likely is pretty dreadful.  This misguided comedy that wants to masquerade its significant shortcomings by hiding under the guise of offbeat humor is a major step down the wrong path for its star who is so much better than this soggy material.

Making a name for herself on Saturday Night Live and then getting an Oscar nomination for writing Bridesmaids, Wiig has kept a fairly low profile for herself turning up for a supporting roles in Despicable Me 2 and Friends with Kids.  So in her first true starring role I expected a lot more than the painful to watch Girl Most Likely had to offer.  It’s no secret the movie has sat on the shelf for a while as it awaited a distributor and though Roadside Attractions has tried to spiff this one up with a decent poster and engaging trailer, it was all smoke and mirrors to distract the audience that the film is a dog.

The movie reminded me a lot of 2011’s Young Adult which found Charlize Theron’s not-very-nice semi-successful novelist returning to her home town with her eyes on making off with her high school sweetheart.  She reacquaints herself with old friends and family and though she gets a taste of her own medicine she winds up realizing the person she’s become…and making the choice not to change.  In Girl Most Likely, Wiig is a failed NYC playwright still pining for her ex who, after a faked suicide attempt, winds up living in Atlantic City with her mother (Annette Bening, The Grifters), her brother (Christopher Fitzgerald) and two new men in her life.  The first is her mom’s loopy beau (Matt Dillon, In & Out) who claims to be in the CIA and the other is a performer at a local hob-knob casino renting out her old room (Darren Criss).  As expected, everyone living under the same roof creates some sparks…none of them producing anything resembling laughs or excitement.

Theater guy Fitzgerald comes out the best from this mess playing the kind of role that could easily be grating but is instead instilled with some heart and charm the rest of the people, places, and situations Girl Most Likely is sadly missing.  Dillon and Bening go through the motions, though one wonders how they ended up paired together because their lack of chemistry is readily apparent.  Speaking of no-chemistry, though Criss and Wiig aren’t exactly a part of the May-December romance club there’s something terribly off about the relationship they are forced into just because the script from Michelle Morgan says so.  Criss should be thankful for what Glee hath wrought because there’s no way he’ll be able to carry the weight of a full picture based on his weak and unconvincing performance here.

The movie reeks of low-budget not only in the incredibly uneven supporting performances but in the overall look of the film.  Directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini manage to make both New York City and Atlantic City look like ugly, tacky, dreary places to live thanks to poor lighting and boring scene set-ups.  Add to that an ending that seems to have been edited in from a totally different film and you have a movie most likely to make you want your money back.

As the movie wears on your patience will wear thin as Wiig can’t manage to do anything with this role to get the audience anywhere near her side.  There’s something to be said about making a character that’s unlikable relatable but there’s no meat to the character for Wiig to sink her talented teeth into…so what’s left is a battered carcass that’s not very nice to look at.  Skip it and rent Young Adult instead.

Movie Review ~ The Conjuring

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives.

Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor, Joey King, Shanley Caswell, Haley McFarland, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Sterling Jerins

Director: James Wan

Rated: R

Running Length: 112 minutes

Trailer Review: Here & Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: It’s fun to be scared, isn’t it?  I know many people that would disagree with that statement but I’ve always found a base thrill in any amount of fright that I can find be it at the hands of a ghoul in a haunted house, a towering rollercoaster that looks more than a tad bit rickety, and in a dark movie theater watching the latest horror flick designed to scare the pants off of you. 

Even after hearing early positive buzz on The Conjuring and liking what I’d seen/read up until it was released, I was still wary that my expectations were raised too high to get out of the film the kind of entertainment I was looking for.  That all changed frame one as the Warner Brothers logo appeared along with Joseph Bishara’s ominous music and I just knew…this is going to be one scary flick.  And it was.  And I loved it.

The Conjuring represents a full feast of fright after sparse offerings in theaters over the last year.  For my money, it’s the scariest movie released in theaters in some time and the scares it provides are well earned and long-lasting.  Moments of good old fashioned dread exist in the movie that are genuine and cleverly constructed for maximum impact.  Not merely content to scare you once, director James Wan (Saw, Dead Silence, Insidious) applies the pressure and maintains it for long stretches of time, creating several truly harrowing sequences.

Based on the true story of Perron family from the files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring opens with a dandy of an intro to the kind of work that Ed (Patrick Wilson, Prometheus) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) do.  I wouldn’t dream of spoiling this opening but will say that it plays a nice twist on the kind of opening that Scream introduced so well and that has been oft-copied ever since. 

It’s 1971 and Carolyn (Lili Taylor, Being Flynn) and Roger (Ron Livingston, The Odd Life of Timothy Green) Perron have moved their five daughters (including Joey King from White House Down and Oz, The Great and Powerful) to a large farmhouse nestled in the boondocks of New England.   Though the actual events took place over 10 years, for cinematic purposes the timeline is several weeks…compressing years worth of occurrences is something the movie pretty much had to do.   It’s not long before the family gets to know their house a bit better; finding a boarded up cellar filled with cobwebs and antique toys that provide a few cursory scares. 

Mysterious bruising, the unexplained nightly stopping of all clocks at 3:07am, and other spooky bumps in the night don’t signal much of a warning until all hell breaks loose one night in the first of many masterfully filmed passages of piled on horror. 

Though we’ve already met the Warrens and seen their suburban home life (including a locked room full of creepy items from their various cases), they finally step center stage when Carolyn begs them for help.  When the Warrens arrive and start looking into the house and its dark past, they discover a history of horrifying events that shed some light on the present happenings.  The deeper they dig, the more danger they unearth not only for the family but themselves as well.

Even the best made horror film is largely at the mercy of the actors that are involved and Wan has assembled a crack mix of interesting actors to take on these roles.  Wilson may be a tad milquetoast in the role but he never overplays it, wisely playing second banana to Farmiga.  Ah yes, Farmiga.  Aside from the treasure trove of terror, the chief pleasure of The Conjuring is Farmiga’s multi-dimensional and fully committed take on the role of a clairvoyant who sees/feels more than we could ever imagine.  This is a smart actress who keeps us interested in the movie even if, like most horror films centered on a mystery, the more we know about the “why” behind the terror the less we are scared of it. 

Just a slight step below Farmiga is Taylor, one of the best actresses of her generation that continues to take on a range of roles in mainstream and indie films.  Largely absent from the horror genre since the turkey remake of The Haunting back in 1999, Taylor is perfectly cast as a normal wife and mother that’s pitched into a nightmare she can’t wake from.  Farmiga and Taylor are a dynamic duo, bravely enduring the wringer that Wan and screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes put them through.

The Conjuring has no nudity, no explicit language, and a modest modicum of blood so it landed an R from the MPAA due to its “sequences of disturbing violence and terror”.  There’s something revelatory about a movie earning that restriction based solely because it’s too scary – and earn it it does.  This hopefully will be a perennial classic that finds its way on the shelf next to films like Halloween, The Changeling, and Poltergeist.  If your spine needs a good tingling, The Conjuring is just the medicine the doctor ordered.