Movie Review ~ The 2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films – Animated

BEST ANIMATED SHORT

Animal Behaviour (Directed by Alison Snowden and David Fine)
Synopsis: A group of five animals with emotional and psychological problems meets for therapy with compassionate canine Dr. Clement. Their group dynamic is rattled by a new member, Victor, a gorilla with anger management issues who believes that talking cannot change someone’s innate tendencies.
Review: A word to the wise viewer taking in these Oscar nominated shorts: enjoy the comedy in Animal Behaviour because it’s the last bit of true levity you’ll get among the nominees.  Taking place during a therapy session for a group of animals with emotional problems, the short has some genuine moments of humor mostly derived from the outlandish anthropomorphic situation we are dropped into.  There’s the leech with dependency issues, the pig with a tendency to overindulge, the praying mantis who can’t keep a mate, and so on and so forth.  It’s all a bit bizarre but still a sharp short.

Bao
(Directed by Domee Shi)
Synopsis: A lonely Chinese mother suffering from empty nest syndrome is thrilled to become a parent again when one of her homemade dumplings comes to life. As Dumpling grows, however, the inevitable conflicts between parent and child arise and Mom must acknowledge that no one stays little forever.
Review: My original review of Bao (shown before Incredibles 2 this summer) can be found here.  It still packs a nice little punch, especially if you remember halfway through that you forgot to call your mom when you told her you would.

Late Afternoon
(Directed by Louise Bagnall)
Synopsis: Emily, an elderly lady with dementia, is increasingly alienated from the world around her. Whenever she sees her reflection, Emily wanders through memories of her childhood and young adulthood, and thereby attempts to use her past to reconnect with the present.
Review: Here’s a real emotional success story, featuring simple animation and a huge heart.  Following an older lady combating a failing memory with her joyous recollections of the past, Late Afternoon looks like it’s jumped off the pages of a picture book from forty years ago with its overly round faces and detached limbs.  Still, it’s so delicate in the way it unfolds that the feelings it stirs will likely sneak up on you.  It isn’t hard to figure out the path the short is following but director Louise Bagnall says a lot by choosing her passages carefully.

One Small Step
(Directed by Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas)
Synopsis: Bolstered by the unwavering support of her devoted father, a humble cobbler, Luna Chu grows up determined to become an astronaut. Although she is sometimes daunted by the obstacles she faces, Luna always shoots for the stars.
Review: Coming on the heels of Late Afternoon, One Small Step keeps your heart in your throat as it takes you on the journey of a girl aiming for the stars with the help of her supportive father.  Without dialogue, we are guided by the storytelling of the animators and it’s marvelous how well they navigate some tricky emotional turns clearly and with a compelling voice.  It’s a rewarding and moving bit of fantasy that manages to keep itself grounded even as it ambitiously reaches higher.

Weekends
(Directed by Trevor Jimenez)
Synopsis: After his parents split up, a young boy must adjust to living with his mother during the week and his father during the weekend. Their new routine is difficult on all of the family members, but is especially confusing to the youngster as his parents move on with their lives without each other.
Review: The strangest offering is also the most complex, narratively speaking, as a boy travels between the homes of his divorced parents.  Over time, the boy doesn’t change much but the relationship with his parents does, as do their lives as they meet other partners and create new families.  Abuse and emotional immaturity are explored with care and without judgement. Seen through the eyes of their son, it’s a revealing look at the things children observe which parents might not be aware they are taking in and understanding.

Final Thoughts
: The 2019 nominees feature a nice selection of animated shorts that don’t shy away from emotional issues and adult matters. Many people see a film like the charming Bao and think that’s what all nominated shorts are like and it’s nice to see the Academy being inclusive of material and themes that cater to a more discerning taste that challenge us.  Four of these clearly target the emotional cortex of the voter while Animal Behaviour is aimed straight at the funny bone.  I found Late Afternoon and One Small Step to be the ones that stuck around in my mind in the days that followed and could easily see one of those two emerging with a gold statue.

Movie Review ~ Isn’t it Romantic


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A young woman disenchanted with love mysteriously finds herself trapped inside a romantic comedy.

Stars: Rebel Wilson, Adam DeVine, Liam Hemsworth, Priyanka Chopra, Betty Gilpin, Jacqueline Honulik

Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 88 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: A fun thing happened in 2018, audiences finally got a genuine romantic comedy that broke new ground and did killer box office. That movie was Crazy Rich Asians and it restored some faith I had that Hollywood knew how to craft an old-fashioned yet modern romance and layered it with a decent amount of comedy. For a movie that was admittedly formulaic and strategically designed to press every button in the crowd-pleasing cortex of a movie-goers brain, it was remarkably well done and overwhelmingly entertaining.

For Valentine’s Day 2019, Warner Brothers (the studio behind Crazy Rich Asians) has taken a gamble in gently spoofing its own good fortune with the release of Isn’t it Romantic. This light-as-a feather send-up of romantic comedies shouldn’t work as well as it does but it gets extra mileage from its leading lady and in an array of clichés the filmmakers turn from been-there-done-that rehashes into something that feels fresh. Mostly, it’s a movie that sets up a joke and then beats itself to the punch by lampooning it’s corniness before the audience has a chance to.

Growing up, Natalie (Rebel Wilson, Pain & Gain) was always told the types of romance found in the movies are the stuff of fairy tales and would only happen to girls that are prettier and size zeros. Now living in a modest NYC apartment and holding down a job as an architect specializing in parking lots, she scoffs at her assistant’s (Betty Gilpin) passion for cheesy love stories while missing the obvious affection harbored by one of her coworkers (Adam DeVine, The Intern). To Natalie, true love doesn’t come with a pop soundtrack, a perfect wardrobe, and a loft dwelling no true New York 9-to-5er could ever afford.

When she bonks her head after an attempted mugging, she wakes up in an alternate reality where all of those things become real. Everywhere she goes she hears a Vanessa Carlton song, when she leaves the hospital she returns home to a gigantic apartment and designer wardrobe, and her stoner next door neighbor (Brandon Scott Jones, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) has now become her gay best friend armed with sass and flare. At work things have changed as well. While the love from her coworker remains unrequited, her assistant has transformed into a severe alpha female that’s become her competition instead of her support system.

Director Todd-Strauss-Schulson and the three credited female screenwriters have front-loaded the film with all the plot points that will come into play over the next brisk hour and a half. You can count on any sappy rom-com trope Natalie rolls her eyes at pre-head injury to come true when she’s living her new life, down to her hunky client (Liam Hemsworth, The Dressmaker) falling for her while she starts to have feelings for her office mate. It may be too late, though, as the friend-zoned guy has caught the eye of a beautiful yoga ambassador (Priyanka Chopra) who is fast-tracking their relationship.

With several engaging musical sequences interspersed and a cast that has come to play, it’s more than sporadically funny but undeniably a bit hollow when all is said and done. I appreciated that Wilson is honing in on what makes her comedy so appealing and is distancing herself from the bumbling mess she normally leans into. The role gives her opportunities to play physical comedy and capitalize on her charm, she’s a leading lady it’s easy to root for. There’s also nice work from Jones as a dreadfully stereotypical character that puts all that on hold for a heart-to-heart with Wilson in a sweet scene. DeVine is less offensively stupid than usual and Hemsworth and Chopra bite down hard on their roles as prime examples of perfect specimens.

Isn’t it Romantic plays it fairly loose much of the time, picking up threads and dropping them at will. There are plot gaps big enough to drive a flower truck of roses through but I’m guessing it’s not going to be that much of an issue for audiences that have come to have fun. The critic in me that loves follow-through would have liked to see more of Gilpin’s wicked side but I have a feeling much of her role was left on the cutting room floor in favor of keeping the film moving into another sprightly sequence of mirth. I also think there were some missed opportunities to directly send-up some notorious rom-coms that would have made the film feel a bit more meta.  Still, this is engineered as a perfect date film or a movie the gals can all see together and taken on those merits it succeeds in its mission.