Movie Review ~ Smile (2022)

The Facts:

Synopsis: After witnessing a bizarre, traumatic incident involving a patient, Dr. Rose Cotter starts experiencing frightening occurrences that she can’t explain. As an overwhelming terror begins taking over her life, Rose must confront her troubling past to survive and escape her horrifying new reality.
Stars: Sosie Bacon, Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Caitlin Stasey, Kal Penn, Rob Morgan, Robin Weigert, Judy Reyes
Director: Parker Finn
Rated: R
Running Length: 115 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review:  While I’m happy that movie theaters have gotten back into full swing and we’re able to experience films made for the big screen in the larger-than-life projection as they were initially intended, there’s a cold truth that must be said. It’s still annoying to deal with audiences that simply don’t care about preserving the art of movie-going with the same magic it used to have before technology, bad manners, and entitlement took over. The texting remains as bad as ever, loud talking with disregard for other patrons is still there, and general apathy toward the personal space of the people around you is firmly in place. Don’t believe me? Tell it to the gentleman and his date I had to sit a few rows behind the other day who used their shiny phones to brightly correspond with friends while putting their feet up on top of the (occupied!) seats in front of them.  

For all these bad apple audiences, when you find yourself in one that not only plays by the rules but adds their bit of fun, you remember again why a communal spirit is an integral part of the shared movie-going experience. Watching the nerve-rattling new horror film Smile, the audience (for once, a nice mix of ages and races that represents a broad spectrum of ticket-buyer) came to get their bones rattled. You could feel the energy building the scarier the film got and the more reactions from row to row. Even a rogue talker providing color commentary, usually a source of ire for me, successfully landed some well-timed zingers that didn’t impede the mood.

I’ve been in audiences like this when a movie is terrible (like the time a thirtysomething man was laughing so hard at the 2007 Lindsay Lohan debacle I Know Who Killed Me he literally fell out of his seat and rolled down the aisle) but with a movie like Smile, which is far better than average, you know early on how forgiving an audience will be. Because Smile is pretty silly if you dwindle on any significant part of the plot, not that writer/director Parker Finn stays in one place for too long in his film that’s, coincidentally, too long. From a prologue that sets a tone of uneasiness that continues throughout to a dedicated embrace of all the tricks in the genre playbook, Smile is aggressively coming for your screams and won’t stop until it gets it. It got me; it will get you.

Hospital emergency ward therapist Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) is dedicated to her work and helping patients through traumatic events. In the few brief character-building moments we have with her as the film opens, we get the impression her passion for care often outweighs what she can reasonably offer from a medical or emotional standpoint. She’s supposed to be headed home for a well-earned rest when she takes one last admit, a tormented patient (Caitlin Stasey) that speaks of a presence stalking her that only she can see. Before Rose can learn more, the patient commits a crazed act of self-harm that serves as the starting point for Rose’s descent into her paranoia of supernatural menace.

Unable to do her job effectively, her boss (Kal Penn) puts her on leave, while her fiancé (Jesse T. Usher) doesn’t know what to do to stop a growing madness from taking over. A visit to Rose’s therapist (the excellent Robin Weigert, Bombshell) fills in some blanks into Rose’s childhood and the trauma endured that has followed her around ever since. Were these demons reawakened when she bore witness to the recent violence, or has a curse transferred to her, a curse now working as a doomsday clock counting down to a similar gory fate?

Drawing bits and pieces from films like The Ring, Drag Me to Hell, and a little bit of It Follows, Smile is set apart by a style and sophisticated production elements which give it a prominent studio sheen. Indeed, Paramount’s 17-million-dollar investment has been used wisely, with special effects from legendary masters of the craft Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr.  Spending your money where it counts provides the film with calling card frights. These nightmare-inducing images leap out from the dark at you, accompanied by a sting of dissonant music from Cristobal Tapia de Veer. 

Finn uses the score and sound effects to keep you on your toes. Sure, much of the screeching jolts feel like cheap ways to goose you into a reaction, and yet they work like walking through a haunted house when there’s an endless parade of scares while you traverse down a hallway. With frights jumping out at you from every angle, it’s natural that you will jump right when you are directed to because that is the point. The same is true here. The cheap scares are one thing, but the earned ones (and there are quite a few) are dandy. Consider getting a lid for your popcorn and a seat belt for your chair, so you don’t levitate right out of your seat.

We’re on a great run of horror films lately (The Black Phone, Barbarian, House of Darkness), and Smile continues that streak. I loved watching this one and how unrelenting it was in its mission to mine us for all the shrieks it could.   Even the short title design cast its particular mood on this viewer. Those unwilling to have that joy buzzer scare will likely emerge from Smile feeling used. Understanding what it’s purposely doing and how it aims for the extreme versions of overused motifs will give you something to flash your pearly whites for.

Movie Review ~ Bros


The Facts:

Synopsis: Two gay men with commitment problems are maybe, possibly, probably stumbling towards love. Maybe. They’re both very busy.
Stars: Billy Eichner, Luke Macfarlane, Dot-Marie Jones, Ts Madison, Miss Lawrence, Eve Lindley, Jim Rash, Monica Raymund, Guillermo Díaz, Debra Messing, Bowen Yang, Harvey Fierstein, Guy Branum, Amanda Bearse, Jai Rodriguez
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Rated: R
Running Length: 115 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review:  To most people reading this review, it may not seem like a lot is riding on the release of Bros, but it’s another colossal watershed moment for Hollywood. While there have been “gay” romantic comedies over the years, few of them have had stars that identified as members of the LGBTQ+ community playing the lead roles. Often reduced to arch stereotypes that support the lead, LGBTQ+ actors have rarely had their moment in the spotlight, let alone starred in unironic films about their non-platonic love lives. Then along came Billy.

Billy Eichner that is. The 44-year-old comedian’s early career promise was evident with appearances on Conan O’Brien that led to his riotously funny show Billy on the Street. Originally airing on the hard-to-find truTV, it featured Eichner furiously running around NYC and stopping random strangers to ask them off-the-wall trivia questions, often for prizes. As it gained popularity, celebrities started to join Eichner for his irreverent guerilla game show, and the powers that be on bigger networks noticed the attention he was getting. Eventually, this led to Difficult People, a half-hour series he created with friend Julie Klausner running for three seasons on Hulu before being unceremoniously canceled in its prime. 

By then, Eichner was on his way to guest starring on TV shows and movies (he voiced Timon in Disney’s 2019 live-action remake of The Lion King) and booking appearances at events showcasing his wry wit and dry observances on all things affecting our modern society. This brings us to his deal with Universal Pictures to co-write and star in Bros, the first gay romantic comedy from a mainstream studio featuring an entirely LGBTQ+ principal cast. A lot to shoulder but if anyone was up to the task, Eichner was confidently the one to do it.

Directed by co-writer Nicholas Stoller (The Five-Year Engagement) and co-starring Luke Macfarlane, on one hand Bros serves as a great example of when you amplify the right voices, you wind up telling everyone’s story. Eichner and MacFarlane are a modern, complex pairing moving through the ups & downs of romance, finding laughs while targeting the heart. On the flip side, as a member of the very community it is raising up, I will say that while I found much to appreciate from the story and breadth of characters it represents, a closer examination finds the film to be structurally shaky as it overreaches in its talking points, inclusive to the point where it feels like casting by checkbox and lacking in the kind of tight, snappy editing that was the secret ingredient to the best romantic comedies it strives to be mentioned with.

Here’s the deal. No matter who you love, I’m going to give an honest read of any movie that comes my way. At the beginning of Bros, I struggled to find a rhythm with the comedy because I couldn’t decide if it was a commentary on modern gay romance or a gay romantic comedy with side commentary. So, we see Bobby (Eichner), a popular podcaster turned museum curator, viewing the myriad relationships around him and enjoying his freedom while illustrating his shenanigans trying to find quick love only to be let down by the experience. (How very Stephen Sondheim’s Company of you…Bobby) Gay dating apps are presented as shallow end-of-the-line pick-up spots for the desperate, while accepting the love you feel you are worthy of is Bobby’s modus operandi.

That mood shifts when Aaron (Macfarlane, Single All The Way) catches Bobby’s eye at a club. The hunky beefcake is a hairless Greek god next to Bobby’s fuzzy but attractive frame, and the two couldn’t be more mismatched, but they both share a connection that keeps them coming back to one another for reasons they can’t explain. That’s what the movie tells us, at least. While Eichner and Macfarlane have an excellent rapport onscreen and friendly chemistry as people, their characters never feel like their bond burns so deep they will go through some of the misery the script puts them through. It’s not until nearly an hour has passed that either character relaxes enough to let the other in just a bit, but even that is fleeting.

It feels almost wrong to nitpick at something as rare as Bros, and while I wholly recommend it because of its unique place in the canon of romantic comedies, I find that my expectations went a bit unmet at times. Don’t get me wrong, Eichner and Stoller’s script has blazingly funny lines, and an Emmy-winning sitcom star has a two-scene cameo that’s an absolute scream. Still, there are stretches where it often feels like it’s floating just below the surface of great or missing out on its possible full potential. Maybe that’s because Stoller’s directing isn’t as pulled together as it usually is; it’s for sure not edited with the crisp touch for sharp comedy (or continuity) like previous films. There’s also a strange fixation on allowing characters to shout/scream their lines when an “inside voice” would do just fine. (And this is coming from someone who can be the loudest person in the room when he wants.)

Based on the reaction of my audience, I’m likely in the minority of opinion. The packed house roared throughout the film, and I sensed their engagement with nary a break in the spell that was cast over them by Eicher, Macfarlane, and an eclectic supporting cast. Then again, these screenings often attract a curated crowd. I also am curious to see how the aggressive marketing of the movie might backfire. As much as Eichner and the studio have been pushing Bros, the publicity has seemed more plea than promo in recent weeks. I’m crossing my fingers Bros can be the crossover hit it needs to be to encourage more studios to invest their resources in other films that can speak to the everyday lives of the LBGTQ+ community and continue to include them (well, us) as the main focus in future projects