Movie Review ~ Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: Lifelong friends Barb and Star embark on the adventure of a lifetime when they decide to leave their small Midwestern town for the first time – ever.

Stars: Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Damon Wayans Jr., Vanessa Bayer, Fortune Feimster, Phyllis Smith, Ian Gomez, Michael Hitchcock, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Reyn Doi

Director: Josh Greenbaum

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 107 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: There are some movies that just come along at the right time in your life, appearing when you need them the most and the week that I was set to see Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar was a rough one.  It just wasn’t great, let’s leave it at that and so I selfishly looked to a film, of all things, to cheer me up.  Putting all my eggs in one basket, I bet the farm on this pastel-colored comedy that had all the makings of a winner but also could have easily gone into stink bomb mode pretty quickly too.  Let me tell you, perhaps I’d watch the movie now with a slightly more critical eye but after all the junk we’ve been through these past few months and all my own hang-ups from the week, the film was like a peach-scented salve to my soul for two hours.  It’s also rip-roaringly, smile so wide your cheek burns, hysterically funny.

In 2011, Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo were dark horse Oscar nominees for their original screenplay of Bridesmaids, the blockbuster comedy hit that set off a wave of female-led funny flicks.  It was almost as if Hollywood and movie-goers discovered that women could make you laugh and not just by acting like men or always resorting to foul, gross-out humor (which Bridesmaids totally did, let’s be honest).  It was a well-earned nomination and while Mumolo turned up in a small but memorable role as a airline passenger with a fear of flying and was seated next to Wiig, it isn’t hard to imagine the two writing the movie with themselves in mind as the stars instead of the inimitable Maya Rudolph playing opposite Wiig..

Since that time, Wiig has gone on to become one of the rare alums of Saturday Night Live to find an interesting career after her tenure on the show has ended and while she continues to make challenging choices in film, the roles haven’t always panned out in her favor.  Perhaps her most intriguing character was just recently as the more interesting of the two villains in Wonder Woman 1984 but that movie was so unjustly ignored that her contributions were also left by the wayside.  For Mumolo, she’s continued a bit under the radar, acting in films like Bad Moms and writing the script for Joy, the Jennifer Lawrence/David O. Russell misfire that still managed to nab Lawrence an Oscar nom.

Thankfully, during their busy schedule the two managed to find time to collaborate on the script for Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar and both share the screen as the co-leads.  What is immediately clear is that the two women have a deep understanding of not just their talents but in what the other is capable of and every inch of the movie plays to these strengths.  Recognizing that nothing gets done in a vacuum, they’ve also created some wonderfully weird supporting characters that are taken on by some obvious choices and by others that may not make sense at first.  Have no fear, because director Josh Greenbaum (The Short Game) has only the best intentions and steers even those not known for comedy into funny waters and gets them swimming fast.

You may think you’ve hit “play” on the wrong movie once this begins, as the opening features one of the first surprises the film has to offer. (It’s worth it to note that while the trailers for the film were riotous, hardly any of that material is in the actual film).  I’m not even going to mention what (or who) that surprise is here and by holding that back it keeps certain other plot developments off limits.  That means much of the rest of this review will be working around what I can’t talk about and going heavy on what I can.  I figure if the trailers have gone to great lengths to keep aspects of the movie a secret, it’s worth it for your benefit to let you discover what the movie is on your own…but just know that eventually you’re going to meet our fabulous ladies, recently unemployed and daring to try something new.

Arriving in Vista Del Mar to great fanfare and a musical welcome from the ritzy resort hotel’s manager (Michael Hitchcock, Waiting for Guffman), Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) waste little time getting to know the layout of the space and meet a handsome stranger (Jamie Dornan, Fifty Shades Freed) in town for business.  As a romance develops between the stranger and one of the women, the other is left to go from mild to wild as she chucks her inhibitions and becomes a coal-walking, parasailing risk-taker.  What will the women do, though, when they realize they’ve come all this way to experience the trip of a lifetime together and have spent much of their vacation apart?

I was worried in early previews that the film would be too broad and feature comedy that amused the actors making the movie more than the audience watching the film, but the laughs are so sharp and so perfectly pitched that you have to really respect how nicely the movie is put together.  There are some seriously big laughs to be had and whether this was edited with a theater-going public in mind or not, you are always able to hear the next joke — it’s a rare marvel to find that every punchline is clear without any throwaway jokes.  Wiig and Mumolo don’t like wasted gags so they maximize the chuckles in each chintzy chortle.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect film.  There’s at least one character I would have excised completely because not only is his role markedly unfunny and he has the stalest jokes out of everyone in the picture, his ultimate value-add to the plot is pretty slim.  And while I enjoyed the “talking club” of ladies led with strongly pursed lips and a leveled stare by Vanessa Bayer (Office Christmas Party) in Barb and Star’s hometown, their contribution again felt unresolved and more filler than forwarding of the plot.  That whole broad business I was talking about a few lines up?  The film teeters slightly that way for its finale where it finds a wrap up that earns the warranted laugh (and a bonus surprise) while at the same time feeling like a bit of a cheat.

Small imperfections aside, there’s so much good and goodness on display that you won’t mind or have much time to ponder these items. The film moves so fast and the performances by the two leads are right on target, not to mention the full-on revelation that Dornan is quite talented when he lets his guard down and takes his serious shirt and slacks off (quite literally to the screaming delight of those in the film and, I’m sure, watching it).  In a film of many worthwhile surprises, his hidden talent displayed on a beach is perhaps the most impressive of all.

It’s a cliché to say you didn’t want a movie to end but it’s true, I was sad to see my journey with these ladies come to a conclusion and I can only hope that there’d be another adventure at some point down the road.  I know the two politely declined to write a follow-up to Bridesmaids and I can understand there not being another story there…but Barb and Star are just getting started.  So while Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar may look a bit iffy from the outside looking in, trust me when I say that you’ll be glad you traveled with them…and it might even do wonders for your spirit as well.  Mine sure felt lifted after.

The Silver Bullet ~ Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

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Synopsis
: Best friends leave their small midwestern town for the first time and soon find themselves tangled up in adventure, love, and a villain’s evil plot to kill everyone in Vista Del Mar, Florida.

Release Date:  February 12, 2021

Thoughts: At one point in time, I couldn’t imagine being late for a movie because it meant missing the all-important previews.  This was back when they didn’t give everything away in nearly three minutes.  Personally, I don’t think any trailer needs to be longer than 1:45; anything more than that tells me the movie needs extra help selling itself to audiences.  Now that I exclusively watch films at home, I have the luxury of being able to skip previews but one of the last times I was in a theater I remember seeing a short teaser for Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar and finding it a total gas.  Though I looked for it so I could do a short write-up, it never made its way online in any kind of good quality.  Thankfully, with its On Demand release date approaching in February, Lionsgate has posted a brand-new preview clocking in at…wait for it, 1:47.  Perfection.

Reuniting Kristin Wiig (Wonder Woman 1984) and Annie Mumolo (Bad Moms), the Oscar-nominated writers of Bridesmaids who star in the film together, the film looks incredibly silly but also incredibly necessary for the current climate.  A more grown-up version of Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion, there’s not a whole lot of plot covered in the trailer because the title pretty much speaks for itself.  What is on display appears to be a colorful comedy with broad broads living it up in paradise and, hopefully, uncovering the same kind of intelligent laughs found in Wiig/Mummalo’s previous outing.  I’m not expecting this to be another Bridesmaids and it looks all together different but while much of the country in shivering indoors waiting out a pandemic, this could prove to be the warm burst of fresh salty sea air that gets us through to summer.  My bags are packed and I’m ready for a vacation with these two.

Movie Review ~ Bad Moms

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bad_moms
The Facts
:

Synopsis: When three overworked and under-appreciated moms are pushed beyond their limits, they ditch their conventional responsibilities for a jolt of long overdue freedom, fun, and comedic self-indulgence.

Stars: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Jay Hernandez, Annie Mumolo, Jada Pinkett Smith, Christina Applegate, David Walton

Director: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: Man, 2016 has just not been a great year for mom movies.  I’m barely over April’s otherworldly awful Mother’s Day (RIP Garry Marshall) and now Bad Moms has been plunked down on our cinematic doorstep like a heap of garbage.  Not only is the movie tone-deaf, stupid, tiring, and boring, but the way it squanders the talent of every single cast member is really something for the record books. Like the recent Ghostbusters reboot, here is a movie that doesn’t know what to do with its perfectly capable but script stymied stars.

The first hurdle to overcome is buying the fact that 32-year-old Mila Kunis (Ted) has a 12-year-old.  Yeah, I know mathematically it works but throughout the film when sharing scenes with her two awkward children (that look nothing like her in the slightest) she looks like their babysitter instead of their mom.

Kunis is Amy, a hard-working mother of two who manages to get everything done without any help from her slacker husband or her emotionally stunted (read: awful and spoiled) tykes.  In addition to her mom duties, her part-time job for a coffee company has her putting in 40+ hours a week.  So it’s easy to see why she’s just a tad stressed when Gwyneth, the head of the PTA (a disappointingly comatose Christina Applegate, Vacation) and her two cronies (Jada Pinkett Smith and Annie Mumalo, Joy) puts a target on her for bringing store-bought food to the school bake-sale.  Working with two other PTA-averse moms (Kristen Bell, The Boss and Kathryn Hahan, Bad Words), Amy decides to challenge Gwyneth in the upcoming PTA election.

That’s pretty much all she wrote folks, or in this case all he wrote or, more to the point, all they wrote because director/screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore don’t bother to do anything original or, I dunno, funny with this material.  Though Bell’s hapless simp is fleetingly amusing and Hahn gets in some dandy zingers clearly ad libbed on the spot, the bulk of the film is an astoundingly lame exercise in men writing about the secret life of moms.  For example, take Jada Pinkett Smith’s (Magic Mike XXL) uptight Stepford wife remarking after oogling dad-hunk Jay Hernandez (Suicide Squad), that she’d “let him put it in my”…well, I’ll let you fill in the location.  That’s literally one of Pinkett Smith’s first and only lines in the film…what an impression.

Make no mistake about it, I have no objection to a movie going crass in style.  Plenty others have shown they can do it well but here it’s so uncomfortable to witness you’ll be tempted to watch certain scenes through splayed fingers normally reserved for horror movies.  Hahn knows her way around raunchy material but even she looks like she’s totally over her dialogue comprised mostly of F-bombs and synonyms for the female anatomy.  Kunis is pleasant enough but seems out of place with Bell and Hahn…I would have loved to see her switch roles with Applegate because both actresses seem to be pining to be playing any other role than their own.

At 101 minutes the film could be a good 10 minutes shorter without the numerous slo-mo scenes of bad mom debauchery.  The first time it’s used to good effect in a late-night grocery store rampage but it soon wears out its welcome, as does the tendency to blast a pop song every three minutes to punctuate scene shifts.  It’s a sloppy movie that comes in well below the taste level I’d expect of this group of otherwise pleasant actors.

As much as I disliked this film on the whole, I have to say the end credits may just be the best I’ve seen all year.  Interviews with Kunis, Bell, Hahn, Pinkettt Smith, Applegate, and Mumalo sitting next to their real life moms provides more laughs and heart than the preceding 98 minutes.  What a shame Lucas and Moore didn’t start with these interviews and find some inspiration for the screen moms they created.  Maybe they would have been more than just male cartoon visions of what moms look and sound like.

Movie Review ~ Joy

joy

The Facts:

Synopsis: Joy is the story of a family across four generations and the woman who rises to become founder and matriarch of a powerful family business dynasty.

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Édgar Ramírez, Diane Ladd, Virginia Madsen, Isabella Rossellini, Elisabeth Röhm, Bradley Cooper

Director: David O. Russell

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 124 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  The good news to report about Joy is that it’s eons better than American Hustle, the last film that teamed up director David O. Russell with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro.  The bad news is that, like American Hustle, it’s largely a watch it and forget it kind of experience with only Lawrence’s performance lingering in the memory after the credits have rolled and the lights have come up.

Working with the same three actors for his last three pictures, one could argue that Russell is gathering a bit of a cinematic repertory of talent that he finds a way to plug into his films.  That’s an interesting concept and one I’m not totally opposed to, but the problem arises when the roles being offered to these stars don’t fit them, forcing them to be the square peg valiantly sucking in their guts to fit into Russell’s round hole.

Touted as being “loosely” based on the life of Joy Mangano (c’mon Russell, it’s either based on her life or it isn’t…you can’t ride the middle ground), Joy is all over the map when it comes to its narrative.  Much of the movie is recounted by Joy’s grandmother (a divine Diane Ladd)…except when it’s not.  Long stretches of the movie go by without the grandmother’s guiding voice so the narrative device becomes a tool to assist in transitions when simple filmmaking alone can’t do the trick.

Mangano’s life plays like an ‘80s sitcom: she’s a divorcee living in her mother’s house and her ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez, Point Break) lives in the basement.  Her mom (Virginia Madsen) hides away from the world, losing herself in her soap operas (hilariously recreated by the likes of Susan Lucci and Donna Mills) and letting her daughter do most of the household upkeep.  When Joy’s hot-tempered father (De Niro, Cape Fear) moves in after his longtime girlfriend kicks him out, the dynamic of the already erratic household is thrown into disarray.

The first hour or so of Joy is an awkward mix of family situational comedy and pallid drama.  Joy’s airline job is going nowhere and her attempts at promoting a new kind of mop of her own invention isn’t attracting any business.  When her dad starts dating a rich Italian widow (Isabella Rossellini, Enemy), Joy sees a potential investor for her creation and enters into a business deal with the woman, along with her father and half-sister (Elisabeth Röhm)

It isn’t until Joy winds up in the offices of upstart company QVC that the movie starts to take some kind of shape.  Meeting the brainchild behind the business (Bradley Cooper, American Sniper), she’s encouraged to go big with her idea, leading to her becoming the first “real” person to pitch a product on the network.  The scene where Joy first appears in front of the camera to demonstrate her Miracle Mop was the only time in the entire movie that I felt something magical was happening.  That’s largely due to Lawrence’s ability to shed the skins of her previous roles and totally disappear into this woman.  A relatively short scene, it’s stuck with me in the weeks since I first saw it.

Sadly, the film reaches its peak at that moment and the rest of the time is spent tracking Joy’s bumpy ride to the top, complete with epic failures and miracle reversals of fortune.  How much of it is actually accurate I couldn’t tell you but in the eyes of Russell and co-writer Annie Mumalo (This is 40) the journey is one of pure will and unflinching drive.

The main issue I had with the movie is also the one thing that makes it worth seeing…Jennifer Lawrence.  Though she’s entirely believable as a young mother looking to make ends meet, she becomes less successful as the years go by and her character has to move into the early stages of midlife.  By the time we see her in a power suit and French manicure, all plausibility has left the room and it comes across as a great actress playing dress-up for her favorite director.  I know Lawrence and Russell have a deep fondness for each other, but both need to see that there are limits to the roles they can work on together.

The story being told here is interesting and the actors are attention-grabbing in and of themselves.  Yet something kept everything from gelling in a way that made a lasting impression.  Russell is known for his quirky tone and unexpected performances…it’s why Silver Linings Playbook worked so damn well…but his two follow-up films haven’t been able to latch onto that same magic.

The Silver Bullet ~ Joy

Joy

Synopsis: Joy is the story of a family across four generations and the woman who rises to become founder and matriarch of a powerful family business dynasty.

Release Date:  December 25, 2015

Thoughts: Here’s the deal: I loved Silver Linings Playbook, the first film that brought together Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Bradley Cooper (Aloha), and director David O. Russell and I hated American Hustle, the film that reunited the three.  So my interest in Joy is marked with more than a little trepidation.  On the one hand, it places the best thing about Playbook and Hustle (Lawrence) front and center, telling the true life tale of the woman that invented the Miracle Mop.  On the other, I’d hate to see it drown in its own love of self which was what torpedoed Hustle for me.  It looks like a wild ride, one everyone in Hollywood is waiting for to see if Lawrence finds herself in the Oscar race yet again.