Movie Review ~ Book Club


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Four lifelong friends have their lives forever changed after reading Fifty Shades of Grey in their monthly book club.

Stars: Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton, Wallace Shawn, Richard Dreyfuss, Ed Begley Jr.

Director: Bill Holderman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 104 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: There are some that would say a comedy featuring four multi-award winning actresses of a certain age humorously discovering that “the next chapter is always the best” would be a no-brainer. Turns out they were spot on…Book Club has no brains to speak of. Here’s an aggressively dull, pandering movie that manages to do a disservice to its distinguished actors and an intended audience already woefully underserved. With its tin ear for realistic dialogue and a baffling cluelessness to how humans behave, no clichéd stone is left unturned.

Friends since college, Vivian (Jane Fonda, Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding), Sharon (Candice Bergen, Home Again), Carol (Mary Steenburgen, Parenthood), and Diane (Diane Keaton, And So It Goes) meet for their monthly book club in one of their pristine dwellings. Starting with Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying and recently coming off of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, vampy Vivian introduces the ladies to E.L. James’ famous smut tome Fifty Shades of Grey. That’s the first red flag that pops up in the script from Erin Simms (Pete’s Dragon) and director Bill Holderman (A Walk in the Woods). As poorly written as it was, James’ book was a phenomenon and you’d have to be living under a rock to not have heard of it or seen the movies adapted from her trilogy of novels. Aside from Vivian, none of the ladies seems to know much about it and are shocked to discover its titillating scenes of bondage and explicit couplings.

All four ladies are, naturally, having trouble in the romance department and find that the book not so much ignites a newfound lust for life as it influences their choices. Hotelier and notoriously single Vivian runs into a long-lost paramour (Don Johnson, Django Unchained) who might have been the one that got away while federal judge Sharon, still bruised from her divorce, signs up for a dating service and winds up attracting the attention of Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws) and Wallace Shawn (Admission). Carol is finding it difficult to connect with her husband (Craig T. Nelson, Poltergeist) in and out of the bedroom and widowed Diane ventures into a new relationship with a swarthy pilot (Andy Garcia, Jennifer 8) while her children pressure her to move closer to them.

What laughs there are to be had (and trust me, there aren’t many) come, surprisingly, from Bergen who I’ve always found to be a little aloof in films. Here she seems to be having a ball as a high-strung intellectual embarrassed she has to resort to finding a date online. Sadly, the film doesn’t give her a full arc so by the time we’ve gotten into her rhythm with Dreyfuss he’s disappeared, never to be heard from again. There’s even less time spent with Shawn who pops up in for a well-timed cameo but doesn’t get much chance to make an impression.

For my money, far too much time is spent with Fonda’s storyline, which is the most ham-fisted of the bunch. Wearing an awful wig and decked out in one gaudy outfit after another, it’s not hard to see where things are headed for the woman who likes to sleep with men but doesn’t like to “sleep” with them after. Always an underrated commodity in film and television, Steenburgen has nice moments here and there and while her thread is likely the most relatable, by the time the film has her tap dancing to a Meat Loaf song at a talent show you can literally see her working hard to keep up with things.

Then there’s Keaton who, to me, seems like the most natural fit for this type of froth. Sadly, Holderman and Simms make her character such a doormat and allow her children (Alicia Silverstone and Katie Aselton) to take her for granted far too long. (It’s also a mystery to me why there are two daughters when the film only needed one) Keaton coasts through much of the movie on fumes and only comes alive when there’s some physical comedy to execute, if only Holderman and Simms had given her character dimension of any kind.

What kind of message is the movie ultimately sending? A detriment to the film’s credibility is its stupefying lack of diversity. Taking place in present-day Los Angeles (and made on the cheap with a ton of questionable green screen and downright lousy Photoshop), there’s nary a person of color to be seen aside from a few random service workers. Purporting the myth of the white woman fantasy so grossly admired in Nancy Meyers movies with its affluent rich white ladies, Book Club feels completely out of touch and out of step with our society. Even worse, when you get right down to it, every woman in the film needs to be defined by the men they are with.  There’s something uncomfortable about watching that unfold before you.

Book Club is for easy readers only.

Movie Review ~ Admission

admission

The Facts:

Synopsis: A Princeton admissions officer who is up for a major promotion takes a professional risk after she meets a college-bound alternative school kid who just might be the son she gave up years ago in a secret adoption.

Stars: Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Nat Wolff, Lily Tomlin, Michael Sheen, Wallace Shawn, Gloria Reuben

Director: Paul Weitz

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  The ads for Admission might make you think this is a true blue comedy and with bona-fide funny stars Fey and Rudd in the mix you could be forgiven if you go into the movie with the wrong expectations.  I read several reviews that trounced the film for not having enough laughs considering the people involved and that’s not entirely fair because Admission is more of a dramedy than your typical comedy and shouldn’t be judged on the same laugh-o-meter as, say, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.  Actually, strike that…even with a smaller amount of laughs Admission has at least 70% more chuckles than that recent bomb.

Anyway, what Admission does right is allowing Fey and Rudd to bring their own flair to the film and that’s when it tends to work the best.  Though it’s about fifteen minutes too long and winds up leaving the audience a bit unfulfilled, there’s a decent amount of good material that gives the movie some heft. 

Perhaps she’s been playing Liz Lemon on TV’s 30 Rock too long or it could be that she’s ever the tiniest bit overexposed, but Fey has an uphill battle here that never really works out like it should.  She’s a Princeton admission counselor that’s as by the book as they come.  Her life is perfectly simple in its planning and assembly…that is until in the span of a few days she gets dumped by her wimp boyfriend (Sheen, looking uncomfortably rumpled) and informed by Rudd’s alternative school teacher that a prospective Princeton student may be the child she gave up for adoption 18 years prior. 

The set-up is nothing new and the skilled audience member will see what parts of Fey’s ordered life will be thrown into turmoil by her recent string of revelations long before the movie chooses to upend them.  With a film as predictable as this, it’s important to have the right type of actors in the mix to make it palatable and that’s where director Weitz (Being Flynn, In Good Company, About a Boy) scores some points.

Though Fey can’t totally shed her recognizable persona, she has a few interesting moments in early scenes as she’s interacting with potential applicants that take shape before her as she’s reading their application stats.  There’s no denying Fey has the charm and wit to make a film work but perhaps if Admission had been less scenes with her running into her ex and a few more that dealt with her own fractured relationship with her mother (a scene stealing Tomlin) a better film, and consequently performance, may have emerged.

It also doesn’t help that Rudd’s role winds up feeling extraneous in the grand scheme of things. Though there’s a misguided attempt to create chemistry between the actors I would have preferred his role to have been smaller or played by someone other than Rudd (who otherwise bounces back nicely from December’s  truly awful This is 40) to help shift the focus back onto Fey’s character.  Every time the movie diverts to show some of the problems with Rudd’s character, I longed for it to relate more to what was going on in Fey’s plotline.

In the end I wasn’t crazy about the direction the movie took, feeling that it robbed Fey’s character of some dignity and the audience from a real resolution.  There’ s a Hollywood resolution firmly in place that in hindsight probably was pre-destined, but it’s frustrating to see some very good talent working with slightly mediocre material.  Even though it’s handsomely made, put Admission on the waitlist until you can watch it in the comfort of your own home and give it your own final grade.

The Silver Bullet ~ Admission

admission

Synopsis: A Princeton admissions officer who is up for a major promotion takes a professional risk after she meets a college-bound alternative school kid who just might be the son she gave up years ago in a secret adoption.

Release Date:  March 8, 2013

Thoughts: I’m going to preface this by saying that I love Tina Fey and Paul Rudd.  Both are engaging, creative actors who have helped put a squeaky shine on many a dull film.  That being said, I’m ready for both actors to go outside of their comfort zone.  With Fey’s 30 Rock in its final season and Rudd’s career doing just fine, how about the two actors try for something a bit unexpected…just to feel the waters.  I felt the same way with the Fey/Steve Carrell collaboration of Date Night…two actors that could do this kind of role in their sleep and whose presence in an unremarkable looking movie just smells of easy money.  Director Paul Weitz has a nice track record and I’m sure this will be perfectly entertaining – but I do want to see Fey and Rudd step it up a bit.

The Silver Bullet ~ Vamps

Synopsis: Two female vampires in modern-day New York City are faced with daunting romantic possibilities.

Release Date:  November 2, 2012

Thoughts: Oh dear.  Well, being a big Amy Heckerling fan (even National Lampoon’s European Vacation!) I had been waiting for this one for a while.  Long delayed for a theatrical release, Vamps was recently announced as going direct-to-video.  After viewing the silly trailer I can see why.  Featuring a nice supply of actors that know how to do light comedy, I’m a bit surprised this looks as bad as it does.  Who knows, perhaps this one will be a guilty pleasure but I’m guessing it’ll be a toothless comedy lacking bite.