Movie Review ~ Broken Diamonds

The Facts:

Synopsis: In the wake of his father’s death, a twenty-something writer sees his dream of moving to Paris put in jeopardy when he’s forced to temporarily take in his wildly unpredictable, mentally ill sister.

Stars: Ben Platt, Lola Kirke, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alphonso McAuley

Director: Peter Sattler

Rated: NR

Running Length: 90 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  I have a fear of Ben Platt.  It’s undiagnosed, but I think it’s medically sound.  I’m fairly sure it began around the time he sang Leonard Bernstein’s ” Somewhere ” live at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards in 2018 (the vibrato haunts my dreams) and it’s only grown since then.  I’ve tried exposure therapy by binging both seasons of The Politician on Netflix and I saw my pulse decrease significantly between season 1 and season 2 so I know I’m making progress.  I suffered a minor setback with the recent debut of the Dear Evan Hansen trailer and am already mentally preparing for the September 24th release date, but I put my head between my knees after I saw his hair and with some deep breathing I was able to work through the anxiety.

I truly thought Broken Diamonds was going to be another training exercise for myself, a trial to see how far I could be pushed to my breaking point where Platt was concerned.  After all, aside from his appearances in Pitch Perfect and its sequel, Platt hasn’t had much time to appear in many films.  Roles in 2015’s Ricki and the Flash and 2016’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk were forgettable but led to a more pivotal one in the 2019 drama Run This Town that didn’t even break a sweat in the US.  In all honesty, not a whole lot is riding on Broken Diamonds. Apart from it looking an awful lot like 2014’s The Skeleton Twins, it appears to have been filmed in the middle of 2018 and is being distributed by a small indie company that usually reissues old TV movies on Amazon. So even if it were a disaster for Platt, it would be easy to shove this one under the rug pretty fast.

The thing is, Platt’s performance in Broken Diamonds is maybe the best thing I’ve seen him do.  It’s his least mannered, least controlled, and least curated to death role to date.  That this is the film of his that likely not a lot of people will see is a shame because the actor is doing something special within the framework of 90ish minutes and more attention should be paid.  Working alongside the equally impressive Lola Kirke (Gone Girl), the two form a dynamic duo for a family drama focusing on two siblings aiming to find balance in their lives which are dramatically out of synch.  She’s a diagnosed schizophrenic kicked out of her mental health facility just as her brother has packed up his apartment and is moving to Paris, following his dream to become a writer.  All this happens the same weekend their father unexpectedly passes away.

Offering little complications along the way, Steve Waverly’s script is all about getting these two in the same room and talking it out as much as possible.  Sure, Platt’s character, Scott does his fair share of griping about his sister Cindy to her therapist (Catherine Lough Haggquist, Fifty Shades Freed, powerful in just a few short scenes), to their stepmother Cookie (Yvette Nicole Brown, Lady & the Tramp), and their estranged mother (Lynda Boyd, The Age of Adaline) who stays away mostly because she suffers from her own degenerative mental condition.  Without many friends of his own and with Cindy burning all of her former bridges, the siblings have no one left but each other, so the movie is comprised largely of face-to-face conversations about rough childhoods growing up in the shadow of mental illness. 

Before you go too bug-eyed and think this is all gloom and doom depressing, let me assure you that director Peter Sattler manages to keep the film from leaning toward being singularly focused on the darker side of things.  There’s plenty of small bits of humor that break up the mood from being too severe, comedy that doesn’t feel out of place or disingenuous to the more serious subjects being taken up.  Yet the film does have to get to a dramatic peak and in the end, it winds up not shying away from the black edges that mental illness can take people to.  This is where Kirke has a chance to shine as well.  We’ve already seen her do good work over multiple seasons in Amazon’s dearly departed Mozart in the Jungle but there’s some deep digging going on in Broken Diamonds that’s to be admired.

The fear of Ben Platt still remains, I think it will always be there.  I find, however, that Broken Diamonds was a good tool for me to use when I have those Grammy nightmares or think of his Instagram videos where he’s wearing overalls for the sixth or seventh day in a row.  It’s in these moments of chilling cold sweats that I’ll remember he can turn it out when he wants to and pull back for the right film and message.   

Movie Review ~ Lady and the Tramp (2019)


The Facts
:

Synopsis: American Cocker Spaniel named Lady lives with an upper-middle-class family and meets a mongrel known as the Tramp on the streets. They embark on a romantic journey and eventually fall in love.

Stars: Tessa Thompson, Justin Theroux, Thomas Mann, Kiersey Clemons, Ashley Jensen, Benedict Wong, Sam Elliott, Janelle Monáe, Yvette Nicole Brown, Adrian Martinez, Arturo Castro, F. Murrary Abraham

Director: Charlie Bean

Rated: PG

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Waking up on November 12 reminded me of one of those 80s John Hughes movies where the lead character lazily opens their eyes from slumber, blinks a few times, yawns, and then decides a few more minutes of sleep won’t do them any harm.  Then, with a jolt, their eyes snap open and they bolt upright because they’ve Just Remembered Something Important Is Happening Today.  It was on this Tuesday that I found myself acting out these same emotions/motions when I was reminded that the new streaming service Disney+ was launching and with it, a whole catalog of Disney titles and new original programming.  Long in the planning and constantly in the headlines leading up to its induction, this was a big deal and while I was definitely interested in the new movies and series, I was just eager to have easy access to titles that were harder to come by (Flight of the Navigator anyone?  Anyone?) and poured over the catalog with reckless abandon.

There was a new title I made sure to position near the top of my queue and it was the movie Disney+ had been showcasing as a big selling point for subscribing early to their service.  This would be the only place you could see the film as it hadn’t premiered first in a theater so if you wanted to watch, you had to sign up.  Originally conceived as a theatrical release, the live-action remake of Lady and the Tramp was refashioned as a cornerstone of the new Disney+ service and it largely succeeds on this smaller scale where the stakes aren’t quite as high.  Had it been, ahem, unleashed in cinemas it would likely have been held to more scrutiny from finicky nitpicks but it’s easy to slough off concerns when watching from the comfort of your own home.

Until I started doing some prep for this review, I never knew that Disney’s original 1955 animated film was based on a story first featured in a 1943 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.  Though that classic film has never been too overplayed in my household, I do have several fond memories of it throughout the years but didn’t hold it so precious in my heart that the thought of a live-action remake made me recoil.  What did give me pause was the thought of another live-action remake in 2019 after the tepid receptions of Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Lion King.  I wasn’t sure I could take another talking animal movie, especially when the bigger budgeted films failed to convince me the technology supported all the furry yapping.

At the turn of the century, young couple Jim Dear (Thomas Mann, Them That Follow) and Darling (Kiersey Clemons, Antebellum) welcome a charming Cocker Spaniel they name Lady into their home.  Lady (voiced by Tessa Thompson, Creed) lives a life of luxury, slightly spoiled but not sour.  When not with her family, she visits with neighborhood canines Trusty (Sam Elliott, A Star is Born) and Jock (Ashley Jensen, The Pirates! Band of Misfits), sniffs out a corner of the elegantly trimmed back yard, or chases away a pesky rat that’s been hanging around her house.  In another part of town, mutt Tramp (Justin Theroux, Bumblebee) scrounges for scraps and avoids a determined dogcatcher (Adrian Martinez, Office Christmas Party) who is always in pursuit of any unlicensed animal.

When her young owners start a family and their new baby takes focus away from her, Lady begins to act out, not understanding why she’s the attention she once had is going in a newer, smaller, direction.  By the time Aunt Sarah (Yvette Nicole Brown, Avengers: Endgame) has brought her swaggering, troublemaking cats over for an afternoon that goes horribly wrong, Lady finds herself on the run and falls in with Tramp who takes her under his mangy paw.  Together, they embark on an adventure through town that opens Lady’s eyes to a world outside her block and brings the mismatched dogs closer together.  How long can this pampered dog and streetwise tail-wagger keep away from the dogcatcher, though, and what will happen to Tramp when Lady has to return home?

For what it’s worth, Lady and the Tramp is no dog and is often a downright delight.  Yes, the movie is schmaltzy in all the old-fashioned ways but so is the original film.  You can’t tell me you won’t watch the famous “Bella Notte” sequence (sung by Arturo Castro, Semper Fi and F. Murrary Abraham, The Grand Budapest Hotel) where the dogs share an Italian dinner under the stars and not get a little choked up out of nothing but happiness.  Director Charlie Bean (The Lego Batman Movie) works wonders with the largely CGI dogs to make you think they’re living and breathing hounds and even if the effect doesn’t always gel and the talking mouths look a tad creepy, the end result worked for me.  Though smaller in budget, I was surprised at how good the movie looked.  It’s 1909 setting was handsomely recreated and I appreciate the timeline wasn’t modernized, it helped keep things simple and focused squarely on our characters.

Creepy talking mouths aside, the voice acting in the movie is quite pleasant.  Theroux and Thompson bring a warmth to their roles, never making Tramp too sly or Lady too snooty.  They balance well with the supporting cast featuring Elliott matched with a dog that looks frighteningly like the actor himself as well as singer Janelle Monáe (Harriet) strutting around as a pound puppy who tells Lady all she needs to know about Tramp.  As for the human actors, I didn’t quite get why the screenplay had the dogcatcher pursuing the clever canine as if locked in a Javert/Valjean epic hunt but I suppose it all adds that extra oomph to an emotional resonant finale.

For the first movie Disney+ had waiting for viewers out of the gate, I’d say Lady and the Tramp scored as a a fine inaugural outing.  It’s about 10-15 minutes too long by my estimation and some trimming would have made the movie an easier sit for younger kids (and this older kid, too) but it’s filled with enough eye-catching moments to keep that interest going longer than you’d expect.  This remake has wisely done away with the outdated cultural stereotypes of Aunt Sarah’s cats, changing their breed and giving them a new song.  That’s going to please some and anger others.  Those upset are free to watch the original film, which is also available to add to your watchlist 🙂 With more live-action remakes heading our way and other feature films planned, I’m looking forward to seeing what quality future direct-to-Disney+ will be like.