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Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher" opens along the lines of a mumblecore
film, with little dialog and brief sequences establishing the ho-hum
routine of somebody we would think would live a more intriguing and
layered life. For the film's first fifteen minutes, we follow the
routine of Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), an Olympic gold-medalist in
wrestling who is now wading in the water for something to either come
to him or him to find something to go to. These are a profound fifteen
minutes, low-key and substantive in the regard that even somebody we
fable and could possibly model ourselves after still goes through the
checklist of ordinary things in his daily life: eating alone at a
small, fold-up table in his apartment, eating fast food in his car,
practicing at your average wrestling gym, and so forth. During these
fifteen minutes, dialog is rare and we are captivated by the ambiance
of Mark's surroundings and the bleak way Miller and cinematographer
Greig Fraser (cinematographer for "Zero Dark Thirty") capture his
One day, Mark is contacted by a representative for John Eleuthère du Pont, a multimillionaire philanthropist who wants to meet with him at once. Mark travels to du Pont's lavish home, where he informs him of his patriotism and his love for the sport of wrestling, and offers to coach Mark for his wrestling team known as "Foxcatcher," where they would travel and compete in wrestling tournaments all around the world. Mark contacts his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), who has settled down with a wife and kids and, while he doesn't want to drop everything to join a wrestling team, supports his brother, for he sees that his brother's life has become a drudgery of existing rather than living. Mark accepts du Pont's offer and travels out to work under his grueling, yet motivating practices to hopefully become "the greatest wrestler in the world," a title that Mark has long-desired.
John du Pont is played by Steve Carell in one of his most fascinating and bizarre roles to date. Carell is buried under a plethora of facial prosthetics, giving his face a fatter, aged look to it, with gray, scaley-skin, thinning hair, little to no eyebrows, and a large, protruding nose. While, at first, you're distracted by Carell's getup, he overcomes one of the toughest hurdles in his acting career, which is getting you to look past the heavy use of makeup and manipulation to look at the character instead. Carell has always been an intriguing character actor to watch, taking comedy and drama roles, weaving in and out of them beautifully, like a younger Robin Williams. Here, he gives a haunting and unpredictable performance of a character that never seems fully relaxed and never quite stable.
Tatum and Ruffalo both shine in their respective roles as well, especially Tatum, who finally has found a role that allows him to show off his brawn as well as his ability to act and maintain an on-screen composure. Tatum has been one of my favorite leading males for years, and anytime somebody criticizes him of being an actor who's sole purpose is eye-candy needs to watch this film and eat their words. Tatum gives a visceral performance here, and one almost as haunting as Carell's, but in a different way. Tatum's performance is rooted more in ritualistic behaviors, including displays of uncontrollable anger when certain things do not work out, like when he's considerably overweight for a particular match. Frequently, Tatum's character engages in self-mutilation by punching and thrusting himself into a mirror, which turns out to be much more frightening then it sounds.
"Foxcatcher" is a terrific adult drama because it's so rare to see a film so low-key in its themes and its display of events, yet so effective in delivering a wild true story with all the punch it needs. Its only real misstep is how little we know about du Pont's deteriorating mental state at the end, and because of that, the ending comes out of nowhere, as if Miller and writers E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman didn't offer enough development or foreshadowing as to something like what occurred was about to take place. Furthermore, du Pont's character is sort of left as an enigma throughout the whole film, which may have been what he was like in real life to the brothers Schultz, but it becomes a bit of a contradiction, as the film tries to humanize the Schultz's yet leave du Pont cast in shadow.
However, this small feature still doesn't obscure the fact that "Foxcatcher" is one of the strongest adult dramas of the year, and has a collection of some of the year's finest performances all in one film.
Not a week ago did I write a review for Chris Rock's "Top Five," a film
about self-reliance and the belief in oneself in order to remain
relevant and exercise one's creative and artistic drive in a brazen
manner. It hasn't even been two months since I wrote a review for
"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)," another film about
self-worth, self-reliance, and the desire to remain relevant and
important, not compromising your artistic integrity so others,
including yourself, can profit, but so you can maintain the kind of
value that could potentially last you a lifetime. Now, on Christmas
Day, I'm faced with Tim Burton's "Big Eyes," cementing my comments that
2014 has really been a year for artists in every sense, showing their
struggles, their ability to be corrupted and used, and showing their
rhino-skinned interiors make for incredible films about determination
and drive in a way that doesn't have to be a pit of clichés.
"Big Eyes," by far, is the saddest film of the three, concerning a young mother who chose to separate from her husband in the "all is well," cheery times of the 1950's to only become entangled in a second marriage that would further exploit her for all she was worth in a way that could've been worse than her first. The story is of Margaret (Amy Adams), who left her husband almost dead broke and with little employment options being inexperienced and a woman. All Margaret knew was she loved to paint and was good at it, often drumming up solid business at local art fairs where she would paint pictures of patrons, emphasizing the features brought forth on their eyes and their pupils. She believed the eyes were the windows to the soul and defined emotion and momentary contentment through those particular windows.
Margaret's art drew the attention of Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a self-proclaimed artist who spoke of studying extensively in France, who also worked as a salesman of his personal portraits of the streets of France. Walter saw opportunity in Margaret's work, and immediately went after her, basically seeing her figures' large eyes as large, gleaming dollar signs ready to be taken to the bank and cashed for every cent they were worth. After only knowing each other for a short time, Margaret fell into Walter's trap of marriage and profit, as he took credit for painting the art while soliciting it to different venues, exhibits, and clients while she sat back in her study, slaving away at a worn paintbrush.
Tim Burton's "Big Eyes" focuses on the artistic corruption of Margaret's work through the act of reproducing original paintings by use of mass-printing, and how one person's original vision and deep-rooted symbolism within his or her works can be corrupted by another person's ability to smooth-talk and coerce. Walter promised riches, and, for the record, he made both him and Margaret a great deal of money on her works, but at what cost? The cost of artistic integrity and the compromise of one's original vision, which are priceless in the grand scheme to amounts jotted down in a checkbook or a ledger.
Burton conducts "Big Eyes" with his trademark sense of manipulation and exaggeration of conventions, situations, and environments. Consider how dreamlike and antiseptic Margaret's suburban home with her first husband looks, echoing the plasticity of the environment in Burton's classic "Edward Scissorhands." Consider how frequently lush and saturated Margaret's environment becomes when she starts painting, as colors and fine details push themselves into the foreground and show you how beautiful of a film this becomes from a visual standpoint. The way Burton blends surrealism into the film makes the madness unfold in an even greater manner, with the scene where Margaret is shopping in a supermarket and sees her paintings and artistic works cheapened to ubiquitous reproductions being one of my favorite scenes this year.
Some will comment on how Waltz seems to be overacting at times here, but frankly, I feel it kind of works, as he is supposed to be a hyperactive, impulsive, and idealistic salesman, so his personality should be something along the lines of exaggerated. He pulls it off tremendously here, being menacing at times but always fiercely watchable thanks to his character's ability to do such horrible things while remaining smiley and acting as if he is not doing anything wrong. Adams, here, is a marvel as well, quiet, thoughtful, unlike her husband, and carries robot-like sentiment in the best way during the film, moving like a programmed automaton when we can see so much is going on inside her that she's on the brink of a mental burnout.
"Big Eyes" is a great film thanks to its performances and impeccable visuals, but sneaks up on you with the weight and emotional-strength of its themes about artistic integrity and being coerced into the compromise of one's vision in the worst possible way. It wasn't until I walked out of this film, alone and in a contemplative mood, that I realized this was one of the saddest films I have seen all year while simultaneously the most beautiful.
Their First Mistake is a short that really embodies the essence of what
Laurel and Hardy were about as a comedic duo. Hal Roach, the famous
producer of many of their shorts along with a barrage of other
successful ones for the period, famously stated how Laurel and Hardy
complimented each other with their slapstick and behavioral tendencies,
but what always drove me to their shorts as a means for pleasant
escapism besides their inherent humor was how both characters were
loyal to one another. It was as if they were all each other had, and no
matter how angry they got at each other, they had to stick together,
for where else would they go?
When Laurel and Hardy decide to adopt a baby to prove to Hardy's wife (Mae Busch) that they are indeed responsible and trustworthy, they are all they have, and while the short is frequently funny, it also proves this point as it goes on. Notice how even through anger and hostility brew between one another, there both men are, quick to recoup and try to do the right thing, despite going about it in the wrong way. Furthermore, Laurel and Hardy are breathlessly funny, finding a plethora of ways to be entertaining as well as thoughtfully engaging.
Their First Mistake embodies precisely why their careers and shorts have a timeless longevity.
Starring: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, and Mae Busch. Directed by: George Marshall.
Finally, at long last, I have stumbled upon a Laurel and Hardy short
that perfectly balances slapstick comedy and verbal banter to create a
short that is a winning combination of the both, without being too
reliant on the former. Helpmates concerns Hardy, who awakens after an
evidently-raucous party took place in his apartment, with everything in
total disarray and his wife coming home that very day. Hardy - after
giving himself quite the hilarious lecture in the mirror - does all he
can when he wakes up with a hangover and without a clue; he phones
Laurel, who rushes over (after playing the most believable rendition of
stupid and witless) to help his longtime pal clean up before the
arrival of his wife.
Helpmates is the classic comedy short that derives its humor from the thesis question "just how much can go wrong for these two well-meaning individuals?" So much destruction and chaos is caused by trying to remedy the situation than was in the process of not even caring about the situation or the well-being of the house during the unseen party, it seems. Windows are broken, people are injured, and a cacophony of madness ensues for the boys as they try to do the right thing but end up doing everything completely and totally wrong.
Helpmates delicately balances the insanity with the narratively witty, setting up the short in a "one thing leads to another" manner rather than just having a plethora of ridiculousness cobbled together with no rhyme or reason. There's a structurally insanity to Helpmates that makes it so fun, and the age-old idea of destroying something even more when you're trying to fix it almost never gets old. This is one of the most fun Laurel and Hardy shorts I know, even more so considering it was a recipe for slapstick monotony.
Starring: Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Directed by: James Parrott.
We've seen Laurel and Hardy as bums, unionized workers, manual
laborers, Christmas tree sales man, and men soon to be married, but
never before have we seen them as police officers (that work was
presumably left to the Keystone Cops). The Midnight Patrol shows Laurel
and Hardy as two late night police officers, who are informed of a
burglary at a nearby mansion. After being completely oblivious to
another thief attempting to crack a safe at a local store until he
tries to steal the boys' car, Laurel and Hardy arrive at the
aforementioned mansion and need to find a way inside. The boys attempt
to use a solid stone bench as a battering ram to break the door down,
which results in one of the funniest Laurel and Hardy stunts in any of
their shorts, as they cause complete destruction to property and end up
in a barrel of sauerkraut (don't ask) before being scolded by their
superiors in the harshest, most evil way.
The Midnight Patrol is a much more downtrodden, morbid short by the boys, dark and noir-ish in lighting and tone, only complimenting the early 1930's time period. Laurel and Hardy are intensely watchable here, but the humor is traded for a much more casual approach to a narrative that isn't always funny nor interesting, and, frankly, sometimes boring. However, the frightening and unexpected ending and the setup here are unique enough for Laurel and Hardy standards that The Midnight Patrol merits a watch in some respect.
Starring: Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Directed by: Lloyd French.
If it isn't remembered for anything else, Wish I Was Here may go down
as one of the most controversial crowdfunded films ever made for
reasons that didn't even involve the film's ambitions or content. When
Braff announced in 2013 his sophomore directorial effort would be
funded by generous donations and contributions from fans and supporters
of his work on the popular crowdfunding website Kickstarter, backlash
ensued, questioning Braff's business asking for contributions when he,
himself, had presumably made a great deal of money from his last film
Garden State ad his recurring role on TV's Scrubs. Despite considerable
flak, Braff managed to reach his goal of $2 million in just three days,
ending up with over $3 million from almost 47,000 people and the result
is the offbeat but likable Wish I Was Here.
The film stars Braff, who also co-wrote the film with his brother Adam, as Aidan Bloom, a thirty-five-year old father desperately trying to work as an actor in Los Angeles, while struggling to support his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) and their two children, Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) and Grace (Joey King). Tucker and Grace are blessed to go to a private, Orthodox Jewish school thanks to assistance from Aidan's father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin), which lightens the financial burden Aidan and Sarah are already having a hard time bearing. Tragedy strikes when Gabe reveals to Aidan that his cancer has reoccurred, he regretfully cuts the education fund for the children so the money can be spent on much needed radiation treatment. After realizing that no aid will be provided from the Orthodox Jewish school (make whatever joke you want, Braff sure does), Sarah proposes the idea of having Aidan, who is already more-or-less a stay at home father, homeschool the children, which leads to an early midlife crisis on part of Aidan, who wants to remain worthwhile and, most importantly, worth something.
If there has been a recurring theme in the films of 2014, between Birdman, Top Five, and now Wish I Was Here, it's the desire to rise above critics and feel like you matter in a big way. Wish I Was Here concerns ideas of self-worth and personal pride in realistic ways, given the fact that Aidan's lack of consistent income and casual disapproval from his father hurts in more ways than he allows be shown. Also affected by diminishing feelings of value is Aidan's brother Noah (Josh Gad), who lives alone and relishes in the childlike whimsy of attending comic conventions and cosplaying rather than owning up to actual, adult responsibilities, again, much to the dismay of his father.
Wish I Was Here is also an interesting film about early millennials finally adhering to the responsibilities they long put off when they are forced to make challenging, life-altering decisions that were either ignored or made by one of their superiors. While Braff isn't, by definition, a millennial, his filmmaking sensibilities reflect that of a generation driven by change, experimentation, and the lack of uniformed convention, and Wish I Was Here follows a couple who seemed to be taken by that kind of youthful idealism only to settle into having a family and accepting the same responsibilities their parents had to. Even if the characters aren't handling situations in the fabled "right way" (case and point, when Aidan confronts one of Sarah's coworkers who has been prolific in sexually-harassing her), we can at least see and accept the fact these characters are trying.
I wasn't a big fan of Garden State, Braff's first directorial effort; I found everything a little too artificial, the humor a little too inconsistent, and the characters a bit too cutesy. With Wish I Was Here, it's as if Braff himself, grew up too, in an emotional and assured manner. The film remains fiercely likable, never too unbelievable, and consistently funny, as Braff's impeccable deadpan, verbal banter allows for a new layer of fun to be carried out, and when one views the film as an imploring wakeup call to grow up and accept responsibility, Wish I Was Here becomes one of the most important comedies of 2014.
Starring: Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Pierce Gagnon, Joey King, Josh Gad, and Mandy Patinkin. Directed by: Zach Braff.
If there was any actor/comedian that was going to make a film about the
struggles of rising to the top, remaining funny, hanging on to a name
that represents nonstop hilarity and talent, and navigating the ins and
outs of the business of being funny, Chris Rock probably would've been
on the directorial shortlist. "Top Five" is one of Rock's most personal
directorial efforts and it's indicative that Rock has some significant
things to say about his life, his story, and the world of comedy. With
"Top Five," a gathers a comedy ensemble of industry greats and young
talent to create one of the year's most original comedies that, if
nothing else, allows you to look at the fragility of an
actor/comedian's career and longevity.
The film concerns Andre Allen (Chris Rock), one of the most famous comedy actors in the business today after doing three consecutive comedies revolving around the character of "Hammy the Bear," which had Allen dressed in a large, realistic bear outfit. At this point in his career, Allen wants to forget about "Hammy the Bear" and focus on his new film "Uprize," concerning the slave rebellion in Haiti, which is proving to be an uphill battle to market and convince audiences this is a new direction for the actor. In the mix of marketing and releasing this film, as well as marrying his fiancée Erica Long (Gabrielle Union) live on the Bravo Network, Allen is also giving a revealing interview to Chelsea Brown (Rosario Dawson), a journalist working for a critic who detests all of Allen's films. With this, Allen must confront his past to understand and move forward his present, and "Top Five" explores how he manages to get by with such baggage like alcoholism and self doubt about his own relevance.
Instantly, "Top Five" reminds one of "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)," another film released this year about an actor trying to disregard his previous film roles as a superhero in favor of a more grounded, serious project, in this case, a play he desperately wanted people to see, connect with, and positively receive. "Top Five," like "Birdman," is also a film about dealing with one's critics, regardless of whether or not they are professional or everyday individuals that comment on your work positively or negatively. "Birdman" and "Top Five" both tow dangerous lines here, and one false move could've easily made both films seem nothing more than a whiny display of alleged satire and social commentary about the relevance of critics, as if they brought on the problems in their characters' lives simply by giving their opinion on their products. However, Rock is far too intelligent to make a one-note film about passing blame and lambasting negative critics. Instead, he makes his character of Andre Allen recognize the role of a critic, but also criticize how one man in particular seems out to get him at every turn, divulging professional criticism into needless personal attacks, as well as showing that the true change and accountability of oneself is, of course, a big part in life.
When "Top Five" addresses these ideas, often through witty and thoughtfully-written conversation between Rock and Dawson, is when the film shines. Unfortunately, "Top Five" doesn't always want to stick to these ideas in the most rational sense, and frequently descends into showing debauchery in a way that's distracting and simply not funny. The wild sex scenes in "Top Five" are like poison to the thoughtfulness of the material, with raunchiness taking place between four characters at a time, including Cedric the Entertainer, and another terribly unfunny scene involving Chelsea's ex-boyfriend. The wild scenes in "Top Five" aren't like such in "The Wolf of Wall Street," where they either carried a genuine element of industry realism to them or helped develop the character of Jordan Belfort in some way, and instead play for the cheap and desperate sight gag laugh that has no long term value whatsoever.
These ribald scenes almost effectively derail the ideas of the film, and the fact that Rock throws many in the film at strange and disjointed times makes for a movie experience that's frequently uneven, but, at the very least, also unpredictable. The other thing to note with the film is that two of its producers are rappers Jay-Z and Kanye West, who have their music playing at various points of the film, giving "Top Five" a "bought and paid for" vibe that also doesn't gel particularly well with the film's presentation.
Nonetheless, even with these inclusions, Rock and company manage to be funny, including several hilarious moments with actors like J.B. Smoove, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Kevin Hart (who really proves his presence works best in a "less is more fashion"), and even DMX, cementing that Rock knows how to do more than just name-drop and stunt-cast. Every character in the film has a reason for being there, and, amazingly, no one feels like their own marketing campaign. "Top Five" may not be the most consistent or uproariously funny comedy of the year, but its charm starts at Rock's audacity, something his standup continues to reflect, and continues with how adamant he is about incorporating major themes about an industry in a way that may be challenging for many to understand but contemplative and maybe even self-reflective all the more.
NOTE: This is a review of the theatrical, forty-seven minute cut of
James Cameron and Steven Quale's Aliens of the Deep, not the
ninety-nine minute version released on DVD.
Director James Cameron, the director of Avatar and Titanic, the two highest-grossing motion pictures ever made, has always had a fascination with science, space exploration, and the unknown, which makes him the logical person to make Aliens of the Deep, a forty-seven minute, theatrically-released documentary concerning underwater space exploration. Cameron and a crew of highly-qualified explorers and marine biologists justify underwater exploration by the idea that it would help understand the limitlessness of outer space and implore that we must discover the relatively unexplored ocean floor before we can begin exploring space.
For this brief documentary, Cameron and company take us deep underwater, in small submarines to explore the creatures that live deep in the treacherous oceans. Cameron, his co-director Steven Quale, who went on to direct such disaster films as Final Destination 5 and Into the Storm, and two additional cinematographers Vince Pace and Ron Allum photograph this film evocatively, exploiting the ocean for its natural beauty by showing the magnificent creatures within its ecosystem. In addition, editors Matthew Kregor and Fiona Wight - undoubtedly working off of Cameron's influence - construct this film as if it's a work of fiction, splicing in narrations and cohesive, story-like pacing to the film, adding an unexpected layer of tidiness.
The film works up until we listen to the interactions between the biologists, the doctors, and Cameron, which sound perfunctory to say the least, as if they're complimenting the aforementioned narrative qualities of the film. Their comments often sound sarcastic or too quick to joke, making them unnatural and not the realistic thing certain individuals would say under these situations. It's as if Cameron and company didn't think people would appreciate a lot of scientific jargon, so they simplified the story and the dialog in such a way that DisneyNature films often give their animal characters celebrity voices to humanize their lives and actions.
Aliens of the Deep is an interesting stepping stone for someone looking to exercise their love for underwater exploration, marine biology, or simply the thrill of the unknown, but its editing structure and pacing make its peer and situational authenticity highly questionable.
Directed by: James Cameron and Steven Quale.
Me and My Pal concerns Oliver Hardy, who is anxious as can be on his
wedding day, as he's not only about to marry a beautiful lady but also
become an "oil magnate," thanks to her father Pete Cucumber (Jimmy
Finlayson) and his enthusiastic support for his daughter's fiancée.
Just before he is about to leave for the wedding, Stan Laurel, Hardy's
best man, arrives after ordering the flowers for the reception with a
jigsaw puzzle. While Hardy initially rejects it as a distraction, both
men can't help but become entranced in trying to solve the puzzle, so
much so they become incredibly tardy for the wedding, worrying Hardy's
bride-to-be and angering Cucumber. Soon, after the butler and the
driver become immersed in solving the puzzle, nobody is going anywhere,
and Cucumber leaves the wedding to find and scold Hardy.
Me and My Pal is an intriguing short because the humor, for once in a Laurel and Hardy short, is neither brought forth by situational comedy or verbal banter; the humor of the short is entirely reliant on the fact that everybody becomes fascinated and invested in solving a jigsaw puzzle. It's as if the puzzle has some magical force that sucks anyone around it into solving it, which is where the short finds almost all of its humor. The issue is this isn't the kind of funny that's hilarious, or the kind somebody thinks of when they think of Laurel and Hardy, but the kind of funny that is baffling or contemplative.
Director Charles Rogers wisely keeps this short a slender nineteen minutes because anymore and we'd be far past the threshold for this kind of material. This is one of the strangest shorts by Laurel and Hardy I have yet to see, one that's not brazenly funny but one that finds ways to mystify by subtly invoking a fantasy element without any supernatural behavior. It's not quite amazing, but it's quietly subversive, especially given that these two men had a formula down from their very first shorts that they often stuck with until the end.
Starring: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, and Jimmy Finlayson. Directed by: Charles Rogers.
This is Where I Leave You is one of those films that can almost trick
you into believing it's a good film because you get so wrapped up in
the energy and performances of the actors that you forget that the
writing is either trying too hard or simply undercutting the wealth of
talent on screen rather than enriching. In this case, This is Where I
Leave You does both, not giving its characters enough plausible
humanity and, instead, trades pragmatic routes for character-driven
scenarios for brazen comedy or overly-sappy drama, making for a film
that holds about as much emotional maturity as a satire about the
topics of family and grief.
The film centers around the Altman family, who are united following the death of their patriarch, who's dying wish was for the family to sit Shiva, a Jewish tradition meaning that everyone in the family must live under the same roof for the next week, so we are told by Hillary (Jane Fonda), the Altman's mother. The four Altman siblings, who are all emotionally damaged or troubled in some way, find this to be a daunting task for many reasons: Judd (Jason Bateman), for one, has recently witness his wife having sex with his boss, Wendy (Tina Fey) has a marriage that is failing due to her husband's frequent absence, Phillip (Adam Driver) is an immature playboy unwilling to give up his childish ways, and Paul (Corey Stoll), while seeming like the only sibling who has his ducks in order, still finds ways to be too confrontational with his siblings or too hardened in his own way of thinking. Together, this family must tolerate each other for a week to adhere to their dying father's wish, and we must endure one-hundred and forty-three minutes of their comedic and dramatic zaniness.
Instantly, anyone who paid attention to film last year has visions of August: Osage County dancing in their head, a far better and more elaborate drama that won me over because of how invested it was in character relations and dialog. This is Where I Leave You is, on the contrary, invested in sitcom behavior, featuring characters with large and overdrawn personalities and situational humor taking presence over verbal wit or conversational realism. The sole intriguing Altman sibling is Judd, for he has a real problem on his hands, and whenever we get involved in talking about his particular situation is when writer Jonathan Tropper (who also wrote the book of the same name) decided to paint a more honest and emotional picture of these characters. Everything else, given the presence of Adam Driver's obnoxious Phillip character and Jane Fonda's equally obnoxious and annoying Hillary, is rooted in goofy comedy, which goes far beyond my personal threshold for family zaniness.
When the film wants to turn a bit more emotional, Tropper makes it interesting enough, at least giving these characters more to think about and place into perspective. However, the feature out of his control was the film's editing, which is crafted in a way to be emotionally manipulative, cuing the right slow-song to get the emotional rise out of the material. The more we cycle to find the broadly-drawn humor of the story, the strange characters in their own peculiar situations, and the emotional manipulation that could be crafted out of the material, the more we feel like we're watching an extended pilot for a new fall primetime program than a theatrical film.
Again, This is Where I Leave You has the partial-saving grace of multiple talented people working all in one picture, with everyone doing a pretty commendable job, even if their characters are partially annoying. Tina Fey reminds audiences why she's often considered one of the funniest females in comedy today by her one-liners, and Jason Bateman's heartbreak treads the line of potentially being close to home for some. However, take a step back and look at the film that encompasses these fine actors and you'll see one filled with unsubtle emotions and lackluster comedy, making for a painfully uneven ride through what could've been a hearty depictions of the commonalities of family.
Starring: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne, and Abigail Spencer. Directed by: Shawn Levy.
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