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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 21.Jul.20
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Sam Friedlander
prd Sam Friedlander, Rebecca G Stone, Matt DiNicola, David C Smith
with Danny Pudi, Emily C Chang, Maiara Walsh, Eddie Alfano, Mark Feuerstein, Brian Thomas Smith, Ben Goldsmith, Landon Ashworth, Andree Vermeulen, Kirk Zipfel, Kayla DiVenere, Luca Malacrino
release US 24.Jul.20,
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Snappy and current, this comedy explores the idea that young professionals are never quite ready to have kids, even if they want them. Writer-director Sam Friedlander humorously captures this, as well as the zeitgeist of uptight urbanites whose lives are a blur of fads, work opportunities and social pressures. The film is overlong and tells the story from the male perspective, but it's involving, funny and even somewhat provocative.
When Sarah (Chang) says she wants a baby, her husband Jeff (Pudi) is afraid he'll have to sacrifice his still-unfocussed career to raise a child. After they talk this through with their friends Taylor and Don (Walsh and Alfano), Jeff floats a crazy idea: why not share a baby between them? They'd be able to split responsibilities and give the child two sets of loving parents. And its oddly easy to solve the obvious questions. For example, Sarah wants to experience childbirth, and Don wants genetic offspring. So the plan begins to take shape.
The script is packed with sparky banter, plus throwaway gags like a riotous flurry of trigger warnings at one of Jeff's work presentations. But after establishing the character interaction, the film essentially becomes a series of slapstick set-pieces as Sarah and Jeff face exaggerated scenarios involving unruly kids or their infuriating parents. And other sequences are downright excruciating. But this journey raises resonant issues for each person, leading to some inventive fantasy sequences for Jeff, who also takes his own journey of self-discovery.
Each of the actors creates a realistic character, skilfully underplaying the comedy, which of course makes it funnier. This also keeps the tone light even when serious things are going on, playing up awkwardly hilarious dialog instead of the complex reality. Pudi has the central role, and he and Chang, Walsh and Alfano are terrific as people trying to set rules for something that breaks all the rules. Their reactions are hilarious, as is the way they attempt to speak like mature adults through some very sticky topics.
Within the comical framework, the film explores the bigger issues that circle around these two couples as they try to work through the process, including the high costs and moral questions. Each stage of this process brings unexpected challenges, and Friedlander stretches everything out with extended set-pieces and unnecessary wrinkles and revelations. Along the way, the movie veers between silly farce and proper emotions. It may sidestep the deeper issues but it's consistently engaging.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Ryan Patrick Bartley
scr Matt Steele
prd Jayson Bernard, Robert Rosario Jr, Maria Capp, Ryan Patrick Bartley, Matt Steele
with Matt Steele, Timothy Brundidge, Nicole Sullivan, Jayson Bernard, Jason Stuart, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Jake Busey, Michelle Way, Luis Avila, Julia Boyd, Chris Schermerhorn, Daniel Kim
release US 14.Jul.20
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Taking a broad approach, this fast and silly comedy backs up the nuttiness with some serious undertones, which helps make the diverse ensemble of goofy characters genuinely engaging. It all looks enjoyably cheap and cheerful, with designs based around lurid primary colours, and is nicely set in a world where Catholics are fully inclusive of gay boys and trans girls. But it's a shame the filmmakers left out the songs.
Set to go to New York University next year, senior Ricky (Redmond) is the drama club primadonna at his San Fernando Valley high school, and his single mother Candy (Sullivan) is his biggest fan. Then injured hot jock Josh (Brundidge) turns up at auditions, and he can sing like an angel. When the director (Bernard) decides they should share the lead role, Ricky is not happy. But he agrees to show Josh the ropes. Unsurprisingly, this leads to an accelerated rivalry between them, as both are contending for a rising-star theatre scholarship.
There's a lot of sassy attitude on-screen, as characters bump egos about pretty much everything that comes along. All of the drama is heightened, as these teens treat each slight as if it's the end of the world. Beneath the snark, they're also dealing with some bigger issues relating to their futures. Ricky is known around school as "that gay dude who sings and stuff". He longs to make his name on Broadway, but he can't without the scholarship. Meanwhile, Josh's injury has forced him to find a new dream, although his parents (Busey and Way) disapprove.
Director Bartley's main note seems to have been, "Go bigger." The actors overplay everything, so even the relatively serious moments are infused with smiley sass. Steele and Brundidge at least allow some knowing textures to seep in around the edges, so when the characters drop their guard there's a vague sense of realism to their interaction. The other kids and adults are much more cartoonish, sometimes annoying (the gurning Bernard) and occasionally amusing (Winokur's frazzled musical director).
There are strong scenes carefully peppered throughout the narrative, such as when Josh stands up to his dad's pushiness. But this signals a rather trite turn of events that only ramps up the backstage cattiness, leading to dopey slapstick and an epically cliched showdown. Thankfully, by this point there's enough emotional resonance that we are rooting for the characters. So it's surprising that the final scenes are almost staggeringly cynical.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Kim Hagen Jensen
scr Soren Grinderslev Hansen
prd Sunit Parekh, Nynne Selin Eidnes
voices Robyn Dempsey, Emma Jenkins, Luke Griffin, Tom Hale, Karen Ardiff, Brendan McDonald, Alberte Winding, Stephanie Vazquez, Paul Tylak
release Den 6.Feb.20,
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Ambitiously animated with beautiful details, this Danish adventure is a wonderfully vivid flight of fancy that taps into the imagination. It's a mesmerising little film, deliberately made to target young viewers, but it will appeal to adults who can still tap into the child inside. There are elements that perhaps feel too familiar, and the plot kind of rushes between its set-pieces. But it's a lot of fun.
Missing her musician mother, Minna (Dempsey) feels upended when her father John (Hale) remarries, creating a blended family with stepmum Helene (Ardiff) and social media obsessed stepsister Jenny (Jenkins). So Minna retreats to her dreamworld, where anything is possible. Then one night while dreaming, she crashes through a wall and meets the chatty creature Gaff (Griffin), who constructs her dreams. So she begs him to help her get into Jenny's dreams to change her harsh attitudes. But breaking the rules leads to all kinds of trouble, both in the dream realm and in real life.
Minna has an adorable hamster named Viggo Mortensen (who thankfully doesn't speak), and the tyrannical-narcissistic Jenny's first declaration is that he must be caged. So Viggo features in Minna's nightmarish plans for Jenny, which Gaff reluctantly goes along with, hoping the Inspector (McDonald) won't catch them. The low-key voice cast is fine and a little offbeat, adding texture to the sharply drawn characters. Minna and Jenny have strong enough personalities that it's easy to get involved in their little war, even if the ending is never in doubt.
The design work is gorgeous, with striking colours and textures and a fantastic approach to both characters and settings. The film borrows elements from a range of other films, most notably Monsters Inc and Minions, but it puts its own spin on them by playing with an unusual range of ideas and issues, including peer pressure and the fear of losing family connections. So while some plot points feel a bit corny, and the climactic monster isn't terribly scary, the film resonates in unexpected ways.
There are some remarkably dark ideas swirling through this story, with creepy dangers lurking in this fantastical realm. And back in her real life, Minna faces harsh bullying from several sides. But her manipulation of Jenny feels even nastier, and has serious repercussions. So in the final act, she has to go on a redemptive quest that feels a little pushy. Even so, the deeper themes are strong, tapping in to new emotions, and the filmmakers' visual invention is relentlessly engaging.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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