“Landline”

“Landline” is a smart comedy with a clever title. Landlines are connected to home, and home and familiar relationships ground us. The setting is the big city circa 1995. Sisters, Dana (Jenny Slate) and Ali ( Abby Quinn), have Jersey mouths on them. We begin on Labor Day with mom and dad ( John Turturro and Edie Falco) and girls singing in the car. Sister spats ensue. Dana is living with her fiancée Jed, and they have just had “tree sex”. Younger sis spots telling stains and shows her distain and knowledge for all to hear. Thus we begin.

Ever since, “What About Mary” modern comedy strives to “gross out” viewers for humor’s sake. Here, screenwriters Elisabeth Holm and GillinRobespierre have Jenny Slate with poison ivy ( the aftermath of sex against a tree) in the shower with Jed ( Jay Duplass ), who decides it is beneficial to pee on her pustules. She likes it; they laugh, and the play goes on. But not before Dana slips up with an old flame ( Finn Wittrock), and is told by her younger sis that their Dad (John Turturro ) is also having an affair. Now, the sisters must bond to protect their mom ( Edie Falco). All the time Dana questions: Is every member of the Jacobs family deigned to be a cheater ?

“Landline” is fresh and smaltzy at the same time. All the characters are extremely likeable: stalwart and fragile, wise and silly. Paradoxes in theme abound, too. In one scene,Jenny muses on adult choices. She tells Jed that one of her girl friends wanted to go on a ski-mask date:”I want to know your personality before I know your face.” kind-of-thing. Jed intuits Dana’s qualms, but nervously hangs in there. Journalist Dana plays hooky from her lay-outs and ends up in the music store where she ran into old-lover Nate. He is a charmer, and well, music is a big part of the Jacobs family life. “You dance to world music” brings on more than Jenny’s belches and snorts. Meanwhile, Jed reads the Hammacher-Schlemmer catalogue.

“Landline” certainly captures the decade before cell phones. The acting is memorable on all fronts. No weak links here. When Dana moves back home to both examine her choices and to look after mom, Falco sadly muses:” I am supposed to be planning her wedding, not feeding her Lucky Charms.” John Turturro on a rowing machine is funny,too. His “orgasmic poetry” less so. Abby Quinn is the daughter who calls her mom a drug sniffing dog and leaves lies like ” left early for student government meeting” on her pillow. Yet, as Ali, she never seems to have to ask “What just happened?”. She,the youngest, asks her unfaithful Dad,” Did you ever think that Carla ( the mistress) is filling a void you created?”

In a film of 97 minutes, fidelity is defined as ” loving a life where we are always choosing one another.” Heartfelt performances from people flailing with their choices. Healthy self -interest and few tailspins.

“Hello, My Name Is Doris”

The boomer demographic and filmscripts for older actresses are lighting up movie houses all over the U.S.  Maggie Smith  in ” The Lady In A Van” ( reviewed  here March 1, 2016) and now Sally Fields in “Hello, My Name Is Doris” are examples. I will always remember Fields as ” Norma Rae”. Here she is more akin to the mother of Forest Gump, dutiful and dreamy. Our Doris, named after Doris Day, is working as an accountant at a firm that has just hired a young art director ( Max Greenfield).

After an initial casket and funereal scene, we see the bereaved Doris crammed into an elevator facing the thirty-something John, newly hired from Malibu,CA. He is super-friendly and states that their nose-to-forehead-closeness is a tad embarrassing. “Tight quarters” leads to his straightening her cat-eye glasses. Doris is smitten. We know no man has paid her this much attention in quite a while. She lifts a pencil from his satchel as he turns to exit. Doris has hoarder tendencies and is sentimental,  a romance novel reader and believer. John Freeman,art director, is the object of Doris’s libidinal urges. Now, the fun begins.

Doris, free from caring for her elderly mother, becomes youth-stalker. She elicits her friend Roz’s (Tyne Daly) grandaughter to show her the ins & outs of Facebook. The thirteen-year-old Vivian (  Isabella Acres)  becomes Doris’ dating advisor. They set up a phony Facebook account and “get in” with the name “Lilith Primrose”. Viv nixes Doris ‘ selection of a more British “Lilith Comeswell”!

Further Facebook research reveals that John likes Indian food, yoga, and electronic music,especially “Baby Goya And The Nuclear Winters”.  Viv notices there is a concert scheduled for the city and prompts Doris to go wearing neon colors. She sees John there, he calls her “a Baller”, which she learns from Viv is a “good thing”.  With her usual hair piece, headband and weirdness, Doris is asked to be on the promotional cover of Baby Goya’s new album. Ultimately, she is picked up on John’s shoulders and made a celebrity in her own right. Funny dialogue ensues when she is asked for her digits ( her phone number), when John ‘s party friends discuss teaching at the gay pre-school, and she joins a LGBT rooftop knitting community with John’s romantic interest Brooklyn, her now rival.

When Brooklyn explains that she is not gay, but  just feels at home in this group, Doris pipes in that she feels this way at Staples. There are hilarious scenes of  staged seduction like when Doris asks John to pump up the balance ball she now must use as a substitute for the “outre” standard office chair. The audience more than guffawed during this extended rise.

There is plenty more humor, but also a creepiness to this film. Doris with her 1970 duck sauce still in the fridge is not normal,and is beyond poodle-skirted eccentric. She pretends she is someone else, and breaks-up a relationship to get what she wants. Her previous self-sacrifice gives her a right to cheat in her eyes.

The real theme may be friendship. A true friend forgives and allows mistakes. Roz’s role is a grand one. She frequents the slow lane at the gym, self-improvement lectures, and home-cooked dinners with Doris. We learn that Roz’s daughter is up for parole this summer, that Doris was once engaged at 21 to a journalism student and that they both lost the men in their lives through jobs or illness. They are critical of each other’s choices and ways, but accepting and loving all the same. The “I am possible” becomes true because of this acceptance. We have all felt ” someone has replaced my friend with a wild animal”, but loved the animal anyway. We have all hugged a friend as they cried, “no one even tasted my pie.”

Realistic topics like dividing property among family members and composing three hoarder piles of “trash”, “donate” and “keep” are easy to assimilate. Agreements and disappointments are part of most families. Doris’s brother Todd ( Stephen Root) will register with most single care-givers. Director Michael Showalter and co- writer Laura Terruso use quirky satire-cum-neurosis to make the pitiful get another chance.

Enjoy the “orphan” Thanksgiving,  Sally Field’s jealous looks, the  table-game playing and the evil sister-in-law, Cynthia. Argue about the ending. ” I never meant to hurt anyone, but smoke got in my eyes” has me betting that Doris stays close to Roz. I rather hope Brooklyn (Beth Behrs) learns the truth and reconnects with the darling Max Freeman, whose charming warmth deserves a woman who does not lie.

“Spy” and “Pitch Perfect 2”

After a week of scholarship and insight at Indiana University’s Mini-U, it is time for a balance by reviewing summer comedy and snarky spoofs.A fellow friend and film blogger had seen “Spy” and enjoyed it enough to wish to see it again. My husband had seen a review on “Pitch Perfect 2” and asked me to join him even though we had not seen the original. Below are my thoughts on both films.

Never really a fan of Melissa McCarthy, I must say I loved her in “Spy”. She is more vulnerable here and less vulgar,even in a wait-until-the-credits-roll-by outtake. (Worth waiting for because McCarthy can’t even believe she allowed her ad lib to be included.)Let’s just call it her thumb review! Likewise,Jude Law is stellar: the perfect stance,facial expressions and timing. In his James Bond role,as Bradley Fine, he looks mighty fine,too!
I thought the entire cast with the exception of Allyson Janney was top notch. Janney was too
one dimensional for me~never wavering from the hard boss. While Rose Bryne,Bobby Cannavale, Miranda Hart and Jason Statham brought a natural and balanced vigor to their roles. Loved the creative name-calling and word play from “Shits Carlton” to you dress like “a slutty dolphin trainer”. I consider Paul Feig’s “Spy” most summer-comedy worthy with double agent action to keep you guessing.

“Pitch Perfect 2” bored me with the use of the divided screen highlighting pillow-fight hijinxs and campfire singalongs. I liked the word play in this comedy as much as the a cappella singing. “Deutsche bag” and “treblemakers” struck me as creative.By the way,the German singers had the staging and the voices. Das Sound Machine out did the generations of Bellas in my estimation. The contest co-hosts Elizabeth Banks And John Michael Higgins were less than hysterical.The Christmas album with Snoop Dog was inspired as was the “songs about butts ” category and the gift card to Dave and Busters. Product placement advertising is rampant in “Pitch Perfect 2”: Cover girl and Pantene star.

One of the most beautiful shots is in Copenhagen with drizzle and sun rays on the colored facades and umbrellas mirroring all. Fat Amy and “muffingate”, or Southern exposure to the Commander-in-Chief was as silly as “sucking vodka from a maxi-pad”, sophomoric at best.I did not much care for Anna Kendrick or Rebel Wilson. Skyler Astin was energetic more than memorable.Fans of “The Voice” may find this film “the kicker of the ass”,I just didn’t.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”

This Wes Anderson movie sweeps you along with its hodgepodge format of fun and cloaked statement. Yesterday, it won the Writers Guild Award’s top prize for its mad caper screenplay. ( My fav “Her” won last year.) On February the twenty-second, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” may just win Best Picture of the year. It has garnered nine other Oscar nominations!

Anderson is a Texan and a philosophy major who likes to create alternative realities that showcase ideas. It may be totalitarianism or pure serendipity. Much has been written about his use of repetition, inserts, certain camera shots and the color yellow. I feel akin to him because his favorite movie is “Rosemary’s Baby”,and he feels like I do that walking down any street in Paris is a movie. I find him like his movies: engaging, smart, open and fun.

Anderson is also imaginative in his introduction of large casts of characters. Viewers have fun with all the celebrity sightings. Here beyond the keenly-animated Raif Fiennes and incredible Tilda Swinton, try the magnificently voiced Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Adrian Brody, Willem Dafoe, and Owen Wilson as Chuck, a networking concierge of note.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is pretty pitch perfect. Anderson balances homage and irony,nostalgia and current debate with humor and panache. Did I spot an NRA critique from this Texan in the balcony shoot-out scene where everyone with a room had a gun firing away?!

I loved the narrative-story-telling beginning that draws the viewer in and the romantic verse that strings all the stories together.Mentoring a lobby boy becomes a deep life’s work. Hurrah for Gustave and Zero. Don’t miss this imaginative romp.

“Gloria”

Somehow this 1970 reaffirmation of woman alone set me back. Is the self-sufficient woman the subject of thematic acclaim still? This Chilean film directed by 39 year old Sebastien Lelio seems like a throwback.”Gloria” disappoints because the viewer learns nothing new and sees nothing new. A sixty year old woman discovers one is basically alone, though not necessary lonely. Even given her glaucoma drops, her sightlessness is more akin to a 30 year-old partaking in risky behavior. Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” needs to be more like ” I Feel The Need To Love Myself”.

Paulina Garcia stars. She reminds me of an unglamorus Annette Bening here, but I was not charmed by her late coming of age. The hairless cat scenes, the frisky disco romps and oldster intimate grapplings, the numbing and sound enhancing drugs were ho-hum retro. Just like I found this well-celebrated film.

“The Chef”

“The Chef” is a foodie’s comedy/slice of life piece that delights! Whether it is the passion of creating butter-slathered grilled cheeses, Cubanos or sizzled sauces that draws one in, this film centers on parenting and work, and how children are often excluded when they need not be. Emjay Anthony is adorable as a kid that anyone would wish to call his/her own. A softer Sofia Vergara is lovely as the insightful nurturer, and Robert Downey Jr. is more than memorable as the phobia ridden ex with ADHD. Dustin Hoffman adds another character to his repertoire, and Scarlett Johansson does her thing as the sexy confidant. One wonders how Jon Favreau, who wrote, directed and starred in “The Chef” could get so many “sous-chefs” into his “kitchen”. No one upstages another. Oliver Platt is a natural gustatory critic. Comedic actors Bobby Cannavale and John Leguizamo both add a special zest to a beautiful cast.

“The Chef” is so freshly current with its social media, with its “lay your hits” marketing philosophy, with its undocumented workers, that the audience immediately connects, or at least recognizes the lay of modern culture.

The music is so engaging that several patrons danced out of their seats and down the aisle as they left the theater. Tito Puente comes to mind. And “Mr. Bone Tangle” and the street artist highlighted our chef’s past laments. This film will cause me to research M. Favreau, who must love and respect women and it not afraid to show his softer side.