Connect with us

Film

‘Life of the Party’ Should Have Stayed Home

Jeremiah

Published

on

I left the theatre after watching Life of the Party dazed and confused. As unsure as I was about what I had just seen, I was sure of one thing: I didn’t like it. Life of the Party is an unqualified mess of a movie. It lurches from scene to scene with no real consequence of anything that has happened before. It was dreadful.

The plot, so called, of Life of the Party is relatively simple. Deanna (Melissa McCarthy) discovers her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) wants a divorce mere seconds after they drop their daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off at her sorority for her senior year of college. Dan informs her he’s been having an affair with a realtor, Marcie (Julie Bowen). Since the house is in his name, he’s selling it as soon as possible.

So goes the opening five minutes. I might also add the first minutes are one of the few times in which something that happens that has any kind of consequence or connection to later scenes. The rest of Life of the Party deals with Deanna deciding to go back to school and get her archeology degree. A field that apparently Deanna is in love with but only talks about when she is in class. Even then, she and the professor Truzack (Chris Parnell) trade archeology puns.

McCarthy’s Deanna is a wonderful fully fleshed out creation. A ferocious ball of pure love and goodness. Deanna’s sweetness radiates from within as she barrels through one misfortune or another. I’m not exaggerating that her Deanna parallels Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp. One of the great disappointments of Life of the Party is how badly it serves McCarthy and her comedic creation.

At times, I was gobsmacked at how much Life of the Party seems to hate its main character. Ben Falcone, co-writer and director, seems to take great glee in Deanna’s misfortune. As the movie rolls along it begins to warm up to her. I couldn’t figure out if that was by design or just McCarthy’s Deanna forcing the movie to bend to her will. Perhaps this is due to McCarthy being the other co-writer. Life of the Party at times feels like a duel of sorts between two writers of varying sensibilities and cross purposes. The fact that Falcone is McCarthy’s husband only intensifies the mystery.

Then again it could be he doesn’t understand how his camera is affecting our mood. Frequently while watching Life of the Party, characters will say something and the camera will rest on them as if they said a joke. Except since no one behaves as if someone else is in the scene, it’s hard to figure out if what was said was ironic, silly, or just bad writing. I grant you it could easily be all three. Though ‘bad writing’ would imply there is something of a script, which would further imply some kind of structure. I can assure you the implications are misleading.

Take the moment in which Deanna meets Maddie’s sorority sisters. They introduce themselves one by one even though they seem to have no real distinguishing character traits. Helen (Gillian Jacobs) seems older than the others by a good ten years. Deanna asks Helen why she seems older. Helen’s reply of “I’ve been in a coma for nine years,” is mishandled both in framing and in timing. I spent the next ten or twenty minutes trying to figure out if it was a joke or not.

Life of the Party comes so close to brushing up against something resembling a joke that you become exhausted from hoping. Much of the hope comes from McCarthy’s brilliant Deanna, but also because underneath all the sloppiness Life of the Party has a great big heart. Deanna is a cheerleader of other women. The other sorority sisters, who barely have characteristics, much less names, are emboldened by Deanna’s undyingly optimistic outlook on life. She is a woman who has found out her husband has been having an affair, her home will be sold without her consent, and there is precious little she can do about it. Still, Deanna never fails to greet anyone with a smile.

Even the mean girls Jennifer (Debbie Ryan) and Trina (Yani Simone), who have consistently made fun of Deanna, eventually give way to her sunny disposition. When Jennifer and Deanna first meet in the archaeology class, Jennifer makes a snarky comment about Deanna’s clothes. Deanna’s response is a simple gasp, “Oh, we’re still doing that? We’re still attacking other girls for no real reason. Well, that’s nice to know.”

McCarthy’s Deanna bends the movie and the characters within in it, to her worldview. Disappointing because so much of it simply doesn’t work. I sat there watching the images flicker on the screen and came so close to laughing I became a little disheartened. No one likes to hate a movie, especially a movie as chock full of talent as Life of the Party.

Deanna’s best friend Christine (Mya Rudolph) is another rare bright spot. Of the three times I did laugh, two of them were scenes involving her foul-mouthed but supportive middle-class housewife. In one scene in particular, Christine and her husband Frank (Damon Jones) are at dinner with another couple and Deanna. Dan and Marcie show up and announce their wedding plans.

The scene only becomes more awkward. The waiter shows up and we see it’s Jack (Luke Benward), Deanna’s college boyfriend. In what I must admit is a hilarious twist, we also learn something else about Jack. I won’t spoil it, suffice to say if the rest of the movie was as funny as that scene I would be writing a much different review.

It should be noted that the scene is as funny as it is because it’s one of the few connected to other scenes. We have a set up for it. The people in the scene have a shared history and actually interact with each other. As opposed to the rest of the movie where one person says something mean or weird, then cut to a reaction shot. Followed by someone else saying weird or mean. Rinse and repeat.

In the interest of full disclosure, the other man in the theater with me was a man I was talking with at the bar. The bartender jokingly suggested I buy him a ticket to the show. The stranger perked up. It so happened I had an extra ticket and so we saw the movie together. With twenty minutes or so left to go, the stranger abruptly and silently stood up. He stared at the screen in deep contemplative silence. Without saying a word to me or the screen he turned and walked out.

Afterward, as I left the theater the bartender apologized to me. He hadn’t meant the stranger to take him seriously. I told him it was alright. We walked out together and there outside sitting on the bench was the drunk man who I just spent the last couple of hours with. His face was slacked and his eyes glassy. I waved goodbye to him. He waved goodbye back. A look of sadness and disappointment in his eyes.

It was a look I knew intimately. I had the same look on my face. Part of the sadness had to do with the loss of time that can never be regained. But the other part was seeing great talent spin its wheels in hopeless aimlessness. Life of the Party is a mess of good intentions and bad filmmaking.


Image Courtesy of New Line Cinema

Jeremiah lives in Los Angeles and divides his time between living in a movie theatre and writing mysteries. There might also be some ghostbusting being performed in his spare time.

Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

avatar
 
  Subscribe  
Notify of

Film

‘First Man’ Struggles to Break Free From the Atmosphere

Jeremiah

Published

on

Damien Chazelle’s First Man is two movies; one impeccably crafted and breathtaking while the other is dull and repetitive. The result is for the two and a half hours we find ourselves in a roller coaster of emotion. I vacillated between being enraptured and on the edge of my seat to, while not bored necessarily, but definitely not caring.

First Man is based on the biography of Neil Armstrong, First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong. I haven’t read the book by James R. Hansen but I have to believe we learn more about Armstrong than anything Josh Singer, who wrote the script, seems interested in telling, To see Singer and Chazelle tell it, Neil Armstrong’s life consisted of grieving for his daughter,  Karen (Lucy Stafford) who died when she was four of a brain tumor; and getting to the Moon.

Ryan Gosling’s Armstrong is a taciturn, steely-eyed, stoic man who keeps his emotions to himself. In a way, it’s an act of incredible bravery to make the focus of a story about the first astronauts to the Moon about the least expressive one. If you’re looking for an actor to portray elusive, enigmatic, and unexpressive, then Gosling is your man. Though I wish he wasn’t.

First Man is essentially two movies. Armstrong, the man, is the first movie. Arguably it’s the least interesting. But the second movie is where the real show is at. Chazelle has spared no expense, which at a reported budget of just under sixty million dollars is paltry by modern Hollywood standards. First Man despite its faults is so well crafted from a production design standpoint it borders on wizardry.

We follow the space program, almost from its infancy; from Gemini 1 to Apollo 11. Chazelle and Linus Sandgren, the cinematographer, allow an intimacy in the cockpit. The claustrophobia is visceral and palpable. Rarely has a film made us empathize with a historic act of bravery and lunacy so completely. It helps to underline the amount of sheer fortitude to keep a level head while you are both making history and recording it all for science.

Tom Cross, the editor, pulls off a feat of making much of the two and half hours barely noticeable. Cross and Sandgren combine their talents, along with the composer Justin Hurwitz, to create a scene of stunning anticipatory wonder. I have seen my fair share of movies and documentaries about Apollo 11 but the blast off in First Man raises the bar for likely a whole generation of film-goers and filmmakers.

It reminded me of the scene in Fritz Lang’s silent masterpiece, Woman In The Moon. Lang uses melodrama as an excuse to give us a spectacle. The likes of which, many at the time had never seen. Lang builds the launching of the rocket in a scene that seems to go on eternally, with each passing second more and more climactic. Until finally it lifts off, the music swells, and the crowd cheers.

Chazelle and company have no cheering crowds but they do just as good a job. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say I was enthralled by the sheer majesty and artistry as Hurwitz’s score dominated the theater while just under it Phill Barrie, the sound editor, uses the groans of wrenching steel, the flames from the exhaust, a cacophony of exhilarating sound demonstrating the euphoric power of sheer spectacle of the movies.

I feel as if I should simply sit and list the names of the countless men and women who brought First Man to life. The sound design is exquisite, the art and production design is pristine, the costume departments choices were vivid-everything. It’s a damn masterpiece.

Or at least it would be, if not for the characters. Again, I haven’t read the book and I have no doubt that the loss of Armstrong’s daughter haunted him throughout his life. But I couldn’t help but wonder how Janet, Armstrong’s first wife, felt about the loss of her daughter as well. 

In the beginning, First Man appears to be a daring departure. A big studio Hollywood docudrama that shelves the spectacle and instead explores grief. Chazelle opens with Armstrong in the cockpit of a jet as he flies above the clouds. It is exhilarating as Cross, Hurwitz, and Sandgren, give us a taste of what we can expect. But then Chazelle cuts to Armstrong’s home. We see he and Janet caring for their sick daughter.

We cut to a dimly lit sterile room where Karen is strapped to a gurney. A giant monolithic drill hovers above her. It seems like something from a science fiction pulp magazine. It isn’t. It’s modern medicine. Armstrong, an engineer, pours over his notes, not of his flight into the stratosphere, but the notes the doctors have given him. He solves problems and fixes things. But he can’t solve his daughter’s tumor.

The first thirty minutes or so are pure cinema. Chazelle is a talented and skilled craftsman and his abilities are on full display. But Gosling is wooden on a good day and here he seems like a robotic refugee trying to fit in amongst the Hu-Mans. His normally closed lipped and laser like intense stare usually elevate whatever role he’s in. Here though, Chazelle turns what is meant to be an enigmatic and haunted man into a boring one note jerk.

Foy has already turned in a marvelous performance in this year’s stellar Unsane. Whereas Steven Soderbergh gave Foy a seemingly impossible range of emotions which she captured perfectly and expertly; Chazelle and Singer have her as merely the wife. She has a couple of nice moments, such as when she all but demands Neil say goodbye to his sons before he goes to the Moon.

Kyle Chandler as Deke Skelton, one of the original Mercury Seven, and who is essentially the Chief of Astronauts, is reliable as always. Chandler is rapidly becoming this generation’s answer to Kevin Costner. Character actors are a dying breed. But actors like Chandler remind us why they are a gift to filmmakers. Why waste a line of pointless exposition or shoot a needless scene to illustrate who the character is? When all you need is the type. It’s a shortcut both for the filmmakers and the audience and it cuts down on the clutter. I can’t help but smile and relax a little whenever I see Chandler show up on screen.

First Man may be a technical and cinematic marvel but when it comes to Armstrong or any of the characters, no matter the talent involved, it stumbles. The effects may leave the likes of Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 in the dust. But I can’t help but feel as if we underestimate the value of an actor who can express recognizable human emotion. Take a more recent example, Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures. Janelle Monae, Octavia Spencer, and Taraji P. Henson contain more humanity in a press junket than the majority of the scenes between the Hu-Mans in First Man.

I admired Chazelle’s attempt to subvert audience expectations, my own included, and deeply loved the clear love and joy of space exploration. It takes a brave soul to lure people into a theater with a promise of a rousing historical reenactment of a great human achievement, and instead have it be a thesis on grief. But that’s just the thing, it’s a shallow exploration of grief.

Armstrong never discusses Karen’s life or death with anyone, including his wife Janet. What Chazelle is looking at isn’t grief so much as an obsession. Even that’s not true because when Armstrong is at NASA, Karen is the furthest thing from his mind. Some of you may be yelling, “That’s the point!” To which I say, “I know! It’s still dull in its single mindedness.”

Someone once asked Gene Siskel how he judged a movie was worth seeing. “Is this film more interesting than a documentary about the same actors having lunch?” First Man transports us to the sixties and revels in the attention to detail. Chazelle and company make it known the toe curling dangers these brave men and women were facing in their quest to push mankind forward; just sixty years after we had mastered flight.

But when it’s actually about the individual people I half hoped that Gosling would break character. Yes, I’ll say it. Seeing Ryan Gosling ordering a ham on rye with a side of pickles and a small coffee-two creams-no sugar; is preferable to the slice of life scenes in First Man. Still, I can’t in good conscious tell you not to see First Man. The artistry and craftsmanship is too great to not see it as it was meant to be seen: on the big screen. Just know that when First Man switches back to the Armstrong household, that’s a perfect time to use the bathroom. You’re welcome.

 

Continue Reading

Film

First Look at Disney’s Live Action Aladdin is Here

Seher

Published

on

By

Aladdin reaching for the lamp

It’s here! It’s here! We finally after what feels like years of waiting have the first real teaser trailer for Disney’s live-action Aladdin coming next May! (The 24th to be exact.)

The teaser premiered during Thursday Night Football on FOX which was a great choice considering TNF has the best ratings on broadcast TV currently.

Since news broke of this film’s development, I’ve been watching closely. In July as casting news first came, I wrote how the movie was already behind considering the original’s racist and truly questionable choices. People were and are still feuding over whether or not all the cast should be South Asian or Middle Eastern with Mena Massoud’s Aladdin and Naomi Scott’s Jasmine.

September brought more news and a second article on the film. Now it’s exciting to finally see more than one behind the scenes filming photo! Here it is in its one minute and twenty-eight seconds of Disney giving us just enough to want more, glory.

I made a joke earlier to a friend about it needing to be more substantial than just sand. Well, we got the sand, and the cave, and the scary voice, and Aladdin himself!! For approximately 2.5 seconds!! For a teaser trailer, it did exactly that. Teased me and everyone who has been waiting for it all day, but I’m so excited. And the few moments we get to see Jasmine’s palace?!?!?!

The musical cues (Friend Like Me) evoking the original movie leading to a glimpse of Aladdin going to touch the lamp…amazing. I know folks will complain that there isn’t much else in the teaser, which is true. But it’s a teaser y’all and I can’t wait to see more promotional material in the months to come!


Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Continue Reading

Film

Great Expectations (Chill With the Trailer Overreactions)

Jeremiah

Published

on

I don’t mean to harp on an issue but can we all just take a step back? When did seeing one trailer grant us the definite knowledge of a film’s quality? It seems that before we’ve even put money down for a ticket we’ve already decided the film’s place in the cinematic canon. 

I’ll admit I went a little far when I’ve said trailers are lies told by liars who have never seen the movie. Most people who make trailers are not purposefully out to deceive you. Trailers by design, are meant to get you excited, to gin up audience anticipation. That is the extent of what a trailer is. No more or less.

To some degree, there is some inherent value to trailers. It allows us some idea of an approximation of what the film might look like. If the trailer is honest, it will give us a clue to as to what to expect. Personally, when it comes to trailers I remain a hard-bitten cynic. I don’t trust them, not a one. Which is not to say I don’t get excited or squeal with fanboy glee from time to time. But those moments are usually followed by a cold hard reality: it’s a toy commercial, not the movie.

It’s one thing to post or write about a reaction to a trailer. Or, depending on the trailer, trying to suss out little easter eggs and clues hidden in the corner of the frames. But by no means do trailers justify near the amount of oxygen and digital space we spend on discussing them. Though, much like old commercials, old trailers are interesting in a historical context.

I’m not one of those people who think trailers are art. I’ll admit there is an art to making trailers but I won’t go so far as to say they are art themselves. Trailers are commercials for a studio’s product. Somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten that and instead have pledged either our fealty or opposition to a film even before the reviews are out.

When McDonald’s advertises a new sandwich, no one sits down and examines the commercial for clues for what the sandwich might taste like. We understand what McDonald’s is trying to do. They want us to buy their sandwich. Whether or not we do will depend on how hungry we are and how much money we have.

Movies are a mass art. But they are also a product made by companies that desperately want your money. I’m not saying trailers can’t be fun or that I don’t find myself forming an opinion based off one trailer. It’s human nature. But I also don’t go into a movie hoping the movie is going to be the best or the worst movie of the year.

I go in hoping for a good movie. That’s it. I just want the movie to be good. If it leans one way or the other then so be it. But you have to let the movie be what it wants to be and not what you were promised. People who get mad at a movie because a trailer lied to them seem to misunderstand the purpose of an advertisement. It’s not meant to be truthful, it’s meant to get you to give studios your money.

Venom is a movie that I held out very little hope for. I saw the teaser when it first dropped and frankly it took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize it wasn’t just a Funny Or Die skit. Those who listen to my podcast or follow me, know that I spent a large amount of time trash talking Justice League before it came out. Both movies turned out to be wildly enjoyable.

It’s natural to have expectations. But we can’t be a slave to those expectations. A co-worker of mine was talking about the Aquaman trailer. He seemed disappointed. I asked him why. “It looks like it’s just Black Panther underwater.” Nevermind that said co-worker loved Black Panther, but isn’t it odd that based off one trailer he’s already surmised what the movie is about and even its tone. Granted, on the surface, the purpose of the trailer is to tell you those things.

Except, it’s not really. Again, on the surface, a trailer’s job is to tell you the basics. What is the movie is about? What will the tone of the movie be? Who’s in it? Who made it? Yet, in actuality, the purpose of a trailer is none of those things. The purpose, much like Sam Elliot narrating commercials for beef, is to merely let you know what’s for dinner. You don’t get to go around bragging about how much you know about a movie nobody has even seen yet and get to call yourself credible.

“But Jeremiah,” you may ask, “how do I know if a movie is good? How do I know what’s playing? Aren’t trailers necessary?” Well, you could, if I may be so bold, read your local critic. Sites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB have coming soon lists.

As to are trailers necessary? Not to court controversy, but no, they’re not. Do you know what I do when I go to the movies during the trailers? I take a light nap. Few things beat going into a movie cold.

Remember when I said expectations are only natural? Well, a good way to counter those expectations is to not have any. Not to sound too zen but too often we hate movies for being something they were never going to be. The idea of what we were told as opposed to what we watched. It’s not fair to us and it’s unbearably unfair to the movie.

Trailers do a fantastically effective job of brainwashing us. I’ve heard people complain that one trailer gave away too much while another trailer too little. Adam Mckay’s Anchorman had a trailer made up entirely of scenes not in the movie. Their reasoning was simple, “People always complain that the best scenes were in the trailer. So what if we save the best scenes for the movie? What if we film scenes just for the trailer?” Believe it or not, people were furious.

Movies aren’t the truth; trailers even less so. Like poetry, the truth lies in the spaces between the lines. If you come out of a movie angry that the movie didn’t have any scenes from the trailer, perhaps it’s time you explore other ways to spend your time.

Roger Ebert once said, “Trailers are advertisements for the movie the studio wants you to see.” With any movie, you have a myriad of versions that could be edited and released to a mass audience. The trailer is merely the one the studio thinks is the easiest one to sell. The movie itself, oftentimes, gets the short shrift.

It’s hard enough to get a movie made without audiences already passing judgment on something they haven’t seen or read about. Oh, sure countless YouTube channels have people reacting to trailers followed by what they hope the movie does. Yet, I can’t help but notice people don’t watch commercials for the new Maxi-Pads with bated breath.

In case I wasn’t clear, yes, I’m comparing movie trailers to commercials about menstrual pads. They both serve the same purpose, to let you know the product is either out or coming out. In fact, I would argue, there’s more truth in the Maxi-Pad commercial.


Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Continue Reading

Trending