erik lundegaard

Movie Reviews - 2019 posts

Monday September 16, 2019

Movie Review: Late Night (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

What a disappointment.

I get why screenwriter/star Mindy Kaling created up-and-comer Molly Patel (Kaling), who gets a dream job writing for iconic female late-night host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), since Kaling was an intern for Conan O’Brien and the sole woman and person of color on the writing staff of “The Office” back in 2005. She knows this stuff.

I just don’t get why the female late-night host. If Kaling was a rarity in writing rooms, Newbury didn’t exist. Not in the early ’90s, when her show supposedly started, and not today, when all the late-night slots are taken by Stephen, Seth, two Jimmys and a James. If you’re riffing on the sexism of the industry, as this movie does, why create a character that makes the industry seem progressive in comparison?

And why make her British? And starchy and out-of-touch? Yes, apparently off-camera Johnny Carson was abrupt and unavailable, but on-camera he was the epitome of sly charm—and we don’t see that from Newbury. Yes, Carson got famously out-of-touch near the end of his 30-year reign, leading to Dana Carvey’s blistering “I did not know that ... Wild, weird stuff...” imitation, so I guess that’s a good avenue to explore, but you need the other elements. You need someone who seems funny. Was Ellen DeGeneres too busy for the role? Lily Tomlin? How about Julia Louis-Dreyfus or Tina Fey—aged 10 years? Thompson’s a pro but I saw nothing about her character that would make me think she’d been a national comic treasure for almost 30 years.

Not very PC
I must’ve seen the trailer a zillion times during the Seattle International Film Festival. It was playing the Centerpiece Gala, a prestigious slot, but the more I saw the trailer the more I worried. That’s the best they’ve got? What’s in this not-very-funny trailer?

Yep. “Late Night” is supposed to be about funny people and it’s not very funny.

Newbury gets off some zingers but overall she’s entitled and out-of-touch. She thinks she doesn’t have to keep up-to-date to keep an audience. New writers are told: Nothing happened after 1995, not the internet, and certainly not social media, so don’t mention any of that. Plus she’s sexist. Her writing staff consists of eight Yalie white men. Her personal assistant, Brad (Denis O’Hare), tells her, “I think you have a problem with living female writers on your staff,” and when it becomes an issue, he’s ordered to find her one. And there, across his desk, is Molly Patel, who works at a chemical plant, and has never done standup or comedy writing of any kind; she’s just a fan of the show. But she gets the gig. Because she’s a woman.

Also because she gets off this line.

Brad: A TV writer’s room is ... It’s not very PC. It can be a pretty masculine environment.
Molly: Oh, I saw most of the writers. I’m not overly worried about masculinity.

It’s one of the movie’s last funny lines.

That sets it all up. Molly is young, non-white, kinda hip; Newbury is old, very white, and decidedly unhip; and the movie’s trajectory is for Newbury to open up enough to Molly’s ideas to save both of their careers.

Except the stuff Molly comes up with? The worst. We get a recurring on-the-street bit called “Katherine Newbury: White Savoir,” where she helps two black dudes hail a cab, a fat woman buy clothes (I think), and some other dude get fries by complaining on social media. This is what turns the show from soporific into “a viral sensation.” I remember my father used to complain about movies in which some fictional Broadway show would get a standing ovation opening night when it was so bad it would probably close in a week, and this is the modern version of that. Even if people got the joke, and there isn't much of one, Newbury would be skewered more than celebrated for “White Savoir.”

As for that politically incorrect writers room? I wish. These guys are sweethearts. There’s a cute monologue writer (Reid Scott of “VEEP”), an older, empathetic, I’ll-be-fired-any-day-now dude (Max Casella), a lothario (Hugh Dancy), a fat guy (Paul Walter Hauser), and some non-descripts. At one point, they wonder over this “diversity hire” but they kind of whisper it. Mostly they’re there to support Molly. When a story breaks that Katherine slept with the lothario, cheating on her Parkinson’s-ridden husband Walter (John Lithgow), they all seem shocked. They soul search. “I thought she really loved Walter,” says the “VEEP” dude, betrayed. It comes off more like a consciousness-raising session.

You like us again; you really like us again
The story about the affair sets up our third act. Katherine takes a sabbatical, then says she’ll return to hand over the show over to the douchey standup the network wants (Ike Barinholtz); Molly says no, she should acknowledge the affair and fight for her show. They argue. Molly’s fired. “VEEP” dude shows up at her house to buck her up. Then Katherine does what Molly suggested, wins back the crowd, wins over the network president (Amy Ryan), keeps the job, and shows up at Molly’s new apartment to woo her back. A year later, everything’s hunky dory.

I didn’t like anybody in it. No, not true. I mostly didn’t like our female leads. It’s basically another example of female storytellers (Kaling and director Nisha Ganatra) giving us flawed, unsympathetic female characters and sympathetic, supportive male ones. Which is fine, but the flaws should be interesting. “Late Night” sets up the usual false dichotomy of Hollywood films: High culture is snooty so let’s wallow in the YouTube muck. These are our only two options.

O’Hare, who’s been in everything, is good, as is Casella. I particularly liked Lithgow’s Walter. There’s a scene when Molly attends a party at Katherine’s and finds Walter upstairs alone playing the piano. She listens. They talk. It’s nice. I didn’t want to leave that room.

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Posted at 08:32 AM on Sep 16, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
Tuesday September 10, 2019

Movie Review: Ne Zha (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I keep wondering when a Chinese movie will break out and do well in other markets. They’re killing it in China, with six homegrown movies in the last four years that have grossed north of half a billion dollars; but these things don’t travel well.

YEAR MOVIE CHINESE BO FOREIGN BO
2017 Wolf Warrior 2 $854 $15
2019 The Wandering Earth $691 $9
2019 Ne Zha $659 $4
2018 Operation Red Sea $576 $4
2018 Detective Chinatown 2 $541 $3
2016 The Mermaid $527 $24

Why does the world come to Hollywood movies and not Chinese movies? Because they’re in English, which much of the world speaks? Because they offer a kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy that feels universal? Because the U.S. is a microcosm of the world and that’s reflected in our movies, while China isn’t, and that’s reflected in theirs?

Last February, I saw “The Wandering Earth,” China’s entry into the big-budget sci-fi blockbuster realm, and was thinking, “They still haven’t nailed special effects, but they’re closer. But oy, the story.” I mean, how many people besides scientists have to be insulted in this thing? From my review:

There’s a million-to-one shot to save the Earth and our Chinese heroes are in favor of rolling those dice. Every other country? They just want to return to their underground homes to spend their last precious hours wallowing in grief. The Brits wallow in drink while the Japanese contemplate hara-kiri. As for the U.S.? We don’t seem to exist. We’ve been expunged.

With “Ne Zha,” an animated movie based on a classic Chinese character, they’ve nailed the special-effects part. I was thinking, “Wow, the animation looks great. As good anything Pixar or DreamWorks does.” 

But oy, the story.

Nurture over nature
I lived in Taiwan for two years but I still can’t begin to wrap my head around Chinese mythology. This one basically begins in the clouds, where a pig man and a jaguar man battle against ... I don’t even remember. But the battle results in two pearls—a spirit and a demon—being loosed upon the earth. I don’t want to go into too much detail, because I can’t, but basically the underwater dragons convince jaguar-man to get pig-man drunk so they can get steal the spirit pearl, and either through happenstance or by design, the demon pearl winds up in Ne Zha, the newborn of Li Jing and Madam Yin. The distraught parents are informed that this means he’ll only live to his third birthday.

It also means he’s a demon, but the parents do what they can to raise him right anyway. In the village, though, he’s feared. That makes sense—he has a demon’s power and sensibility—but they assume the worst, too, blaming him for things he doesn’t do. He’s a misunderstood demon.

There’s a good scene where village boys conspire against him. One suggests setting up a Rube Goldbergesque series of traps, involving a rotten wood bridge, a beehive, etc., where the only avenue of escapes leads to another trap, which leads to another trap, and so on, until the hapless Ne Zha is forced to flop into a rancid mudpit. The boys are totally game for this and decide the only improvement is to add burrs and their own pee into the mudpit. At which point the planner reveals himself to be Ne Zha and we see the village boys go through the Rube Goldberg machine and wind up in the nasty mudpit of their own making.

That’s the sorta demon part. The misunderstood part is when he’s accused of kidnapping a little girl to eat her. That was actually a different demon, a water demon, whom Ne Zha battles in the village and on the beach, where he’s joined by the tall, graceful, horned Ao Bing. The two play hacky-sack on the beach as well. Ao Bing is Ne Zha’s first friend.

He’s also the son of the Dragon King, and infused with the power of the stolen spirit pearl. It’s his father’s wish for him to use his powers to raise the dragons from their underwater prison. To do so would mean the end of the village. Or something.

All of this comes to a head on Ne Zha’s third birthday, when Li Jing tries to sacrifice himself for his son. Ne Zha refuses to let him, and in accepting his destiny (early death) becomes more than his destiny (a demon). He becomes the hero no one thought he would be.

A bowlful of snot
That’s the part of the movie that could travel well: nurture over nature; controlling your own destiny. Everyone in the world digs that. But to get there you have to go through a dizzying array of Chinese folks legends, none of which are really explained for the neophyte or 外国人。 

My wife had a problem, too, with how one-note it all is: relentlessly loud with few pauses. I was more turned off by the frequent scatological humor—although the Chinese kids who sat in front of us for a Sunday matinee at Pacific Place in downtown Seattle certainly enjoyed the fart jokes. That was cute—the kids more than the fart jokes. I missed how they took the scene where Ne Zha is forced to swallow a bowlful of the water demon’s snot; I was too busy shielding my eyes.

There’s also a running gag with a brawny villager who has a fearful girlish cry. It’s funny the first time; by the 10th, it feels a lot more homophobic.

But they’re closer.

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Posted at 07:19 AM on Sep 10, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
Monday September 09, 2019

Movie Review: Good Boys (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS

These types of movies—the machinations involved in getting to a party, troubles therein and lessons learned—are usually reserved for high school or college kids (most recently: “Booksmart”); but as you’re watching “Good Boys,” you’re thinking, “Yeah, why not 12-year-olds?”

Answer: 12-year-olds generally aren’t the actors 18-to-22-year-olds are. Particularly when it comes to comedy.

These kids are alright, though. Maybe with a better director, or better editor, we would’ve seen fewer bumps. Anyway, I laughed a lot. And smiled. And remembered. 

Heroes’ journey
Max, Lucas and Thor (Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon) are best buds who call themselves “the Beanbag Boys” because they like lounging in beanbags in a tent in Thor’s room and talking their talk. Periodically, they’re interrupted by Thor’s little sister, Annabelle, who appears out of nowhere, creepily, like in a horror movie. It’s a good bit.

As the movie opens, they’ve just started sixth grade, and each has his own dilemma:

  • Max likes a girl, Brixlee (Millie Davis), but doesn’t know how to let her know beyond talking to her—which is way too scary
  • Thor wants to try out for the school musical “Rock of Ages” and fit in with the popular kids—wishes that are mutually exclusive
  • Lucas’ parents are getting divorced, so he’s becoming even more of a straight arrow than he normally is

At the local park, the cool kids (sadly, with slicked-back hair, like Spike Fonzarelli) take our boys into the woods and offer a beer. The goal is to sip it. The record is three sips. No one has been able to sip a beer more than three times. Max manages but Thor can’t, and he’s subsequently labeled “Sippy Cup.” Leads to a good line during school lunch when someone mocks him:

Does this look like a sippy cup? No, it's a fucking juice box! Because I'm not a fucking child!

Language aside, these kids are the good boys of the title. They’re innocent and rather sweet-natured. Max is invited to a kissing party, at which Brixlee will be in attendance, and he worries about never having kissed anyone. So he and the others use Max’s dad’s drone to spy on the neighborhood high school girl, Hannah (Molly Gordon, Triple A of “Booksmart”), to maybe see her kissing with her douchey boyfriend. Instead, Hannah captures the drone and won’t give it back. The boys then steal her purse, which includes ecstasy in a childproof vitamin container, and a swap is suggested. But Lucas balks at trafficking in drugs, they try to steal the drone back, but it’s crushed by an oncoming car. Now they have to buy a new one before Max’s dad (Will Forte, who played Molly’s dad in “Booksmart”) returns from a business trip. This involves a trip to the mega mall 4+ miles away—all the while pursued by Hannah and her friend Lily (Midori Francis), who, at one point, offers a good “T2” chase parody.

Occasionally, screenwriters Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (“Bad Teacher,” “The Office”) and director Stupnitsky (making his directorial debut) push the envelope too much, as when Lucas dislocates his shoulder and the boys ram him into a metal trash bin to shove it back into place. Sometimes they don’t push it enough. None of these boys, for example, think of having the high school girls teach them to kiss? They are good boys. At that age, that would’ve been my first, last and only thought.

Plus the movie goes on too long.

Tampon (n.)
But it’s funny. I like the Kwiki-Mart scene. I like Sam Richardson, who played Richard Splett on “VEEP,” as the bored cop to whom Lucas keeps confessing everything. I like Lucas’ high-pitched squeal. I like the boys trying to make sense of the world. “That's a tampon,” Max says with authority. “Girls shove it up their buttholes to stop babies from coming out.” 

Ultimately the boys prove their mettle—Max kisses the girl and Thor takes an unprecedented fourth sip of beer—but they’re already beginning to outgrow what united them. Each wants different things. There’s melancholy in this. You can’t help but think about your own boyhood friends and the paths taken.

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Posted at 08:42 AM on Sep 09, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
Thursday September 05, 2019

Movie Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The only interesting thing about “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is its stupidity. That’s what kept me hanging around: How stupid could it get? Answer: Really stupid. Godzilla and Monster Zero may be gigantic, but the stupidity of this movie is even more gigantic. It fills the screen. It’s so vast you can’t see from one end to the next. It roars.

Remember how in the 2014 “Godzilla” movie, Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character kept winding up in the thick of things? Like he was in Japan and the monsters were there, and then he went to Hawaii and the monsters were there. In the desert of the American Southwest? Yep. All the way to San Francisco, where his wife and kid were fighting for survival, and where Godzilla finally defeated the other monsters, the MUTOs, and then disappeared beneath the surf with a hiss. One of my favorite parts—because it’s so stupid—is the news coverage, particularly the most far-sighted chyron in the history of television. It doesn’t read: “Holy shit! Dinosaurs are alive and destroying our cities!” It anticipates the title of the sequel: “King of the Monsters: Savoir of Our City?” It anoints and cheers on a giant, fire-breathing lizard.

Remember all that? Well, Aaron Taylor-Johnson isn’t in this one.

Instead, we get a different family to foreground all the monster battles. Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) is a kind of scientist, or techie, or something, while her husband, Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) ... um ... takes nature photos? And gets really angry at people who are trying to help? The two have a daughter, Madison, played by Millie Bobby Brown, who’s cashing the check she wrote for her good work in “Stranger Things.” Oh, Millie. Surely there were better banks.

Our lizard overlord
“King of the Monsters” opens with the Russell family’s flashbacks to San Francisco 2014, where they lost a son. Five years later, no one’s gotten over it. At one point, Dr. Russell, the angry male version, explains it all to Dr. Graham (Sally Hawkins), in one of the thinnest bits of exposition rendered on film:

About three years ago, we went back home to Boston. Tried to put the pieces back together. Emma dealt with it by doubling down on saving the world. And I started drinking.

Ah. So that’s why you were taking nature photos of wolves devouring a deer in Colorado. That’s where alcoholism always leads.

As for that “saving the world” thing mom doubled down on? Apparently she created a small device, dubbed ORCA, that can communicate with and/or control the monsters. We see her beta-test the thing as Mothra emerges from its pupa stage in a military-scientific outpost in Yunnan, China. She doesn’t even set it up beforehand, just barges into the enclosure and turns it on and starts fiddling with dials—while Mothra, who’s already killed several dudes, is like 20 feet away. But it works; Mothra is calmed. Then a paramilitary group barges in and starts killing more dudes. They kidnap Dr. Russell, her daughter, and the ORCA.

That’s when the good guys pick up angry Dr. Russell in a field in Colorado. So he can get on screen and not help.

You see, despite that five-year-old chyron welcoming our lizard overlord, we haven’t agreed on what to do in a world with monsters. Destroy them? Communicate and coexist with them? There are also those who think we’re the problem and the monsters the solution. That paramilitary group? They’re “eco-terrorists,” led by Alan Jonah, played by Charles Dance, who also played Tywin Lannister in “Game of Thrones.” This is their credo:

Our world is changing. The mass extinction we feared has already begun. And we are the cause. We are the infection. But like all living organisms, the earth unleashed a fever to fight this infection: Its original and rightful rulers—the Titans.

A few things. First, isn’t it amazing how so-called liberal Hollywood can talk about global warming without once mentioning global warming? To top it off, they make environmentalists the villains in all this? And the leader of this eco movement is supposedly Tywin Lannister—who would never give a rat's ass about anyone but himself?

He’s not the one making the above speech, by the way. That’s Emma. Yeah, she wasn’t kidnapped. She’s the bad guy—or in league with the bad guys. It’s our early, nonsensical reveal. You’d think a woman who lost her son to monsters wouldn’t think monsters were the solution to anything, let alone not-global warming, but nobody raises this point with her. They raise other, more personal points:

Mark: You are out of your goddamn mind! First, you put our daughter’s life in danger and now you get to decide the fate of the world. That’s rich, Emma!

That’s rich. It’s like they’re arguing about who flirted with whom at a cocktail party.

Since tentpoles movies are all about the roller-coaster ride, it’s time to zip around the globe some more. First Antarctica, where Emma frees Monster Zero, a giant three-headed dragon encased in ice. Except, oops, it’s not really a Titan. It’s an alien. (From Planet X, yo.) And it kicks Godzilla’s ass. Then Emma awakens Rodan from a volcano in Mexico, and there’s more battles, but the U.S. military uses an oxygen-depriving bomb to stop and/or kill the beasts. It works—on everyone but Monster Zero (he’s an alien), so he’s now the ruler, and awakens all the other Titans to, I guess, take over the world.  Meanwhile, Godzilla nurses his wounds. At this point, in fights with Zero, Godzilla's 0-2. Not exactly “king.”

The final battle is in Boston. That’s where Madison turns on mom (“You’re a monster”) and steals the ORCA, and goes to Fenway Park (of course) to ... what is she doing again? Calming the Titans? Because she winds up attracting them. To Boston. Brilliant.

And all of this awakens in mom the need to finally do the right thing. Like just when Madison can’t run anymore, Mom pulls up in a military vehicle and shouts “Get in!” That idiocy. The movie, directed by Michael Dougherty (“Krampus”), who also wrote a lot of it, wants us to care about the Russells, but how can we? Mom causes the death of probably millions because she thinks giant lizards and moths are wiser than we are. Dad fulminates against any course of action, while Daughter acts too late and then destroys Fenway Park. Those are our heroes.

Ancient Chinese secret
Gotta say: The cast is great but the casting is horrendous. It’s casting as shorthand. Everyone is who you think they are. “West Wing” dude says sardonic shit while drinking coffee, “Silicon Valley” tech dude stammers awkwardly, “Game of Thrones” dude is cuttingly brutal. Ice Cube’s son scowls and stands his ground, as does the bald black chick. They protect us. As does the “Hamilton” dude who stays in the background—as he did in “A Star is Born.” We learn nothing about these characters because there’s nothing to learn. They’re plug-ins.

Ken Watanabe, repping Japan, Godzilla’s original hunting grounds, spends the movie advocating for him. Zhang Ziyi, repping China, Warner Bros.’ box-office hunting grounds, spends the movie ... Yeah, what is her role? And isn’t it roles plural? Yes. She’s both Dr. Ilene Chen and Dr. Ling Chen. At one point she says she, or they, are third-generation Monarch. Meaning her/their parents/grandparents were involved in this international scientific project around the time of, oh, the virulently anti-western, anti-intellectual Cultural Revolution. Thanks for the history lesson. 

I do like it that when Mark talks up slaying dragons, Chen dismisses it as a western concept: “In the East, they are sacred: divine creatures who brought wisdom, strength. Even redemption.” OK, so her dialogue could’ve been better. No Chinese person says “In the east.” It’s fucking 中国. And why not talk up the dragon being the luckiest of the zodiac signs, or dragon dances and boat races, or how Bruce Lee’s Chinese name is 小龍, (Small Dragon), and Jackie Chan’s is 龍, (Dragon)? Have fun with it.

At least that conversation isn’t as soul-crushingly stupid as when Dr. Serizawa imparts his wisdom to Coach Taylor:

Dr. Serizawa: There are some things beyond our understanding, Mark. We must accept them and learn from them. Because these moments of crisis are also potential moments of faith. A time when we either come together or fall apart. Nature always has a way of balancing itself. The only question is: What part will we play?

Mark (impressed): Did you just make that up?

Dr. Serizawa: No. I read it in a fortune cookie once.

[Pause]

Dr. Serizawa: A really long fortune cookie.

The wisdom is bad enough—bland nothingness—but the fortune cookie reference? I can’t even unpack that. Why would his character say it? And why would a modern international movie have him say it? It’s like a line out of a 1970s commercial. “Ancient Chinese secret...” And does the movie not know he’s Japanese rather than Chinese, or does the movie think we don’t know this? Or does he assume Mark doesn't know? I’d love to hear if anyone at Warner Bros. suggested taking out this line. I’d love to hear what argument kept it in. 

This is Warner's second attempt to create a universe in the manner of the hugely successful MCU. The first included the most famous superheroes in the world—Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman—and they fucked it up. They gave the keys to Zack Snyder and he brought back pure idiocy. Now they’re trying to create a “Monsterverse” with King Kong, Godzilla, and the lesser Japanese monsters. They’re fucking this up, too.

YEAR MOVIE ROTTEN TOMATOES US BOX OFFICE WORLDWIDE BOX OFFICE
2014 Godzilla 75% $200.6 $529.1
2017 Kong: Skull Island 75% $168.0 $566.7
2019 Godzilla: King of the Monsters 41% $110.5 $385.9

The only improvement with any of it was the slight uptick in “Kong”’s worldwide numbers. Otherwise, it's down down down. We’re getting less interested as the movies are getting worse. Hey, maybe there’s a correlation.

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Posted at 07:26 AM on Sep 05, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
Friday August 30, 2019

Movie Review: Booksmart (2019)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

Most everyone has already pointed out the “Superbad” similarities. A heavy bossy high schooler (Beanie Feldstein, the sister of Jonah Hill), and her thin shy friend (Kaitlyn Dever, apparently unrelated to Michael Cera), try to find the party on the night before high school graduation. Along the way, they get into and out of trouble, lose and find love, get drunk, fight, make-up, and say good-bye. It’s raunchy, funny and surprisingly sweet.

It also made me feel old. Like: way, way old.

So they have unisex bathrooms in high school now? Or is that just in So Cal? Or is that just in So Cal in the movies? And why is the teacher, Ms. Fine (Jessica Williams, late of “The Daily Show”), hanging around the edges of the party? She’s not going to party with them, is she? Wait, she’s not going to sleep with that student, is she? With no repercussions? In the #MeToo age? Wow. Reverse the genders and see how well that bit plays.

I was also wary of how close the camera got to some of those young bodies. Maybe that’s just the female gaze of first-time director Olivia Wilde. Or maybe I’m old. Like: way, way old.

A brassy Tracy Flick
I like this aspect of “Booksmart”: You think the problem will be ostracism but it turns out to be something much more universal: heartbreak.

In the beginning, the filmmakers—Wilde, and screenwriters Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins (“Trophy Wife”)—set it up so there’s jocks here, skateboarders there, techies and burnouts, along with our two heroes, Molly and Amy (Feldstein and Deaver), as the brainiacs who, ssshh, got into Ivy League schools. Except it turns out the other kids did, too. Like all of them. Again, is this specific to So Cal? Or does Lori Laughlin have that many kids?

But this knowledge—that her laser focus on her studies didn’t take her any further than the doofuses that partied all the time—is like an epiphany for Molly, senior class president, and she turns that laser focus into making sure they get in their share of partying before graduation the next day. She’s like a brassy Tracy Flick cramming for a final—but with partying.

The party to go to is Nick’s (Mason Gooding), the cutest of the jocks, and VEEP to Molly’s class president, but they don’t know his address. Trying to find it is the driving force for much of the movie. They wind up: 1) at the empty boat party of rich kid Jared (Skyler Gisondo); 2) at a murder mystery party hosted by gay, theatrical classmates George and Alan (Noah Galvin, Austin Crute, standouts); 3) tripping and hallucinating after drug-laced strawberries kick in; and finally 4) hijacking the pizza-delivery dude for Nick’s address. Then they call Ms. Fine to drive them there.

I assumed once there they wouldn’t exactly be welcomed by the various cliques, but they are. By everyone. It’s nice. But it makes you wonder what the conflict will be.

Turns out: heartbreak.

Amy has a thing for skateboarding girl Ryan (skateboarder Victoria Ruesga), who digs her, too, and makes her sing at the karaoke portion of the party; but then Ryan winds up snogging in the shallow end of the pool with Nick, Molly’s 11th-hour crush. Amy is crushed, but when she tries to leave the party, Molly stops her. And rather than explain what happened, Amy suddenly brings up everything that’s been bubbling below the surface of their probably lifelong relationship: How Molly is so controlling, and how Amy needs to get away from her, and no, she’s not just going to Botswana for the summer but for a year, because she needs to breathe; then she runs, distraught, into the bathroom.

At this point, “Booksmart” becomes a bit conventional. What happens in the movies when you don’t get the one you want? Someone else, generally shockingly good-looking, turns up. See: Minka Kelly as Autumn in “(500) Days of Summer” or Lea Seydoux as Gabrielle in “Midnight in Paris.” Here, Amy is surprised in the bathroom by the ultracool and aptly named Hope (Diana Silvers), who looks like a model. In fact, she’s played by a model. She’s played by a woman whose upper lip puts most lower lips to shame. And Amy winds up mashing on that upper lip. Such is the way: If Summer is gone, Autumn shows up; if you’re feeling hopeless, here’s Hope. 

Such is the way of Hollywood anyway. The rest of us pay full price.

You are all a video-taking generation
I like that Molly and Amy don’t reunite that night. Everyone is separated, and Amy gets arrested, and Molly has a moment with a girl (Molly Gordon), nicknamed Triple A, who’s known for giving handjobs/blowjobs in cars. Thus the nickname. And With Triple A, Molly learns an important lesson. No, not that the rumors aren’t true. They are. Triple A likes giving handjobs/blowjobs in cars. She just doesn’t like the nickname.

The reunion occurs the next morning when Molly bails Amy out of jail, and they race to make the graduation ceremony, where Molly, as class prez, has to give a speech; and the speech she’s written isn’t the speech she gives, of course, because she’s learned so much the previous evening about blah blah blah. Yeah, that speech is actually a disappointing part of the movie. So are the so-called 1% (Jared and Gigi, played by Billie Lourd), who were just too over-the-top for me. I didn’t buy them, or care about them.

But I laughed. A lot. And I like the movie’s by-the-way inclusiveness—like it weren’t no big thing. As I was watching, it even made me feel good about this generation. They were putting divisiveness behind us and forging a newer, better, cleaner path. Good for them.

Then we got the big Molly-Amy breakup scene. They’re yelling at each other in the middle of the party, and in front of all the other kids, who stop what they’re doing and listen. You wonder if anyone is going to try to break it up. Nope. In the background, somewhat blurry, you see one light, then another, and then another.

Me: Are the other kids ... filming this?

A second later: Yes. Yes, they are.

Pause.

Yeah, OK, you guys are fucked up, too.  

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Posted at 07:36 AM on Aug 30, 2019 in category Movie Reviews - 2019   |   Permalink  
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