Tag Archives: Comedy

Band Aid (2017)

There are few things as uncomfortable as being in the middle of a couple’s fight. The deep-seeded differences and inescapable feeling that the argument is just one of many can be agonizing. Zoe Lister-Jones (New Girl) has used this difficult scenario as the foundation of a comedy-drama. Anna (Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally) are a 30-something married couple stuck in a rut. Their friends are having children and rewarding careers while they have dead-end jobs and are constantly at each other’s throats. Instead of repeating the same fight over and over again, they decide to start a band and use their quarrels to write music.

As ridiculous as it may seem, the act of singing their frustrations is rooted in psychotherapy. Famous marriage counselors like Esther Perel use similar techniques like blind folding and roleplaying in couple’s therapy to deal with recurring issues. The use of song here abstracts their conflicts from their deeply personal roots and allows the leads to express themselves without descending into damaging attacks. It’s amazing to see how these makeshift therapy sessions allow the couple to address their marital problems.

The songs themselves won’t hold up to repeated listens. They have a very deliberate garage band crudeness without the benefit of a music producer. These aren’t the playlist-worthy tracks of a John Carney movie. While the singing talents of Lister-Jones and Pally are surprisingly adequate, the songs only work in the context of the film to provide humor and healing. The live performances and amateur lyrics are sometimes clumsy but always evocative of the irritating minutiae of a relationship and the positive effect the band has on their marriage is heartwarming.

Lister-Jones is able to balance the pain and humor of a failing marriage.

The sheer amount of humor is joyous. Lister-Jones turns everyday arguments into comedic commentary on relationships and the differences that divide men and women. She is acutely aware of the minor mannerisms that escalate into larger fights and her chemistry with Pally is perfect. They have the familiarity needed to make both their affections and insults feel authentic. Fred Armisen (Portlandia) as their strange neighbor and drummer kills every scene he is in. His unnervingly agreeable nature is a delight in the midst of Anna and Ben’s often explosive interactions and leads to plenty of awkward laughter.

Lister-Jones has stated that her goal was to make “a [John] Cassavetes comedy” and she has mostly been successful. She effectively examines both the male and female perspective in the central relationship without favoring either side. She impressively handles emotional scenes, but does make some larger generalizations about each gender. She posits that most men have a certain type of thinking process whereas most women have a completely different method, going as far as saying that they should be considered different species. The nuances of this comparison are well thought out, but it neglects the similarities that join the genders. Lister-Jones never considers the common ground between men and women which can sometimes make her assertions feel slightly reductive and incomplete. Still, Band-Aid remains an absorbing and consistently hilarious directorial debut.

4/5 stars.

Microbe & Gasoline (2016)

Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is back for another tale of misfits making their way through a normative society. The titular characters feel out of place at school and at home until they meet and befriend each other. Microbe (Ange Dargent), named for his small size and often mistaken by others for a girl because of his hair, and Gasoline (Théophile Baquet; War of the Buttons), named for his scent at school after helping his dad work on cars, decide they’ve had enough of their town and that they will go away together for the summer. They start to build a lawnmower engine-powered car together only to learn they can’t to afford the required registration fees so they come up with a diversionary tactic. Design the outside of the car to look like a house and stop on the side of the road if the police show up. Houses don’t need to be registered with the DMV.

The old saying goes that it’s about the journey, not the destination. The trouble is that it takes too long for the journey to begin. Gondry spends an inordinate amount of time with the boys in school, around their classmates, and with their parents. While this is likely done to establish their need to escape from home, none of the surrounding characters are interesting. They don’t add depth to the leads and are either unsympathetic or make the boys seem unsympathetic for not listening to their parents. If anything, the early section of the film makes their departure more confusing because their families are perfectly reasonable. Instead these scenes weigh down the pacing and unnecessarily distract from the more exciting trip ahead.

Their improvised transportation is one of the most enjoyable parts of the film

When the journey finally begins, we get the Gondry experience his fans appreciate, albeit in a more muted fashion. The director is known for his makeshift arts and crafts aesthetic and that inclination is best exemplified in the car the boys build. They go to the scrapyard and pull bits and pieces of other vehicles, doors, windows, and whatever else they can find to make their escape vehicle. It is Gondry’s little touches that make this process so winning. They add shutters for their windows and even a droppable board to hide their wheels from authorities. These details showcase the director’s acute imagination, but to a lesser degree than his previous films. There are a few examples, but the film would have benefited from more of the zany contraptions, like the olfactory instruments of Mood Indigo, that he is known for.

As their car is assembled we see glimpses of Gondry’s greatest strength. His elaborate production design is the most visible aspect of his style but is actually second to the innocent spirit of his films. To anyone else, disguising a car as a house is a ridiculous idea, but to Gondry characters it is perfectly reasonable – as long as they add some flowers under the window. This sweetness was especially evident in his film Be Kind Rewind where normal people shoot their own no-budget versions of Hollywood classics, but isn’t as prevalent here. The endearing nature of two kids building their own car to get away for the summer is marred by their conflict. When the boys deceive each other it detracts from their appeal. They appear less innocent than we originally thought and it breaks the believability of their whole escapade. If they are capable of lying to even their best friend to get what they want, why would they not be able handle themselves at school or with their families? With characters that eventually lose their endearing nature and early pacing issues, Gondry’s latest effort only charms in passing.

3/5 stars.

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016)

Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising has all the hallmarks of a comedy sequel. It basically repeats the same plot as the original and tries to outdo previous gags. Mac (Seth Rogen; Pineapple Express) and Kelly (Rose Byrne; The Meddler) are selling their house and have finally found a buyer. The catch is that they are in escrow for 30 days, meaning that the buyers can check in at any time and withdraw their offer if they see something they don’t like. This isn’t an issue until the previously abandoned frat house next door is rented by a group of college girls led by Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz; Kick-Ass). The young women are fed up with official sororities and the debasement of frat parties and want to break out on their own. Teddy (Zac Efron; High School Musical), the frat leader from the first film, joins forces with Mac and Kelly to get girls kicked out of the house before they scare off potential buyers.

Despite the familiar setup, the film uses the gender swap to approach the story from a different angle. They do an incredible job of skewering the Greek system. Sororities are shown as superficial with cult-like rules and rituals and fraternities are portrayed as cesspools of objectification. At their first frat party, Shelby is horrified to learn that the party is just a way to get them drunk enough to have sex. The film is able to evaluate this with humor. There are signs that read “NO MEANS YES” and frat guys shouting “You wanna go upstairs?” to anyone that will listen that are hilarious but also resonate because they are based in reality. These are only slight exaggerations of things that happen at real fraternity parties and the film is able to balance its comedy with criticism.

The critique of sexism inherent in Greek organizations provides a unique source of humor.

Many of the jokes rely too heavily on improv. This has become somewhat of an epidemic in modern comedies, particularly those starring Seth Rogen. Instead of using written and rehearsed lines, the director allows actors to ad lib several takes and compiles the results in post-production. This method can sometimes lead to spontaneous gems, but relying on it misses the essence of good comedy: timing. There are several scenes where the cast is clearly making up their lines as they go along, hoping that overacting will lead to some laughs. However, this typically only leads to failed jokes and in some cases racially charged remarks that don’t have a place in the film. The movie is at its funniest during the elaborate, planned, set pieces. These sequences allow the likeable cast to show off their comedic talents and have the required timing necessary to succeed.

It would have been easy for this film to fall into The Hangover 2 category. A by-the-numbers sequel relying on the success of the original, rather than its own quality, for box office revenues. The humor does not live up to the first film but even as many jokes miss their mark, it’s difficult to dislike the movie. The cast is eminently charismatic and even their failed attempts don’t become irritating. Instead, the surprisingly well realized feminist theme adds depth unusual to the genre and is able to eclipse the uneven humor and elevate the film.

3/5 stars.

The Hollars (2016)

If film festivals can be epitomized, then The Hollars is Sundance in a nutshell. John Krasinski (The Office) directs and stars as John Hollar, a New York City office worker making a graphic novel in his spare time. He lives with his pregnant girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick; Pitch Perfect) until he finds out his mother Sally (Margo Martindale; Million Dollar Baby) has a brain tumor and needs surgery, requiring him to go back home for the first time in years. He returns to find that many things have changed and that his mother’s health isn’t the only problem his family faces.

Despite a talented cast, the performances are unrefined. Each actor is committed to their part and goes through the required motions, but the acting lacks precision. The cast needed more takes or a more demanding director to push them beyond their initial efforts. Particularly bad is the otherwise talented Sharlto Copley (District 9) as the divorced older brother who now lives with his parents. His acting is overly eccentric and his accent is distracting. Many foreign actors are able to imitate an American accent without notice, but Copley’s South African intonations are jarring when compared to his supposed family. The exception to this is the female cast. Martindale is captivating as the stern but caring matriarch. Her tough love is often hilarious and its clear why she is at the center of the family. Kendrick shines as well in her limited role. She manages to gently push John to move forward with his life without falling into the trap of becoming the whiny girlfriend character. Martindale’s and Kendrick’s acting is welcome, but it only puts their co-star’s shortcomings in further relief.

Martindale's sharp wit is incredibly endearing.
Martindale’s sharp wit is incredibly endearing.

The film checks off a list of tropes from festival darlings of the past 15 years. Almost every story beat or production choice can be guessed beforehand. The main character is stuck in a rut living in a big city, they feel like a stranger in their own hometown, and every character has been dusted in a healthy helping of quirk. Even the soundtrack follows the Sundance manual by only featuring tracks by indie folk singers. Movies like Garden State have already employed many of these features and Krasinski doesn’t attempt to grow beyond them.

There is an old saying that “you can’t go home again”, meaning that your memories of a place or time are static and will never match up to your new experiences if you try to revisit them. John’s trip home shows him how much his family’s situation has changed. The people he is close to have moved on with their lives, often to worse outcomes, while he was living in a vacuum, delaying change and avoiding risk. He hasn’t taken the next steps with his graphic novel or advanced his relationship with his longtime girlfriend because of his fear of failure. In many ways, this concept applies to the filmmakers themselves. Instead of attempting something original, they returned to a formula they knew. By strictly treading on common ground, The Hollars is an agreeable but forgettable comedic drama, barely distinguishable from its peers.

2/5 stars.

The Love Witch (2016)

Like an Apple product, sometimes a movie is so married to its form that it forgets its supposed function. The Love Witch is about woman, Elaine (Samantha Robinson; Sugar Daddies), that casts love spells on men, has sex with them, and then they die because they “love her so much”.  After moving to town, Elaine cycles through brief affairs searching for her true love.

The film strives to be knowing satire but falls completely flat. Director/writer/producer/production designer/costume designer/editor/composer Anna Biller (Viva) clearly loves films of the 1960s and shows that passion in her attention to detail in the sets of the film. Unfortunately, this precision did not extend into the performances or writing. Characters deliver exaggerated dialogue with self-satisfied theatrical overacting.  They might as well look directly into the camera and wink as they hint that you should be laughing after each line is spoken. The cast has stated that because the film was low budget, they were usually only able to do one take and it clearly shows. The performances are obviously rushed and unrefined. Biller either lacked the time or the strong hand needed to improve their acting and without it, the intended humor fails miserably.

Comedic problems aside, it’s difficult to not love the visuals. The film was shot on 35mm and, unlike most, was actually processed through photochemical coloring rather than the standard digital intermediate. The cinematographer also used lenses from the 70s and netting over the lenses that give the images a softer look. Even though the story clearly takes place in present day, due to the presence of smartphones and modern cars, the main cast and the set dressings use deliberately retro stylings. The result is a vibrant landscape of eye-popping colors that perfectly replicate early Technicolor films.

The film's beautiful visuals are its best asset.
The film’s beautiful visuals are its best (and perhaps only) asset.

Within the layers of artifice, there is a parable about gender. The film tackles relationships and the conflicting societal ideals of female sexuality. Elaine’s friend is more traditional and only engages her husband when she wants whereas Elaine’s philosophy is to open herself up to a man physically above all else. Her beliefs represent the female sexual empowerment movement of the 1970s taken to the logical extreme. Is she taking control of her own body or just giving into male fantasy? Are the people that reinforce her behavior helping her or just creating a new form of subservience?  Biller leaves these questions not only unanswered but underdeveloped. A definitive stance isn’t needed, but the ideas are neglected in favor of poor attempts at comedy. While her intent is laudable, the director never expands her thoughts enough to be intellectually engaging.

It’s a shame that such technical talent and painstaking effort are wasted. A film with these aesthetics and design is a refreshing break from the often hyperreal visuals provided by the 4k, 5k, and even 6k cameras used today. Biller’s extreme dedication to creating her vision is also praiseworthy, but the film never succeeds as a whole. There were some laughs in my theater, but the majority of the audience was silent and Biller’s thoughts on gender are only fleeting. Despite its noble goals and meticulous craft, The Love Witch is a dull pastiche stuffed with bad acting delivered with an increasingly irritating smugness.

1/5 stars.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Well folks, we finally have an answer to the age old question “is the New Zealand accent inherently funny?” Yes. Yes, it is.

A troubled youth, Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison; Paper Planes), guilty of petty crimes like graffiti, loitering, and spitting, is shuffled from foster home to foster home until he is taken to his last option before juvenile detention. Aunt Bella (Rima Te Wiata; Housebound) is the woman who gladly takes him in and immediately establishes herself as a kind, loving person. She gently supports him even as he tries to escape and awkwardly pokes fun at his weight in a misguided attempt to engage him. For the first time in his life, Ricky has a caring home, but an unfortunate twist of fate puts Aunt Bella out of the picture and leaves him alone with her grumpy, apathetic husband, Uncle Hec (Sam Neill; Jurassic Park). Still, Ricky is happy with his Uncle until child welfare decides that he needs to be taken back. Ricky’s response is to run away into the bush forcing Uncle Hec to follow him. The time they spend in the woods causes them to miss the child welfare pickup date and gets misconstrued as a kidnapping, making Uncle Hec a wanted man and the bulk of the film follows the pair as they hide in the woods trying to avoid the nationwide manhunt.

Ricky’s greatest asset is his cherubic, expressive face. He has a minor criminal record, but even as he gets into trouble and tries to “be gangster”, his chubby cheeks only beam with innocence. No matter what he claims, his age is exposed by his lack of experience. SWAT teams are confused with ninjas and police dogs are mistaken for direwolves. Everything he knows is based on pop culture references so his time in the wild with Uncle Hec allows him to grow and his reactions to realities of bush-life provide a sympathetic audience surrogate. Yet even as he toughens in the wild, his fumbling actions are always humorous and endearing, not aggressive.

Even a small look from Ricky can crack a smile.
Even a small look from Ricky can crack a smile.

The film demonstrates the skills of its director. Taika Waititi’s previous film, What We Do in the Shadows, was a horror comedy about a house of vampires and while the feature proved his talents as an actor and a writer, the Real World-esque structure masked his abilities behind the camera. Here he is able to show off his command of the screen. There are perfectly placed comedic snap zooms as well as a recurring shot involving a revolving camera pan with characters moving in and out of frame to show the passage of time. This concisely moves the plot forward while still producing laughs in a way that few directors are capable of. Waititi’s directorial flourishes add visual excitement to the strong comedic writing.

Underneath the manhunt setup is a deeper message. Each of the main characters is lost in some way. Aunt Bella, Uncle Hec, and Ricky are all orphans and finding acceptance becomes the major theme. Ricky has been rejected by all his previous families and Uncle Hec has never had anyone but Bella. Together they form their own oddball family unit. Ricky writes haikus for Uncle Hec (a method of expression advised by a previous social worker) and as their outlaw status escalates they only grow closer. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a rare comedy, consistently original and hilarious with a sincere, sentimental core.

4/5 stars.

Maggie’s Plan (2016)

Filled with professional intellectuals and set in New York City, Maggie’s Plan initially comes off as a misplaced Woody Allen comedy but soon reveals itself to be a much kinder film than most of Allen’s body of work. Maggie (Greta Gerwig; Frances Ha) is a university faculty member intent on having a child, regardless of her current relationship status, until she enters an unexpected relationship with anthropology professor John (Ethan Hawke; Before Midnight). Unfortunately, John is married to Georgette (Julianne Moore; Still Alice), a needy and career focused fellow professor at a different school. As a result of their affair, John divorces Georgette and marries Maggie which leads to the child Maggie had been hoping for. After a few years of marriage, it becomes clear that Maggie and John are no longer working out, but instead of leaving like a sane person would do she creates the titular plan. Maggie notices that he still spends hours talking to his ex-wife and realizes that Georgette was indeed right for him. Together the two women create a scenario for Georgette and John to meet and hopefully rekindle their feelings for one another.

In a film with otherwise solid acting, Moore delivers one of the most hamstrung performances of her career. She has proven herself consistently reliable in a wide range of roles from an adult film star in Boogie Nights to a professor in Still Alice, but here she crashes and burns underneath a repulsive accent. Where is she supposed to be from…England? France? Germany? Is it just a speech impediment? Depending on the specific scene it could be any of those choices. Director Rebecca Miller (The Private Lives of Pippa Lee) was likely aiming to make Georgette appear more sophisticated but the gimmick is entirely unnecessary. Moore’s acting alone would have been convincing enough, but saddled with an accent that would make Tommy Wiseau jealous, her delivery detracts from an otherwise well-written character.

I have absolutely no idea where Georgette is supposed to be from.
I have absolutely no idea what accent Georgette is supposed to have.

Conversely, the character of Maggie is always enchanting. Her attempts at almost Machiavellian manipulation are softened by Gerwig’s performance as she imbues Maggie with a well-intentioned naivete. Maggie is not scheming to absolve herself of latent guilt about entering a relationship with a married man, but rather she’s genuinely trying to create what she perceives as the best outcome for him. Even as things go awry, she never blames anyone, never holds grudges, and instead compensates by taking charge of other people’s responsibilities. As she sacrifices her own desires to help others, it becomes clear that Maggie’s problem isn’t that she is too controlling, it’s that she cares too much about others.

Her empathy, even at her own expense, carries the film. The other characters are each selfish in their own way, but Maggie never has any personal goals beyond a strong relationship with her daughter and every scene with her toddler further exemplifies her affection for those around her. Just as a mother restructures her life for the betterment her child, Maggie adapts herself to take care of her loved ones. She doesn’t always have the most logical methods, but her heart is in the right place as she suffuses the film with her blissfully unaware charm.

4/5 stars.

The Meddler (2016)

What are all moms best at? Everyone knows the answer to that question: forcibly inserting themselves into your life. The Meddler features Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise) as Marnie, a widow that was left with a large sum of money after her husband passed. So, she did the only natural thing and moved from Brooklyn to LA to be closer to her writer daughter Lori (Rose Byrne; Neighbors). Still reeling from a recent breakup, Lori is depressed and only wants to be alone. She goes to great lengths to avoid social events with her friends but unfortunately can’t avoid her mother who has a key to her house

Director Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World) accurately captures how ingratiating a mother’s unwanted help can be, despite good intentions. Everyday Marnie calls repeatedly and leaves meandering voicemails that aren’t actually about anything. She asks her 30 something daughter to text her each time she leaves the house and does things after beings specifically asked not to. As Lori tries to set boundaries, Marnie uses her free time to become a part of other peoples lives. She attaches herself to Lori’s friends and other strangers she meets, offering unsolicited advice at every turn. Marnie starts driving an Apple store employee to night school, planning (and funding) a wedding for Lori’s friend, and helps a bedridden woman at the local hospital. She fully occupies herself with financially and emotionally helping others.

Zipper introduces Marnie to the other women in his life...his chickens.
Zipper introduces Marnie to the other women in his life…his chickens.

Marnie creates relationships with others to fill the hole left by her late husband. After she starts seeing Lori’s therapist and gets approached by interested men, she exposes how fragile she is. Any mention of his passing and she’ll change the topic. It’s clear that both she and Lori are still grieving their loss, but the film does not fully explore its effects. It gestures towards these deeper feelings but barely skims the surface before reverting back to comedy.

The few glimpses into her true emotional state occur when she meets Zipper (J.K. Simmons; Whiplash), a retired cop who raises chickens. Simmons, for his part, is thoroughly charismatic as her Harley-loving suitor. His gentle approach and understanding of her behavior only serve to further endear him. As their romance grows, there are telling moments when Marnie deliberately pulls back. He invites her over, but she declines even though she is interested. She is still connected her late husband and isn’t ready to move on to someone else.

Despite her antics, Marnie never becomes unlikable. Even as she tries to steer Lori’s love life or uses salt bagels as a form of mental and emotional help, her deep affection for her daughter is always apparent. However, the film focuses too much on this behavior without thoroughly examining her and Lori’s grief. It sticks to the easy laughs and misses the opportunity to provide insights into the emotional aftermath of a losing a loved one. Without this added depth, The Meddler remains an agreeable comedy, but falls short of its potential and lacks the dramatic heft needed to give it staying power.

3/5 stars.

Love & Friendship (2016)

Whit Stillman’s fifth feature in 16 years and his first period piece proves to be one his strongest efforts. Adapted from a novella by Jane Austen, the film follows Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale; Underworld), a once wealthy widow, navigating the circles of high society in late 1800s England. Her high lifestyle is provided by the friends and family members she moves between as she uses her social skills to secure a better life for herself and her 16 year old daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark).

Calling them social skills is putting it lightly. Lady Susan has the gift of gab and is fully aware of her powers. She lies, feigns emotions, and uses every form of manipulation possible. With a few exceptions, she is able to cast a spell over her acquaintances to have them do her bidding. Her plan to maintain her posh life is to wed her daughter to the wealthy, kind, but clearly idiotic man, Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett; PhoneShop), and seduce her young, wealthy brother-in-law, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel; Twilight Saga: Eclipse) into marrying her. Unfortunately for Lady Susan, the rest of her in-laws are aware of her methods and do everything possible to prevent her engagement to Reginald.

Stillman has always been interested in high society. In his debut film, Metropolitan, he explored the lives of what he called UHBs (Urban Haute Bourgeoisie), young wealthy aristocrats, and his characters even spent time discussing various pieces of Austen’s oeuvre. It’s clear that he and Austen share a love of the inner circles of the upper class. He takes full advantage of the setup from Austen’s book in creating his own vision. Stillman hones in on the minutiae of his character’s lives. He mines the excessive formalities of the time for full comedic effect. Characters often are polite to the point of laughable awkwardness. Their desire to remain polite leads to overlapping pleasantries that always entertain.

Love-Friendship-Movie-Wallpaper-21-1280x720
Sir James’s winning smile more than makes up for his lack of intelligence.

The best example of this is with Sir James. Like the character Thor from Damsels in Distress (a college student who still doesn’t know his colors), Sir James repeatedly fails to understand even the most basic concepts. This combined with his jovial demeanor and desire to please cause several unnecessary – and hilarious – misunderstandings. He’s a moron, but he’s a sweet lovable moron that steals the show every time he’s onscreen.

Lady Susan on the other hand couldn’t be more different. Like Greta Gerwig’s character from Damsels in Distress, she is a crafty manipulator. “Facts are a terrible thing”, she tellingly says to her confidant played by Chloë Sevigny (American Psycho). She is so bought into her own lies that it becomes difficult to tell fact from fiction, but Beckinsale makes the character’s pathological dishonesty believable. Just as Lady Susan manipulates the people around her, she is also able to entrance the audience. We know what she’s doing, but she’s too damn good at it for us to care.

Whit Stillman and Jane Austen have shown themselves to be the perfect pairing for a comedy of manners. Her wheelhouse of high society England melds seamlessly with his signature humor. He takes the prim, proper idiosyncrasies of the time and his lead’s habitual chicanery and exaggerates them to the point of ridiculousness. Stillman uses Lady Susan’s verbose, elaborate lies to keep everyone spinning, but the tailspin – and the continuous laughs that come with it – are just too enjoyable to stop.

4/5 stars.

The Nice Guys (2016)

Director Shane Black has now made a name for himself as a creator of buddy action comedies, starting with writing Lethal Weapon and later directing Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and more recently Iron Man 3. Here we have Russell Crowe (A Beautiful Mind), a bruiser for hire, teaming up with Ryan Gosling (Drive), a private detective, he hired to find a missing girl who is in danger. After being contracted to “send a message” to Gosling, Crowe decides to go back in order to hire him to help find one of his previous clients. The two make a deliberately odd couple with Crowe playing the efficient pragmatist and Gosling as the inept screw-up.

Above all else, Black’s goal here is comedy, but he is mostly unsuccessful. There were a few good laughs but the jokes miss more often than they hit. The humor can be divided into two broad categories: dialogue-based and physical. The dialogue-based humor, which is where the majority of jokes come from, mostly fails. Gosling’s delivery is often overconfident and dismissive, making his character slightly repulsive. Crowe’s jokes are based on his practicality, but instead of appearing curt, his rarely changing facial expressions just make him seem bored in the situation. Black’s strength is clearly with physical comedy. The best laughs involve Gosling falling and the gag only gets funnier with each tumble. It’s too bad that the director was not able to emphasize his slapstick skills as it would have created a much better film.

niceguys2
Crowe and Gosling’s first encounter is not amicable.

Part of the problem is that neither of the leads is likable. Crowe comes off as cold and, due to his profession, cruel. Gosling on the other hand is shown as somewhat incompetent and sleazy. He systematically extorts additional money from each job and takes advantage of confused elderly clients. We’re supposed to care about Gosling because he is a single dad, but the father-daughter connection is never established. The majority of the film has him sending his daughter (Angourie Rice; These Final Hours) to stay overnight at a friends house because he has to work. Her presence, or her mother’s absence, alone is not enough to create sympathy for an otherwise low-level, unscrupulous investigator.

Additionally, the attempts to create moral dilemmas are never fully fleshed out. The is a recurring motif where Gosling and Crow are asked if they are bad people. Gosling’s daughter easily answers yes for him, whereas Crowe isn’t sure what he is. During his violent encounters, he tries to stop before delivering a killing blow, especially when Rice is nearby. Yet, to the audience, the answer is obvious. He beats people up for money so there is no doubt that he is a bad person, which makes the central plot of the movie less believable. Why would Crow care about a former client enough to look out for her? He has never cared about his clients or victims before which makes this character turn unconvincing.

While plausibility or even sympathetic characters have never been requirements for a successful comedy, the humor needs to overcome these details. With The Nice Guys, Shane Black has been unable to beat these obstacles. There are just too many jokes that don’t produce any amusement. The physical humor does have its moments, but the frequency of laughs isn’t enough to sustain the runtime.

2/5 stars.