Tag Archives: Judd Apatow

The Little Hours (2017)

What could be funnier than nuns in a convent? That’s a phrase never spoken before. Jeff Baena (Life After Beth) directs a comedy about 14th century nuns. Sisters Alessandra (Alison Brie), Genevra (Kate Micucci) and Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) live a routine life of prayer and chores until Massetto (Dave Franco), a young, handsome man, becomes their new gardener. Massetto poses as a deaf-mute to avoid contact with the sisters, but his presence creates impure thoughts in all of them. Having never been in this situation before, the women each approach Massetto, and their newfound urges, in their own ill-conceived ways.

The cast is stacked with talented comedians. Every role, even minor ones, is filled by an actor from a Seth Rogen or Judd Apatow film. Most of them stick to their typical roles with Plaza leading as an unhinged maniac. She repeatedly threatens people with violence and doesn’t appear capable of feeling any kind of sympathy. Her character is a stark contrast to Brie who plays an innocent woman that wants to get married and leave the convent but, due to her family’s financial situation, can’t afford her dowry. Brie’s initial sweetness doesn’t last long under Plaza’s influence and her progression into delinquency is an absurd and entertaining descent.

Plaza is borderline maniacal with her violent outbursts

Anachronism is the name of the game when it comes to the film’s humor. First and foremost, who can picture Aubrey Plaza as a nun? Nobody who has seen her in anything and Baena knows that. He makes his intentions clear from the opening scene where Plaza and Micucci attack and berate the church gardener for smiling at them and wishing them a good morning. They swear like sailors using modern curses and not even the slightest hint of an era-appropriate accent with Franco still maintaining his surfer-bro drawl. The only attempts at recreating the period are restricted to the on-location shooting and the attire. Other than that, the film plays like a raunchy sex comedy.

The Little Hours eclipses its peers by its use of the setting. Vulgarity and toilet humor can very quickly become irritating and, initially, it seems like the film will follow that same path, but things change as we learn more about the characters. These aren’t the typical filthy minded cast. These are nuns in the medieval age which means they haven’t actually had any real-life experiences. They have been raised in the convent since they were young so all of their behavior comes from a place of extreme sheltering. This makes even the alarmingly aggressive behavior somehow charming. As the characters throw themselves at Franco, their complete naivete is endearing. They are inexperienced to the point of stupidity so their attempts to win Franco’s attention, while hiding their transgressions, are exercises in hilarious ineptitude. These actions are their baby steps toward understanding themselves as adult women with adult feelings. The competition between the nuns creates misunderstandings that compound into a completely ridiculous climax that reveals how little they know about the world and how comically hypocritical they are. Expressed through a lens of complete and foolish naivete, Baena imbues an anachronistic sex comedy with a charming innocence.

4/5 stars.

The Big Sick (2017)

Earlier this year Get Out was described as a horror/thriller take on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but The Big Sick might be a more apt comparison. Written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and based on their real courtship, The Big Sick is about an interracial relationship between Emily (Zoe Kazan; Ruby Sparks) and Kumail (playing himself). Their coupling starts off as a one night stand, but as it develops into a long-term relationship the differences in their backgrounds become apparent. Kumail is from a Pakistani Muslim family and Emily is a White American. His family believes in arranged marriages and is actively trying to set him up with potential brides. Because of their traditional beliefs, Kumail chooses to hide his relationship with Emily from them which leads to a falling out. Later when Emily is diagnosed with a serious infection, Kumail is forced to re-evaluate his feelings and meet Emily’s parents.

While many of the details about the potential difficulties of interracial relationships ring true, the social commentary aspect of the film is in conflict with its romantic comedy aspirations. The script lampoons the extended families, particularly Nanjiani’s, but doesn’t ever examine their perspective. That is not to say that their orthodox, often antiquated, ideas are correct or should be supported, but rather that they deserve to be understood. Instead, the film treats Nanjiani’s family like cartoonish villains that are played for comedy. They are painted in the broadest strokes. Perhaps that is to be expected of a Judd Apatow production, but my hope was its autobiographical nature would elevate the writing. The script never allows them to develop into multidimensional characters and in doing so is disrespectful to their culture and the themes the film claims to be interested in.

Kazan and Nanjiani have chemistry, but the majority of the film doesn’t actually feature them together.

Not all interracial relationships are the same. The couple depicted here isn’t facing the same difficulties that a Black American and a White American would face when dating. This is about problems caused by intercultural relationships. There are different expectations and different goals for each culture, but none of that nuance is ever featured in The Big Sick. Like mediocre standup comics, Nanjiani and Gordon are more interested in using cultural differences as punchlines than offering anything beyond surface-level observations.

Contrast this with the great documentary Meet the Patels. It also tackled the complex issues faced by the children of immigrants merging their family’s culture with the one they encounter every day. It was equally, and often more, funny but also sought to actually understand each viewpoint and the disconnect between generations. It showed that, while restrictive, these rules being imposed were done with good intentions and from a place of love. The difference was that their affection was being filtered through a completely different set of cultural norms and the film even explored what it can take to bridge the gap between disparate cultures.

The Big Sick lacks most of that depth. Nanjiani’s family is shown as backwards and while Gordon’s family has some growth as they come to accept Nanjiani, the script doesn’t effectively evaluate the beliefs or assumptions that created their initial stances. It is more interested in exaggerating awkward moments for fairly simple, obvious jokes. The humor is sometimes successful, but is typically limited to surface-level observations. By choosing to be a safe rom-com featuring an interracial relationship rather than a bold rom-com about interracial relationships, Nanjiani and Gordon’s film produces some laughs but fails at providing real insights into the situation at hand.

2/5 stars.

Get a Job (2016)

Ah, the millennials. They just can’t seem to make it work, can they? Get a Job, directed by Dylan Kidd (Roger Dodger), is a comedy about a group of young people trying to find their first jobs. The movie was apparently shot in 2012, but due to distribution issues was only released this weekend in very few theaters and on VOD rather than the wide release expected for a movie playing to this broad of an audience. Miles Teller plays Will, a recent grad who starts his first day doing video production at LA Weekly only to learn that his job as been eliminated. His girlfriend Jillian (Anna Kendrick, Pitch Perfect) asks him to “step up” and find a job. unlike his pot-smoking roommates, while his old fashioned “work your way to the top” dad (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad)  unexpectedly finds himself in a similar situation. The movie also features various subplots about Will’s roommates attempting to find their own first jobs and this is one of the reason the film falls apart.

The film feels overstuffed, despite its 82 minute runtime. It’s clear that this movie has gone through several overhauls in the editing room to create  something releasable, but their attempts have failed. None of the plot threads are given enough time to allow the characters to grow, so the climaxes have little effect. There is also dialogue referring to scenes that didn’t make it into the final cut which leads to a film that feels entirely jumbled together. Even with the 4 year wait, Get a Job still plays like an early version.

Making a good movie is the hard part.

The “comedy” script fails to produce any laughs. The writers were obviously targeting a Superbad-like movie, especially with their casting of Christopher Mintz-Plasse, but fail at creating both the likable characters and the humorous situations. The cast here is extremely talented and has done great work in other projects, but the script and editing don’t give them anything to work with. Cranston and Kendrick are the highlights, but even they can only do so much given their material and they aren’t featured enough to make an impact. Instead the jokes oscillate between trite and obscene and the language is both juvenile and crass. Alison Brie plays a hiring manager whose only lines are sexual advances that are both unwanted and unfunny. To put this in context, the film’s idea of comedy is her character trying to watch Will urinate for his drug test. Get a Job‘s humor never rises above a repulsively vulgar attempt at a Judd Apatow comedy.

Furthermore, the tone is absolutely inappropriate for the target audience. Starting right from the opening shot, Get a Job never loses its “kids these days” perspective. The film’s introductory montage posits that all of the characters’ problems are caused by their everyone-gets-a-trophy upbringing and that they can’t make it in the “real world” until they “toughen up”. Then, at the last minute, it doubles back and tries to claim, in a well delivered but unsubstantiated speech by Kendrick, that the younger generation doesn’t need the structure or direction of their parents to be happy. With no true, original, or even consistent insights to offer, the film fails at both skewering millennials and at uplifting them.

Totaling all these troubles, it’s clear that distribution issues were the least of the film’s problems. The 4 year wait apparently did not provide enough time construct a developed story and also outdated it as the economy has improved since filming. In retrospect, placing it on hold was actually the right decision because the movie has nothing to offer to any demographic. Get a Job is positioned as a film of and for the millennials but feels like a movie written by their disapproving grandparents with jokes by an obscene Seth Rogen knockoff.

1/5 stars.