A Simple Favor: Darkly Comedic Thriller Has Energetic Performances, Great Twists

3.5 out of 5 stars (Above Average)

A Simple Favor Poster
Image from https://www.imdb.com/

A Simple Favor may well be the most ambitious and outrageous film so far this year.  Director Paul Feig (Spy, The Heat) has outdone himself here, crafting a darkly comedic and endlessly twisty thriller with wonderful performances from Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively, the latter of which has never been this unhinged before.  A Simple Favor combines the chick flick, pitch-black comedy, and mystery-thriller with surprising finesse, making for one of the most entertaining movies of the year.  I have decided not to place the trailer here so you can go in as cold as possible, as I did.  Trust me, it’s worth it.

Straight-laced single mom Stephanie Smothers (Kendrick once again showing great range) has two things going for her in life: her devotion to her son, and a cooking vlog.  Despite the snickers of the other parents, Stephanie is cool as a cucumber with her routine life, without a desire to change.  Kendrick is absolutely wonderful at playing this lovably mousy and pathetic character, making her endearing to us rather than irritating.

Stephanie’s life is thrown for a loop when she meets the profane and erratic Emily Nelson (a fantastic Lively).  They become fast friends, sharing afternoon martinis and their deepest secrets until Emily disappears one day.  Now, Stephanie and Emily’s husband Sean (Henry Golding, Crazy Rich Asians) must piece together what happened to her, taking them both down a rabbit hole of outrageousness I won’t dare spoil here.

A Simple Favor is one of the most memorable films I’ve seen all year.  Kendrick and Lively have great chemistry together, making it easy to buy their fast friendship as well as Stephanie’s determination to find her friend.  You’ve never seen Lively this, well, lively, before, and she is having a devil of a time playing this character.  Kendrick also impresses, taking a character that could have been extremely unlikable or annoying and making you feel sympathy towards her while still laughing at her on occasion.  Golding is good as the husband, but doesn’t leave as large of an impression.  While no one will win Oscars for their work here, these are currently my favorite performances in a Paul Feig film to date.

Feig’s direction and Jessica Sharzer’s script are well-matched for each other, balancing the comedic and thriller aspects surprisingly well and providing something for everyone: A little bit of a chick flick, a little bit of dark comedy, and a little bit of a twisty mystery.  Trust me when I say that you will have no idea where this film is going based on its opening minutes, and if you do, you’ll enjoy how the twists are executed.  I went in knowing very little about the film’s plot besides it being a mystery of some kind, and I suggest you see this with as little knowledge as possible.  Trust me, you don’t want anything spoiled.

A Simple Favor balances its tones and genres easily, shifting from chick flick to darkly comic thriller with surprising sharpness.  Paul Feig’s direction perfectly complements Jessica Sharzer’s script, and the leads are absolute dynamite.  If you want a twisty thriller and don’t mind a bit of profane or raunchy humor, this is one Simple Favor you’ll definitely want to accept.

Rated R for Sexual Content and Language Throughout, Some Graphic Nude Images, Drug Use, and Violence

Crazy Rich Asians: Romantic Dramedy Promotes Positive Representation, Despite Flaws

3.5 out of 5 stars (Above Average)

Crazy Rich Asians Poster
Image from IMP Awards

Crazy Rich Asians is a pretty big deal.  Not only is it a mainstream film promoting positive representation of Asian culture, but it is also a funny, sweet, and sometimes thought-provoking look at the bonds of family.  Anyone expecting this to be a turn-your-brain-off yuk fest will surely be disappointed, but for people who go in with an open mind, Crazy Rich Asians should be a mostly satisfying experience.

Economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and her boyfriend Nick Young (Newcomer Henry Golding) seemingly have the perfect relationship.  Rachel is a hard-working middle-class Chinese-American, and Nick is secretly an ultrarich guy who chooses to live frugally rather than embrace his family’s lifestyle.  This secret is blown when Nick is named best man at a friends’ wedding, choosing this function to introduce Rachel to his family.  Now, Rachel must learn to mingle with the disapproving Youngs, especially, Nick’s tightly traditional mother (Michelle Yeoh), with supportive best friend Goh Peik Lin (A sometimes annoying Awkwafina) in tow.

Crazy Rich Asians mostly works.  Many of the characters come off as flawed and relatable human beings rather than easy stereotypes for us to laugh at.  Constance Wu and Henry Golding have great romantic chemistry, and Michelle Yeoh provides Nick’s mother with more depth than initially expected.  I understand where she’s coming from in her dislike of Rachel and can sympathize with it while still disliking her, a tricky feat to balance.  The soundtrack is also solid and some stylish visuals kept my engagement when present without overstaying their welcome.

On the negative side, Goh Peik Lin feels more like a borderline ghetto caricature than a regular person, along with a flamboyantly gay cousin Oliver (Nico Santos).  The actors do well, but I don’t understand why a movie that is so good at representing Asians as regular people would stoop to those stereotypes for comedy’s sake.  Goh Peik’s brother also takes pictures of Rachel creepily in an uncomfortable running gag given the current political climate (which I would love to stop thinking about at the movies).  However, these issues did not detract too much from my enjoyment of the film as a funny and occasionally resonant romantic dramedy.

All in all, Crazy Rich Asians is an enjoyable romantic dramedy with mostly solid performances, a respect for Asian culture, and a great step forward for proper representation of minorities onscreen.  Jon M. Chu’s stylish direction helps the slower moments, the soundtrack is toe-tapping, and the characters have unexpected layers.  However, Awkwafina and the gay character’s stereotypical portrayals do not fit in this movie, and, while not film-breaking, keep it from being one of the best of the year.  Despite these problems, I still recommend this film.  See it.

Rated PG-13 For Some Suggestive Content and Language

Pitch Perfect 3: Third Installment an Aca-tastrophe Worth Seeing

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is overall bad)

Pitch Perfect 3 Poster
Image from https://www.themoviedb.org/

Pitch Perfect 3 is the third installment in the musical comedy series about  a cappella and  the bonds of sisterhood.  If you enjoyed the other two and want one last hurrah with the Bellas, then you should embrace your inner completionist and seek this out.  And, even if you’ve never cared for this series, I would still recommend it purely to watch the film morph from a generic comedy into a ridiculous action film.  No I’m not kidding.

This film sees the Bellas reunite post-graduation to take part in an international USO tour and encountering rival groups Evermoist (yes you read that right) and other unimportant bands, who all use actual instruments!  The goal: to  to impress and open for DJ Khaled (playing himself).  However, things get complicated with the intro of Fat Amy’s (Rebel Wilson) criminal father (John Lithgow sporting a horrid Aussie accent), who essentially forces the movie into a bizarre (yet still enjoyable) direction.  John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks also appear as the sexist announcers, this time following the Bellas around for a documentary.  Because of course they are.

This is a bad movie.  Most of the musical numbers feel forced and aren’t memorable like previous entries.  The comedy is self-mocking, almost as if the film was originally supposed to satirize the formula before being overhauled, and the final 3rd becomes a Rebel Wilson Action Movie.  I don’t know who made this decision, but I would like to personally thank them for doing so.

Pitch Perfect 3 is both a beautiful aca-tastrophe and a passable swan song to fans of the franchise.  The musical sequences should get the toes tapping, but the plot and characters are hilariously thin and the final act was clearly rewritten to get more buts in seats.  It’s time to close the aca-curtains on this series, while it still has a shred of dignity left.

Rated PG-13 for Crude And Sexual Content, Language, And Some Action

Deadpool 2: Silly Sequel is Surprisingly Dark, Relentlessly Juvenile

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is overall bad)

Deadpool 2 poster
Image from http://collider.com/

Deadpool 2 is the first disappointment of 2018.  With a genius marketing campaign, hilarious trailers, and the prospect of seeing our favorite foul-mouthed antihero again, I was ready to dive head-on into this Pool.  Sadly, Deadpool 2 is a needlessly darker and sophomoric outing that emphasizes violent action over clever wit, making for a film that will satisfy action junkies, but leave those who enjoyed the cleverness of its predecessor yearning for more.

The mess of a plot involves Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) mourning over the death of his girlfriend (Morena Baccarin), joining the X-Men, and attempting to save an annoying teenager (Julian Dennison) from, brace yourself, a cyborg from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin).  Wade will sort of go on a journey to discover his inner hero and learn to move on from the death of his loved one, while still cracking jokes to the camera.

Deadpool 2 could have been a savage satire on how sequels always darken, but falls into that trap instead.  While still charismatic, Ryan Reynolds isn’t as likable here, overdoing Wade’s depression in the opening act and attempting to make out-of-place statements on sexism, racism, and other topics Deadpool should not discuss. Brolin acts like he’s in a completely different movie, but has good chemistry with Reynolds when onscreen with him.  The plentiful action sequences are well-done yet sadly unmemorable, and Dennison alternates between unlikable and annoying rather than menacing.  Lastly, the supposed emotional punch of an ending rings hollow.  I came here to laugh hysterically, not think about character drama.  It’s a sad state of affairs that should hopefully be remedied with the upcoming 3rd installment.

Deadpool 2 has more than enough action, but the plot and tone meander without much logic, the characters aren’t as endearing, and the writing is surprisingly juvenile rather than clever or witty.  While it certainly isn’t the worst X-Men film, Deadpool 2 is only slightly above X-Men Origins:Wolverine in terms of quality enjoyment.  I am sad to report that, of the three films I’ve seen this week, Book Club was the funniest one, not this.

Rated R for Strong Violence And Language Throughout, Sexual References, And Brief Drug Material.  Sorry, DP, but X is not gonna give this one to ya.

Millennials: Skip this Book Club

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is overall bad)

Book Club Poster
Image from https://teaser-trailer.com/

I know I am not the target audience for Book Club.  In fact, the only reason I saw it was because I got the times wrong for another movie, and Book Club was the only other option at that time.  However, I was fully ready to embrace the film, be surprised, or have a laugh.  I wanted to enjoy this movie, but the longer it dragged on, the less inertia its subplots contained, the more I fought back a snooze.  It’s a shame, because 2 of the actresses are really good here and deserve better material.  Book Club is fitfully funny, but its overlong runtime, sluggish pacing, and lack of focus undermine the chemistry of the four leads.  Cross this Club meeting off your calendars.  The older women in my audience enjoyed this film, but I unfortunately did not.

Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen have been BFF’s for years, meeting for book club meetings while balancing their own lives.  While reading the Fifty Shades  trilogy, the quartet decide to embrace life and love in their own way, becoming stronger people individually and as friends.

Diane Keaton is the biggest problem with this movie.  The character writing isn’t bad, but Keaton makes her wimpy and boring most of the time, save for one inexplicably good scene where she tells her adult daughters not to worry so much about her in her old age.  Jane Fonda is Jane Fonda, for better or worse, but Bergen and Steenburgen provide needed life to the movie and their characters.  Steenburgen in particular steals the show, culminating in a hilarious dance number with husband Craig T. Nelson (who also rocks).  If only the film around them could be as good.

Book Clubs’ moments of hilarity are outweighed by long stretches of tedium that make you question its purpose.  While I certainly laughed enough to keep my butt in the seat (no, it wasn’t Overboard 2018 bad), I nearly dozed off near the end.  Fans of the cast may enjoy seeing them together, but anyone else is better off participating in an actual book club.

Rated PG-13 for Sex-Related Material throughout and language

Melissa McCarthy’s Newest a Decent Party Film

2.5 out of 5 stars (decent)

Life of the Party poster
Image from http://www.impawards.com/

Life of the Party may have the slightest plot I’ve seen in 2018, and I’m okay with that (seriously, An Extremely Goofy Movie had more narrative thrust than this).  In a time when most big Hollywood releases are trying to cram “important messages” down our throats, Life of the Party comes along to give us a good laugh.  This is not Melissa McCarthy’s funniest movie, nor her best performance, but it is definitely a fun enough romp in the “turn your brain off” genre that left a smile on my face.

McCarthy is Deanna, a proud mother whose husband Dan (Matt Walsh) just divorced her after dropping daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off for her senior year of college.  Not wanting to move in with her own parents again, Deanna decides to complete her Archaeology degree and attend college with Maddie (who takes this decision unrealistically well).  She meets boys, bumps into a mean girl (Disney Channel starlet Debby Ryan), and all the other things people in movie college do.

Life of the Party is a movie made to entertain.  The cast is having fun, enough of the jokes hit, and the film thankfully avoids unearned sentimentality and feminist messages that ruin so many movies like this.  Sometimes a movie just needs to be funny, and for me, this one did the trick.  McCarthy and Gordon have nice mother-daughter chemistry, and Debby Ryan works well as the mean girl.  Also, look out for Julie Bowen as Dan’s new girlfriend and Maya Rudolph as Deanna’s BFF.  This isn’t particularly memorable, but in a time when Hollywood movies seem more concerned with addressing topical issues than entertaining the audience, Life of the Party is a fun ride that’s worth seeing at the cheap theater.

Rated PG-13 for Sexual Material, Drug Content, and Partying