Friday, August 2, 2013

The Film Round-Up, August 2013: "Drinking Buddies," "Prince Avalanche," "Lovelace," "The Spectacular Now"

These are the days! These are the party days!
In this edition of the Film Round-Up: Lovelace blows, a movie where Olivia Wilde gets to act like a human being, David Gordon Green's indie return, and Shailene Woodley gives the performance of her young life.

These reviews appeared in the August issue of ICON and are reprinted with permission.

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Drinking Buddies (Dir: Joe Swanberg). Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston. Kate (Wilde, never better) and Luke (Johnson) are co-workers at a Chicago brewery, though they’re really more of a work couple. So, why can’t they make the transition to dating? Well, Luke is attached to Jill (Kendrick), a sweet schoolteacher, while Kate is seeing Chris (Livingston), an older music producer who doesn’t appear to be an ideal fit for the freewheeling, let’s-close-down-the-bar Kate. When her relationship ends, it seems inevitable that Kate and Luke would immediately start sharing a toothbrush. Not so. Swanberg’s smart, unhurried drama reveals that such a situation is not something two people can just segue into. First come the half-gestures, unspoken words, and the feelings of others. And there’s the chance that you might not be relationship material: Luke approaches Jill’s talk of marriage like a kid forced to eat his vegetables. Some may hate the film’s open-endedness, but I think that’s what makes it so refreshing. Regardless, it’s nice to see a director finally take advantage of Wilde’s bottomless charisma. [R] ***1/2

Prince Avalanche (Dir: David Gordon Green). Starring: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, Lance LeGault. In desolate central Texas, two state workers spend the summer of 1988 painting miles of lines on an anonymous stretch of highway surrounded by fire-damaged forest. Alvin (Rudd), disciplined and serious, looks at the time as an opportunity to reflect and improve himself, two things that will surely help matters with his girlfriend. Alvin’s colleague, his beloved’s oafish brother, Lance (Hirsch), is more concerned about getting laid, a tough prospect in the middle of nowhere. As the days trudge by, both men’s flaws and strengths emerge, a pleasant surprise in this offbeat comedy-drama from Green (All the Real Girls, Pineapple Express). The writer-director explores the philosophical quirkiness of the situation—Alvin pretends to play house among the charred ruins; an old-timer truck driver (LeGault) pops up with booze and (maybe) a female passenger—but it’s never at the expense of these two misguided souls who are forced to confront themselves. Hirsch and Rudd, as you would expect, are excellent. The disappointment Hirsch expresses in recapping his version of a lost weekend is a highlight. Based on the 2011 Icelandic film Either Way. [R] ***

Lovelace (Dirs: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman). Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Sarsgaard, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Chris Noth, Bobby Cannavale, Hank Azaria, Debi Mazar, Juno Temple, James Franco, Wes Bentley, Adam Brody.  Biopic examines the tumultuous life of Linda Lovelace (1949-2002), who became a national sensation thanks to her work in the insanely popular mainstream porno, Deep Throat (1972). As her fame grew, Lovelace’s svengali husband Chuck Traynor (Sarsgaard) turned possessive and abusive, even forcing the surprise starlet into prostitution. Actresses such as Malin Akerman have clamored to play Lovelace, though it’s hard to see why in this uneven slog. Epstein and Friedman foolishly divide Lovelace’s life into two halves, a happy version and an unhappy version. Neither segment portrays Lovelace as more than a little girl lost or a punching bag for the psychotic Traynor, so Sarsgaard’s terrifying performance is out of place with the film’s skin-deep approach. Seyfried does what she can with the simplified material, but there’s nothing she can do. The movie can’t decide whether it wants to be a campy reflection of a hedonistic time or a movie-of-the-week with nudity. Nobody—the actors, the audience—is winning that battle. Stone, in a strong supporting role, is unrecognizable as Lovelace’s perpetually defeated mother. Also available on demand starting 8/9. [R] *1/2


The Spectacular Now (Dir: James Ponsoldt). Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kyle Chandler, Brie Larson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Bob Odenkirk. High school senior Sutter Keely (Teller, Rabbit Hole) is perfectly content with his life as the good-time guy—charming, forever buzzed, and always ready for a party. After an especially boozy night, classmate Aimee Finicky (Woodley, The Descendants) discovers Sutter passed out on her lawn and helps him out. As they spend more time together, he charitably (in his mind) steers the friendship toward romance. When Sutter actually falls in love, he’s faced with a choice as graduation approaches: grow up or let the ambitious and mature Aimee move on without him. This ripe ode to young love is refreshingly nuanced and mature; Ponsoldt (Smashed) forces nothing. Teller and Woodley’s superb work take the movie someplace special. He captures the big heart and wounded soul behind Sutter’s party-boy fa├žade; she embodies every cute, unjustly overlooked high school girl whose depth and warmth will distinguish her from the pack in 10 years. If you’re a guy with some mileage, Woodley will remind you of five girls you failed to appreciate back then; Teller will make you wish you knew then what you know now. The personal nostalgia of The Spectacular Now is painful, sweet, and nearly palpable. I loved this movie. [R] ****

1 comment:

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What emerges is a richly shot daydream whose vagaries will please the high-brow while frustrating the common hordes. But its general sensibility undoubtedly lies somewhere in the middle.