(On TV, May 2017) Innocuous but likable, Music and Lyrics manages to exceed the familiar average for romantic comedies, largely based on the strengths of its lead actors and the interesting backdrop in which the familiar rom-com situations occur. Hugh Grant stars as a washed-up popstar eking a living through royalties and small concerts in dismal places. When he’s asked to pen a song for a young and impulsive signer (Haley Bennett, playing a character that now seems like a slightly demented blend of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry), he comes to rely on an eccentric woman (Drew Barrymore, less bland than usual) to break through his creative block. The music-industry backdrop adds a lot to the film, especially in its high-comedy moments. Meanwhile, Grant and Barrymore work effectively together despite the fifteen-year age difference. Given those assets, it’s somewhat disappointing that the film can’t do anything else beyond relying on stock rom-com situations and false conflicts to juice up the drama. Even a mildly intriguing subplot about the female lead being the inspiration for a popular fictional antagonist eventually peters out to nothing much. Still, the film can coast a long time on its lead and backdrop, which helps make Music and Lyrics slightly more interesting than most of the other rom-com of the time. Give it a shot if you’re in that kind of mood.
(On TV, December 2015) Everyone’s got irrational dislikes for particular actors, and one of mine is Drew Barrymore. I can’t explain it, shouldn’t proclaim it but won’t try to hide it. While I can actually name a few movies of hers that I like (including a few in which she played a central role, such as the Charlie’s Angels films) and find that I’m disliking her less and less lately, EverAfter has taught me that my dislike of her in earlier roles remains real: Her turn as the protagonist of this reality-based take on the Cinderella fairy tale left me cold and wishing that just about any other age-appropriate actress could have taken the role. It doesn’t help that the film itself feels so dull: Being quite familiar with the Cinderella story beat by virtue of having a young daughter, I find that any attempt to take supernatural elements out of the story makes it far less interesting. Here, the insistence to “keep it real” by setting it in medieval France feels as if it’s holding the film back, especially when adding Leonardo da Vinci as a character makes a mockery of the whole realism thing. Hammering modern social notions into that framework also feels beside the point, adding to the increasing lack of interest in the film as it rolls along. Now that I think of it, you can add “making fairy tales gritty and realistic” to the list of my pet irrational dislikes: it doesn’t add much, takes a way of lot of potential greatness and misses the point of the fairy tales. EverAfter feels rote, especially after the recent slew of revisionist takes on other classic fairy tales. At this point, I can’t help but compare it to the live-action Disney remake of Cinderella and find it severely lacking in the wow department. But, as they say, your mileage may vary… especially if you don’t quite have the same irrational dislikes as I do.
(On TV, July 2015) There’s a particular type of domestic bourgeois horror at the heart of Duplex, which is to say: what happens when a tenant not only refuses to leave, but makes your life miserable? Ben Stiller, in his classic manic mode, and an unremarkable Drew Barrymore star in this black comedy whose main claim to fame remains that it’s directed by Danny DeVito. Duplex is, for the most part, a reasonably entertaining accumulation of mayhem, as a sweet old lady proves to be the bane of our protagonist landlords. It escalates quite a bit, in ways that don’t feel entirely natural. The point of the film being embarrassment and violent intentions, it’s not the kind of comedy fit to be appreciated whole-heartedly. The deliberately frustrating ending plays along that vein, making this a film for specific audiences. At least it works on a basic level: most of the film is reasonably entertaining, moves from one plot point to another and packages everything in a neat bow (although, once again, you have to wonder about the sanity of antagonists trying those dangerous long-cons.) Neither particularly good nor bad (albeit maybe irritating), Duplex seems to be the kind of film you see once, shrug off and then make no particular effort to see again.
(On Cable TV, February 2015) Low expectations are a powerful thing: Given my track record with Adam Sandler’s most recent comedies, my overall lack of affection for Drew Barrymore, my general exasperation at broad family comedies and the rather pointed criticism of Blended as a borderline racist comedy, I really wasn’t expecting much from the time. But it turns out that once you’re willing to cut a pick of slack to the film, Blended work relatively well as your average Hollywood family comedy. Sandler of late seems to be settling into an innocuous father-figure comic archetype, not particularly funny but more palatable than his younger angry man-child persona. Barrymore is unremarkable and there is some truth to the racism accusations (still, signing Terry Crews is hilarious even in his thankless role), but the African scenery is spectacular, the feeling of being in a five-star resort is credibly rendered, and there are amusing character moments here and there. It’s not much (and Blended does not end on a high note by stretching out its foregone conclusion past the resort experience) but with the power of lowered expectations it’s just enough to be entertaining.