(On Cable TV, November 2016) Anyone wishing for a distaff counterpart to 2014’s That Awkward Moment will be fulfilled by How to be Single … although one wonders if anyone else will be. Squarely set in the “ensemble romantic comedy set in New York and featuring up-and-coming actors” sub-genre, How to be Single incoherently examines the life of young singles in contemporary NYC, going for comic set pieces, an uplifting ending, actors using their charm to salvage a subpar script and other familiar elements. Dakota Johnson, Rebel Wilson, Alison Brie and Leslie Mann are the main characters, even though they get a lot of help from supporting players. The third act is a quasi-refreshing blend of relationships cut short, especially for the nominal main character who decides to go hiking rather than settle for unsatisfactory relationships. The film may or may not try to subvert the convention of romantic comedy, but it’s not too clear whether it wants to, or succumbs to expediency in order to wrap things up. It does have a few laughs; Rebel Wilson gets her share by playing essentially the same character as in the Pitch Perfect series, while Jason Mantzoukas makes a stronger impression than his limited screen time would suggest. Otherwise, it’s a mostly unremarkable film—funny while it plays, forgettable when it ends and not irritating enough to earn a bad review. At least the lead actresses get a paycheck, solidify their persona, prove that they can carry a movie and then move on to the next thing. It could have been worse.
(On Cable TV, April 2015) Revenge fantasies may not be good for the soul, but they can certainly drive a comic film. Here, two (and then three) women are united when they discover that they’re being cheated upon by the same man, who also turns out to be a con artist in other ways. Cameron Diaz is dependably amusing as the lead, whereas Leslie Mann becomes a delightful foil as the most mercurial of them—she has the shrieking madwoman thing down to a science. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, in another striking big-screen role, does have the requisite mixture of charm and sliminess as a philandering fraudster. Other additions to the cast aren’t as memorable: Despite prominent billing, Kate Upton is a bit bland as the Third Woman, whereas I remain unimpressed by Nicki Minaj’s performance in her short scenes (and this despite unexplainably liking Minaj as a musical performer). It’s a cheap and fast comedy without much sophistication, but it does get the chuckles it’s aiming for. There are a few false notes along the way (the ending is a bit more bloodily cruel than I had expected) and the script doesn’t embarrass itself with unpredictable plotting, but The Other Woman pretty much hits its target and delivers unchallenging entertainment for a solid 90 minutes.
(Video on-demand, March 2013) Aimless character-driven comedy about the humanity of relationship makes for a nice change of pace from a diet of highly-plotted action-driven special-effects extravaganza, and you couldn’t ask for more amiable actors than Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann as lead protagonists. This is 40 aims to provide a warts-and-all look at the dynamics of an established marriage, and it doesn’t take a lot to see echoes of universal experience in the sometimes-horrid thoughts expressed here. Still, it’s about sticking together no matter how difficult circumstances can be, and it helps that the dialogue is both cutting and revealing. There is a lot of depth to the ensemble cast, with particularly challenging roles for Albert Brooks and John Lithgow as polar-opposite grand-dads. Everyone is playing their part in a very relaxed fashion, which may explain how and why such a seemingly plot-less film can sustain attention for so long. Where the film falters is in its coda, which wraps up too quickly without giving decent send-offs to the myriad subplots introduced throughout the picture. Still, this is a film about moments, not dramatic arcs: Writer/Director Judd Apatow’s been mining the less-romantic aspects of romance throughout this career, and This is 40 fits squarely in this niche.