(On TV, October 2016) I’m an easy mark for movies about writers, and Stuck in Love does revolve around a broken family where both the father and his two children are writers. Of course, it’s not primarily about writing as much as it’s a romantic comedy about a man pining away for his separated wife, his kids urging him to move on, and assorted hijinks once the kids get into their own romantic entanglements. It ends on a number of happy notes, as it should. Greg Kinnear is OK as the main character, but Lily Collins has the most to do as his daughter. As far as romantic comedies go, Stuck in Love is passable—the script doesn’t offer any particularly strong or funny moments, but the film plows forward to its conclusion without too many problems along the way. It does have its share of unrealistic moments, but those get shoved under the “romantic comedy, don’t ask too many questions” sign. The addition of material about writers is just about the only thing making the film feel different, and it culminates with a voice cameo by Stephen King. Stuck in Love will fill an evening, if that’s the kind of film you’re looking for.
(On TV, March 2016) The touch of the Farrely brothers is obvious in Stuck on You, another of their comedies in which disability is seen sympathetically, North-eastern United States represents and comedy springs from uncomfortable situations. To wit: Stuck on You is about conjoined twins linked at the hip, and how they try to achieve one of them’s success as a Hollywood actor. As a physical comedy, Stuck on You milks a lot of laughs from suggesting the practical reality of its characters (one of them donning black clothes as the other perform a one-man show, the other wearing a teddy bear suit in bed when the other meets a romantic prospect), then goes for gentle Hollywood satire when a truly awful TV show becomes a rating darling. Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear are rather good in thankless roles, while Cher gets a few laughs in a relatively unflattering role. (Eva Mendes and Meryl Streep also show up successfully in small roles) Stuck on You is a film of small moments rather than overall storytelling: the plot is familiar, the beats are predictable and what sets it apart is some degree of success in delivering the small laughs that populate the larger but blander framework. In retrospect, it’s almost amazing that Stuck on You manages to last more than ninety minutes without quite wearying what could have been a one-note premise. Interestingly enough, the film manages to avoid most gross-out gags, which may be surprising given some of the Farrelly Brothers’ filmography. But they would have been out of place in a film that generally plays things sweetly and without meanspiritedness. Better than it could have been, Stuck on You isn’t particularly sophisticated entertainment, but it holds its own against most odds.
(On Cable TV, September 2015) Worth pondering: The good impression left by a film can often be measured solely against expectations. For instance, I expected little of Ghost Town, so when the film managed to pull off decent sequences and amusing moments, it seemed far better than if I had gone in with high expectations. Ghost Town remains, in many ways, a basic romantic comedy with a nebbish protagonist trying to impress a beautiful woman. But this one happens to feature Ricky Gervais as a protagonist who suffers a near-death medical experience that leaves him able to see ghosts in Manhattan. The supernatural element is brought in gently and is always presented wondrously: there isn’t a hint of darkness in the film which, considering that is deals rather heavily in death, is something to admire. Gervais makes for a capable unconventional hero, with anti-social nature believably progressing into something approaching decency by the end of the film. He is ably supported by Greg Kinnear as the ghost of a philanderer trying to meddle in his widow’s affairs. Complications obviously ensue. Fortunately, Ghost Town has an amiable atmosphere, enlivened by a couple of strong sequences. There’s a hilarious hospital scene in which our protagonist discovers his temporary death, for instance; a rapid-fire exploration of the nature of ghosts hanging around Manhattan; and a poignant sequence in which our protagonist gets to help ghosts settle their affairs with the living. It doesn’t make for a film for the ages, but it makes Ghost Town quite a bit better than its closest comparisons. It exceeds expectations, and often enough that’s exactly sufficient to leave audiences with a satisfied smile on their faces.
(On TV, March 2015) While As Good As It Gets was a good box-office hit and a monster award contender in 1997, I had somehow managed to avoid it until now. Featuring iconic performances and oft-quoted material, I thought I knew what the film was about. I was wrong, of course, but the idealized version of the film that I carried in my head remains more satisfying than the one on-screen. Both don’t start to diverge until fairly late in the film: As a confirmed obsessive-compulsive misanthrope who has somehow become a much-loved best-selling author, Jack Nicholson has one of his signature character here, and the cockiness with which he delivers either put-downs or compliments is nothing short of legendary. (And those quotes… they’re ever-green.) Opposite him, Helen Hunt has rarely been more appealing as a single-mom waitress whose boundless compassion is tested by a thoroughly detestable human being. (Meanwhile, Greg Kinnear is just fine as a gay artist overcoming the trauma of an attack, although this is really not his movie.) As Good as It Gets is enjoyable as it forces these characters to be together for a while, their eccentricities and neuroses bouncing off each other through great dialogue and telling details. But the film seems to lose itself somewhere in its third quarter of the film: For all of the interest in the platonic friendship between our two leads, I feel that the film takes a step too far by matching them together romantically. The age difference between the two is bad enough (twenty six years!), but the film itself seems to acknowledge how bad a fit they are, and the small moment of détente at the very end isn’t particularly convincing: I would have been far happier a viewer at seeing both of them heal each other, and evolve in their own respective directions. But, eh, what do I know? As Good as it Gets made money, got great reviews and remains a bit of a reference almost twenty years later. Given that, I’ll take my opinion and keep it for myself.