(On Cable TV, July 2018) Considering the stress and obligations that the Christmas season places on mothers, it’s no wonder that A Bad Moms Christmas would take on the season to be merry as its follow-up excuse to show moms behaving badly. (It’s even a mini-trend, considering that Daddy’s Home 2 mines the same holiday and intergenerational issues.) While Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn remain the lead trio of the film, the added interest here comes from seeing their moms (Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, and Susan Sarandon) descend upon their hometown for the holidays. The themes of the film consequently shift from women/men relationships to mothers/daughters, magnified by the pressures to make Christmas as perfect as possible. A Bad Moms Christmas is formulaic, uncomplicated, intensely predictable in at least two ways (following the conventions of both R-rated women’s comedies and Christmas movies) and not particularly difficult to watch thanks to the actresses involved. The direction zips by, relying once again on snappy editing and pop music. There really isn’t much more to say about it—fans of the first film will be fine with the follow-up, enthusiasts of women-behaving-badly R-rated comedies will get their six-month fix, and nobody will remember the film next year. (Even as a Christmas movie, I don’t see A Bad Moms Christmas as having any staying power—it’s far too dependent on the non-Christmas prequel.) I watched it, I laughed a few times, and that’s it.
(Video on Demand, July 2016) Five years after her breakout role in Bridesmaid, Melissa McCarthy has become an authentic movie star, to the level where she’s able to put together her own vanity projects. The Boss couldn’t be any more purely McCarthy, revolving around a character she created, co-written by her husband Ben Falcone (who also directs), and featuring her in a role that takes up most of the film. The result, on the other hand, may be too much McCarthy. While not a disaster, The Boss does feel meandering, overlong and curiously unfunny. While the structure of the script is conventional enough in a comic-underdog way, the rest of the film doesn’t come together. McCarthy’s character is unpleasant (although not as actively irritating as some of her previous roles), the jokes don’t reach for much and the surprises are few. Other players such as Kristen Bell and Peter Dinklage do their best to keep up, but this is the McCarthy show and while she’s OK as an actress, she gives herself no favours as a writer. Some bits work even then they feel familiar (such as the slow-motion girl scout fight sequence) while others just flop aimlessly. What’s unfortunate is that the McCarthy persona is fundamentally irritating, and pushing it too far ends up alienating viewers (See Identity Theft), while not taking advantage of it leads to boredom and restlessness. There’s an ideal balance to strike, but it’s not to be found in The Boss, which—at best—merely works as a run-of-the-mill comedy.
(On Cable TV, September 2012) Oddball films certainly have their share of charm, and Hit and Run shows some of the goofy fun to be found in low-end Hollywood productions that often show up as cable releases or Video-on-demand premieres. Co-written-and-directed by actor Dax Shepard (who stars in the film along with real-life-girlfriend Kirsten Bell), Hit and Run boasts of an interesting cast of comedians, an amiable rhythm, some amusing dialogue, a love of cars and a script that ends up being a bit tighter than you’d expect from the first half of the film. Here, an expert driver with a shady past is forced out of his Witness Relocation Program identity by the professional aspiration of his girlfriend. Going back to Los Angeles means tangling anew with a criminal crowd he thought he’d left behind, but that’s the fun of the film as various groups and people connect on the way to L.A. The dialogue is pure laid-back California, the tangents are plentiful (although the ending ties a lot of them back together), Shepard anchors Hit and Run with an easygoing protagonist and the result is enjoyable on its own.
(On Cable TV, April 2012) If you believe in the idea of Hollywood as one big giant conversation during which the same group of people build upon each others’ ideas in order to make genres “evolve” (acknowledging that evolution isn’t always progress), then Forgetting Sarah Marshall now seems like an essential piece of 2000s American comedy. It’s from well-known comedy producer Judd Apatow; it features early feature-film appearances by a number of performers who would earn further notoriety in other films; and it fits in the revival of the raunchy R-rated romantic-comedy-for-boys sub-genre that stretches from The 40-Year-Old Virgin to counter-exemplar Bridesmaids (so far). In short, Forgetting Sarah Marshall has become an essential piece of the conversation about the comedy genre over the past ten years, and I had to see it after missing out on its inauspicious release four years ago. Fortunately, it lives up to the hype: It’s biggest enduring legacy is bound to be writer/actor Jason Segel’s break-out performance as a relatively more charming man-boy character than the Will Ferrell type. Forgetting Sarah Marshall also remains noteworthy for bringing Russell Brand to the movies; something that would lead directly to Bring Him to the Greek. Otherwise, there are good performances here by Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Jonah Hill, all of whom would go on to star in other high-profile comedies. The film itself is decently funny, if sometimes over-long and almost repetitive at times. The ending clearly shows the way to 2011’s The Muppets, as a further piece of evidence of Forgetting Sarah Marshall‘s crucial link in the Hollywood comedy conversation. You don’t have to see it for what it set in motion: the film is successful enough by itself. But it’s far more interesting as part of a genre than as a film completely disconnected from its context.