(On Cable TV, January 2019) As a parent who just got out of the first few tough years, there’s an innate relatability to Tully’s phantasmagorical premise that rings true—given the sleep deprivation during a baby’s first years, I’m not sure that any parent is actually totally sane during that period and this film runs with the premise. Charlize Theron adds another impressive notch to her multidimensional screen persona by playing an overworked, super-stressed mother of three, with Mackenzie Davis in a strong supporting role and Ron Livingston to tie the narrative threads together. As a portrait of parenthood, Tully is more ruthlessly honest than most other movies—there’s little idealization going on here, and we’re miles away from shiny mommy blogging. There’s a nice balance between domestic details and frustration and the more outlandish flights of fancy that the story requires. Reuniting with scribe Diablo Cody (herself a mother of three), director Jason Reitman doesn’t try to recapture Juno’s motormouth wit but wisely stays grounded given the third-act twists. Going closer to spoilers, I remain as dumbfounded as anyone as to the popularity of the “Fight Club in another setting” premise (taking over from “Die Hard in another setting”) as shared by Tully and near-contemporary Adrift—it’s a narrative strategy build on deceit and now-cheap revelations, and I’m not sure it’s a subgenre that will age well. Still, I found a lot to relate to in Tully’s sleep-deprived fantasies and can’t stay mad for long at the plot cheats that it needs in order to justify itself.
(On Cable TV, February 2016) There’s a sub-genre of movies that could be called (for lack of a better name) “forgettable romantic comedies featuring up-and-coming movie stars”, and That Awkward Moment is a perfect addition to that canon. Its most noteworthy feature is that it stars Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan and Zack Efron—while the third is already a star in his own way, Teller and Jordan both have other movies (Creed, Whiplash) that hint at their true acting talent. Here, they’re not actually asked to do any dramatic heavy lifting: the film coasts a long time on their basic charm, even as their characters aren’t particularly admirable. Another romantic comedy for men that celebrates immaturity and boorishness, That Awkward Moment is perhaps best appreciated as a fake-anthropological study of young males on the cusp of romantic responsibility, although by the time the Hollywood process is done with the film, there’s nearly nothing authentic left to see. Various bits and pieces work; other bits and pieces are just puzzling or unpleasant given the casual misogyny of the script. Imogen Poots and Mackenzie Davis do well as the female matchups for the male protagonists, and as usual in these kinds of films they’re far more level-headed and sensible than our nominal main characters. It doesn’t amount to much: by the end, That Awkward Moment is slight enough to escape making any lasting impression other than a vague feeling that this isn’t going to be one of the films that Jordan or Teller will highlight once they become authentic megastars.