Friday, July 13, 2018

Worth Mentioning - United in Love

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody spent a long, sleepless night having a quintuple feature of these films.


Actors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash made their feature writing and directing debut with this coming-of-age comedy that centers on Duncan (Liam James), who is an average awkward and sullen kid, but has good reason to be in a downbeat mood - his parents just got divorced a couple years ago and his mom Pam (Toni Collette) is already in a serious relationship with a guy named Trent, Steve Carell playing a character who is far from the loveable goofballs he's best known for. Trent is a total douche, introduced telling Duncan to rate himself on a scale of one to ten, and when Duncan replies with an already sadly low "Six" Trent says he thinks the kid is a "Three". Trent is takes every opportunity to put Duncan down and humiliate him, and he's the kind of guy who will throw a tantrum over playing by the rules of a board game he didn't even want to play in the first place, or have an affair with his best friend's wife.

Trent wants to see Duncan put in some effort to improve himself over the summer, which they'll be spending at Trent's old vacation home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Having to deal with Trent, Trent's off-putting teenage daughter Steph (Zoe Levin), and the mouthy, inappropriate woman staying in the beach house next door - Allison Janney turning in a very funny performance as the annoying Betty Thompson - Duncan starts off the summer feeling pretty miserable.

But then there are glimmers of hope. Betty's daughter Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), who Duncan seems to develop an instant crush on, is actually nice to him, and they have some good conversations. Plus he manages to sneak off and get a secret job at the local rundown water park Water Wizz, which is run by an irreverent slacker who lives on the property, Sam Rockwell as Owen. Rockwell is great as this character who becomes a mentor to Duncan, a guy who takes nothing seriously but clearly has a lot of depth and quickly comes to genuinely care for Duncan.

Faxon and Rash also gave themselves supporting roles as Water Wizz employees, which Maya Rudolph as a fellow employee who's desperately trying to get Owen to run things properly. Other notable supporting characters include River Alexander as Betty's put-upon son Peter, and Rob Corddry and Amanda Peet as Trent's friends who cause even more hard feelings for him as the days go by.

The Way Way Back (named after the seat Duncan has to take in Trent's station wagon during their road trips) is a really well made, engaging, entertaining film that's full of heart and relatable emotions. After this and the 2011 movie The Descendants, which Faxon and Rash wrote with director Alexander Payne and won a Best Adapted Screenplay for, I will be paying attention to whatever those two write and/or direct from now on.


It's always pretty cool when a director casts an older actor who may not get high profile work all that often these days in a lead role, and from that collaboration comes awards season recognition. Such was the case with director Alexander Payne's film Nebraska, where he ended up casting Bruce Dern as the lead after going through the studio's list of bigger names. The result of this particular collaboration was several Oscar nominations, including nominations in the Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor categories. Almost every movie Payne has made has gotten some kind of acknowledgment from the Academy, but this was Dern's first nomination since he was up for Best Supporting Actor for his role in 1978's Coming Home.

Written by Bob Nelson, who was also nominated for his work, centers on an elderly man named Woody (Dern), who fully believes this piece of mail he got from the Lincoln, Nebraska-based Mega Sweepstakes Marketing saying they're authorized to pay him one million dollars. This is the sort of junk mail everybody gets all the time, it's just a gimmick to sell magazines, but Woody isn't quite capable of understanding such things anymore. He wants to collect his million dollars, and he wants to do it in person - this isn't something that can be handled through the mail. Unfortunately, Woody also isn't capable of driving anymore, and even if he could drive he can't get his truck to start - but he's so determined to get to Lincoln that he sets out walking that way. Multiple times. If people stop him and take him home, he just starts out walking the next time he's left unsupervised. It's about 900 miles from his home in Billings, Montana to Lincoln, but he thinks he can get there on foot.

Woody's son David (Will Forte) doesn't have much going on, and film's black and white cinematography goes along with his drab his life seems to be. So David decides to put an end to this by giving his father a ride to Lincoln.

It's the set-up a road trip picture, but Woody and David actually aren't on the road for most of the movie. They make a prolonged stop in Woody's hometown of Hawthorne, Nebraska, to Woody's dismay, and end up spending a large portion of the film interacting with their family members there: Woody's brother Ray (Rance Howard), his sister-in-law Martha (Mary Louise Wilson), and David's idiot cousins (Tim Driscoll and Devin Ratray). Soon more family comes flooding in, including Woody's ribald wife Kate (June Squibb, who also received an Oscar nomination) and David's brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk), to take part in this spur of the moment family reunion.

David and Ross never had a great relationship with Woody, and Ross especially believes that their dad never cared about them. While in Hawthorne, David learns things he didn't know about his father's past that give a better idea of who he is - although Woody is so distant, David has trouble getting information from the man himself, or bonding with him as much as he might like to. At the same time, a bunch of locals, as well as most of the extended family, fall for Woody's story that he's a millionaire just like he has fallen for the marketing company's misleading letter.

Nebraska is a really low-key movie, befitting of its quiet farm land setting, but it's also a very amusing film, drawing a lot of humor out of the realistic dialogue exchanges the characters have, especially when Woody isn't paying attention to what's going on around him. One of my favorite scenes involves Woody's brothers reminiscing about cars they've had. It doesn't sound funny in description, but it's funny to watch play out.

I found the film to be easy to relate to, and even though some of the characters aren't exactly charming, the overall tone is charming. The script was the great, the acting was great - every nomination it received was certainly deserved.


Glenn Ficarra and John Requa were the credited writers on one of my favorite movies, director Terry Zwigoff's  holiday comedy classic Bad Santa, which I will definitely be covering here on Life Between Frames somewhere down the line. For the film Crazy, Stupid, Love. they were not credited as writers, but they did direct it, working from a screenplay by Dan Fogelman. If you're surprised that the guys who brought the world the extremely inappropriate Bad Santa could also direct this charming, PG-13 romantic comedy, take into account that Bad Santa was the surprise on their filmography when it was released - prior to that, they had written for cartoons and the children's movie Cats & Dogs.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. fits somewhere in between their family friendly output and the R-rating-stressing vulgarity of Bad Santa, and it tells the story of Cal (Steve Carell), whose wife Emily (Julianne Moore) informs him in the opening scene that she wants a divorce and has been cheating on him with her co-worker David (Kevin Bacon). She drops this bombshell on him while they're at a restaurant, and he's in such emotional turmoil as she goes on about it on the drive home that he opens the door and jumps from the passenger seat of the moving vehicle. I only mention that moment because I knew a married couple where the husband did the exact same thing during a road trip with his wife.

Cal and Emily have been married for almost twenty-five years, they were high school sweethearts and Cal has never been with anyone else, so when his marriage crumbles he's lost in the world. Drowning his sorrows in a bar and telling his story to everyone around him, Cal catches the attention of stylish playboy Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who is tired of hearing this sloppy schlub's sob story and decides to take Cal under his wing. Jacob serves as Cal's mentor, a Mr. Miyagi of the dating world, guiding him through a makeover and teaching him to interact with women. Soon Jacob has turned Cal into a player himself... so of course we're in for a role reversal, as the expert in promiscuity - whose big move is straight out of the Dirty Dancing playbook - is going to meet a girl unlike any other, one who will get him to make a commitment.

This girl is Hannah, who's played by Emma Stone, making this the first of three films she and Gosling have made together so far (the second being Gangster Squad and the third La La Land). She's so special that she doesn't even sleep with him during the first night they spent together, not even after he does the Dirty Dancing move, and that's okay because they make a real connection and talk the night away.

While Jacob and Hannah are falling in love and Cal and Emily are dealing with the dating world while still being in love with each other, there's also a subplot about the unrequited crush the babysitter who takes care of Cal and Emily's kids, Analeigh Tipton as 17-year-old Jessica, has on Cal, and the unrequited crush Cal and Emily's 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) has on Jessica. Clueless as to how to seduce an older man, Jessica seeks the advice of a peer, a small role that's played by Friday the 13th 2009's Julianna Guill, who gets a laugh with the character's way of saying "My lips are sealed."

Crazy, Stupid, Love. is a really entertaining movie that cruises along on the strength of its well written dialogue, amusing situations, and the excellent performances delivered by its cast, who bring real heart and emotion to their scenes. Everyone is great, but Gosling is the MVP, taking a character who could have been unlikeable and making him the best part of the movie. With this movie, and others around this time like Drive, Gosling became one of my favorite actors.


There's a sense of sadness that comes with watching writer/director Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said, due to the fact that star James Gandolifini never got a chance to see the finished film. At the much too young age of 51, he passed away from a heart attack before the movie was released.

Enough Said is another romantic comedy, but it takes a more grounded and realistic approach to its story of middle-aged parents trying to date after their divorces. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a masseuse named Eva, who begins dating Gandolfini's character Albert even though he's not her type at first appearance. He's overweight, he's a bit of a slob... but he's also a nice, charming guy, so Eva quickly starts to fall for him.

Until she realizes that Albert is the ex-husband her client Marianne (Catherine Keener) is always complaining about. Eva never tells Marianne that she's dating her ex, and she never tells Albert that his ex is a client of hers. She just takes in the terrible things Marianne says about Albert and evaluates him with Marianne's negativity clouding her judgment. It's not a fair situation, and it's only a matter of time before Eva's secret is revealed.

In the midst of all this, there's also a subplot centered on Eva and Albert dealing with the fact that their teenage daughters Ellen and Tess (Tracey Fairaway and Eve Hewson) will soon be going off to college, while Ellen becomes disturbed that Eva is bonding with her friend Chloe (Tavi Gevinson) - almost like Eva is taking in a substitute daughter for while her own daughter is away.

Eva isn't a great character, but Louis-Dreyfus plays her well and receives solid support from the cast around her. Gandolfini delivers a wonderful performance as Albert, who admittedly has his issues, but certainly isn't as bad as Marianne makes him out to be, and he deserves better than to have Eva judging him like she does. This is a role that's far from the screen toughs Gandolfini offered played, this isn't anything like The Sopranos or his part in True Romance. Apparently this is a role that's closer to who Gandolfini really was, and he brings a great warmth to the character.

The film is dedicated to Gandolfini, and it's a great tribute to him.

I LOVE YOU, MAN (2009)

Paul Rudd is an actor I've been a fan of ever since seeing him in the back-to-back summer of 1995 releases of Clueless and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers - and at that point we were still years away from finding out that the future Ant-Man, when unleashed, could be one of the funniest actors working today. He has starred in a few of the most popular comedies of the last couple decades, and Wet Hot American Summer will probably always remain my favorite of the bunch... But the Rudd vehicle I Love You, Man is pretty charming.

Here Rudd plays the straight man, real estate agent Peter Klaven (Peter is currently trying to sell the home of Incredible Hulk TV series star Lou Ferrigno), but this guy is so straight that he is hilariously awkward. The story, written by Larry Levin and director John Hamburg, has Peter searching for something he has never had in his life: a male best friend. He's about to marry his girlfriend Zooey (Rashida Jones), and the fact that he doesn't have a friend to make his best man has him feeling inadequate.

Peter cycles through characters played by some awesome actors during his search - Joe Lo Truglio is the guy too annoying to hang out with, Thomas Lennon wants more than friendship, Jon Favreau (who has Jay Chandrasekhar among his poker buddies) finds Peter too annoying to hang out with, he just can't connect with his co-workers (Rob Huebel, Aziz Ansari, Nick Kroll). His dad (J.K. Simmons) is already best friends with his brother (Andy Samberg), but Peter is looking for a non-relative friend anyway. Finally, he just happens to meet Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) at an open house at the Ferrigno place.

Sydney is the irrereverent slacker type, and he actually enjoys Peter's company, giving him the nickname Pistol. The majority of the film is dedicated to showing them hanging out, having amusing exchanges, doing the male bonding thing, and it's really fun to watch these two. Of course, there will eventually be some sort of trouble in paradise, because there has to be problems to solve in the third act.

With a great cast (in addition to those cast members mentioned there's also Jaime Pressly, Sarah Burns, and Jane Curtin) and a lot of laughs, I Love You, Man is a very entertaining comedy. It may not rank among the greats, but it's just a pleasant way to spend some time.

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