Billy was the king of his high school but high school was a long time ago. He puts up a pretty glamourous facade which is easy(ish) to maintain as long as he’s a long way from home but if people could see the reality of his Vegas life, they might see him as a figure more to be pitied than celebrated. So of course he’s uneasy about returning to his hometown in New York state, especially as it’s likely to be his last visit (his folks are selling up and moving away).
You can never go home again. Home isn’t home. Even if your parents are freaks who have let your childhood bedroom be preserved for the ages, you’ll never be the same person occupying it. The town has changed. Your friends have changed.
Billy (Adam Pally) comes home to find his parents have sold his prized shitbox car to the weirdo next door and worse still, Billy’s ex girlfriend (Rachel Bloom) is dating him! Lowell (Vincent Kartheiser) from next door was a loser in high school, and the guy still lives with his mom. What can Kara possibly see in him? And just when Billy’s head is about to explode with all the backwardness, he sees something out his bedroom window that leads him to believe that Lowell is a murderer. But everyone in town has had a lobotomy, ie, they all think Lowell is this stand up guy. What the heck? Even Billy’s own best bud thinks Lowell is a nice guy, so Billy’s got an uphill battle – against popular opinion, and his own less than stellar reputation.
Of course Billy’s got a serious case of wanting to tear someone else down in order to make himself look better (which doesn’t mean his wrong). Dan Gregor’s film is about dealing with who you were, who you thought you’d become, and who you actually turned out to be. Seeing old friends who ‘knew us back when’ really forces us to reassess, and to see ourselves, our progress and success, or lack thereof, through their eyes, and it’s not always easy to see what’s reflected back. We experience insecurity through Billy, who isn’t used to feeling that way. He sees himself as a laid-back, fun guy, so neuroses aren’t his comfort zone. His paranoia acts out on a pretty grand scale, where he’s scaling fences and cowering among dead possums and calling the police, but there’s still a sense of relatability there. And of course, being a fan of Pally’s and basically this mumblecore, indie stuff that he’s so well-known for, I like the improvisational style of the film. I thought it was funny and interesting in a way where you do actually care how it turns out. Who is this creepy Lowell, and does his identity change Billy’s? Do any of us turn out how we think?
Once in a blue moon, Netflix offers up a rare gem. Band Aid is a Netflix diamond.
Written, directed, and starring Zoe Lister-Jones (who you may already love from Life In Pieces!), Band Aid is a little piece of indie cinema genius. It’s about a married couple, Anna (Lister-Jones) and Ben (king of indies Adam Pally, who you may already love from The Mindy Project), who on their last legs, relationship-wise. Even their therapist claims she’s moved to Canada just to avoid them. The fights are vicious, and cyclical. But while high as a couple of kites at a child’s birthday party, they discover the one thing that can still bring them joy: music. And so they start a band where they sing their fights back and forth in front of their sex addict neighbour (Fred Armisen), who conveniently is a drummer.
In fact, music alone is not enough to save them. Turns out they’ve suffered a tragedy that neither has fully grieved, and singing about it is going to be very difficult since talking about it has been impossible for years. They’re still a broken couple, now they’re just putting all their dirty laundry on the stage for the consumption of others. A particularly ambitious dream of them getting a record deal never seems all that impossible because actually, their music is good, and fun (so long as you are currently in a good space with your loved one). Sean and I found ourselves communicating in that subtle hand squeezy way that some couples have when they are relating a little too well to the awkwardness on screen.
Now brace yourselves for a cool fact: for her first movie, Zoe Lister-Jones insisted on an all-female crew. Like, Adam Pally was the only man for miles and miles. Truly all female. And the thing is, the movie is so good that I buried the lead. It doesn’t need any gimmicks. Because when a normal film would just throw out the old male-female sick couple cliches, Lister-Jones keep asking why. Why do couples drive each other crazy over time? Band Aid might not have all the answers but it confronts the questions honestly, while still being an entirely entertaining movie.
What if nuns and priests were foul-mouthed and raunchy? Writer-director Jeff Baena apparently has these kinds of thoughts all the time, and he decided to write a whole movie about it, a 30-second punch line stretched to an agonizing 90 minutes.
Three young nuns are having an unhappy time in a convent in the middle ages. Alessandra (Alison Brie) was placed there by her father (Paul Reiser), because it’s cheaper than paying her dowry, but no amount of needle point can replace the touch of a man. Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza) is secretly a witch who thinks a nunnery is a great place to recruit vulnerable young women into the coven she shares with her her lover (Jemima Kirk). Ginevra (Kate Micucci) is generally pretty oblivious but when a sexy deaf-mute (Dave Franco) is brought into the enclave by Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly), it shakes things up quite a bit.
Despite a pretty talented cast, I think my review could have ended after the first paragraph. There’s just not enough here for a whole movie. I didn’t laugh once. You have to do more than cuss anachronistically to earn my praise. It seems to think that the genre is joke enough in itself but the farce has no target and the film has no point.
Shimmer Lake is a murder mystery told backwards. The story reverses day by day through a week as a small town sheriff investigates a bank heist gone wrong and the three local criminals he suspects. Innovative? Sure, maybe a little. Confusing? Maybe a lot. It’s just a lot of story to keep track of. And often the first time we meet a new character, he or she is a dead body. Ten or fifteen minutes later for us is usually a day earlier for them, so the corpse reanimates and is suddenly a major player.
Now, telling the story backwards is a gimmick, and one that in my opinion, doesn’t really pay off. I suppose the story was too generic to get greenlit when played forward, but for future purposes, I’d appreciate it if Netflix could release movies in their natural order, and I’ll use my rewind button if I feel a particular need to bedevil my brains. Without proper introductions, I couldn’t even keep the character names straight. One of the film’s running jokes has its punchline right at the beginning but then we have to watch it get set up one morning at a time. It’s the kind of movie that might require some note-taking but it’s not good enough for me to be motivated to go rummage around in the drunk drawer for a pen.
With credits like Rainn Wilson Rob Corddry, Adam Pally, and John Michael Higgins, I expected them to put the comedy into black comedy. They don’t. Shimmer Lake seems to have some over-the-top elements but it never really embraces them. The script is safe and scrubbed of laughs. Oren Uziel, one of 5 writers credited for 22 Jump Street, writes and directs this one all by his lonesome. And while I appreciate that Netflix is trying to take some risks, this one doesn’t pay off. Or, it does, but only in the last seconds, which means you’ll spend the vast majority of this film not enjoying it very much at all. The ends do not justify the means.
Joshy has planned a fun bachelor-party weekend away in Ojai, just him and his buddies celebrating his upcoming marriage with as much booze and drugs and strippers as time and space allows. Except Joshy’s fiancee commits suicide, and the weekend’s now been downgraded to just a “hangout” among friends.
Only a few brave friends arrive, besides Joshy (Thomas Middleditch): stable Ari (Adam Pally), determined to keep things light, neurotic Adam (Alex Ross Perry) whose default mode is wet blanket, and Eric (Nick Kroll), the friend with coke and bad ideas. They pick up some hangers-on (Jenny Slate among them) and proceed to have a very weird weekend.
How do men mourn and commiserate with their grieving friend? They mostly don’t. They mostly tamp down their feelings in favour of whatever self-destruction’s close by. The film is largely improvised, making use of all the comedic chops, so the chemistry is crackling even if it feels like the plot goes absolutely nowhere. It’s really about the presumption of our perceptions, and maybe the unknowability of people. The characters disclose things to each other, and expose themselves to us, but we don’t come away really understanding them any better for it.
Joshy has a really ephemeral quality to it, a sense that nothing can last, good or otherwise, and things will inevitably be left unsettled. This may be a comment on closure and its real-life attainability, and that’s exactly when the movie feels the most honest.
This was a humbly entertaining watch for me because I like these guys, but it wasn’t exactly earth-shattering goodness. It’s kind of a cross between a raunchy comedy and mumblecore, so take that admonition with the grain of salt it deserves.