Tag Archives: Ben Schwartz

Night School

Teddy is a high school dropout and a moderately successful barbecue salesman who is living paycheque to paycheque in order to fund a lifestyle worthy of his out-of-his-league girlfriend, Lisa. Lisa makes loads of her own cash so Teddy feels a little inadequate, and worries that his inability to keep up would cause her to leave. When he finds out that he stands to inherit the barbecue business, he finally feels secure enough to propose. Of course, Teddy’s (Kevin Hart) over-the-top proposal gets explosively out of hand, and his romantic prospects burn up just as assuredly as his economic future.

Out of a job with no high school diploma to his name, Teddy has little choice but to MV5BMTVjMmFmYmUtNGIzNi00OGY4LWI3ZGQtMWI5MjA2ODRiZGEyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_obtain his GED if he doesn’t want to work at Christian Chicken for the rest of his life (WHY is the chicken christian? how do we know to whom the chicken prays?). Two things stand in his way: first, the night school teacher Carrie (Tiffany Haddish), with whom he clashes, and also the school’s principal Stewart (Taran Killam), who was Teddy’s high school bully, more or less.

Night School is written by Kevin Hart and 5 others, and it feels like a movie written by committee. There are some laughs to be sure; Hart and Haddish are not exactly devoid of chemistry but the rest of the cast (Rob Riggle, Romany Malco, Mary Lynn Rajskub) are just a bunch of weirdos that turn a not unpromising premise into a bag of very mixed nuts. Between chuckles, there is often a dauntingly vast laughter desert where not one iota of mirth exists. Sure, sometimes a joke may shimmer in the distance like it’s the real deal, but up close you’ll soon discover that though it may have a joke-like structure, it’s missing that essential element: comedy. Comedy is the thing that turns words into jokes. Apathy into laughter. 111 minutes into a movie. Night School does not have enough comedy to fill out the typical run-time of a commercial, so I’ll let you do the math as to whether or not this one’s worth your time. Mine? Not so much.

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Happy Anniversary

On their third anniversary, Sam and Mollie realize the biggest excitement of their lives is pushing the limits of their garage door opener. Are they happy together or just habitually together? Either way, a couple who starts asking themselves that is bound to find some flaws.

So then we get to witness them fight and watch a long term relationship disintegrate because they’re just not sure. And I feel like I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately in which the couple just aren’t sure. When my grandparents got married, there was no ‘sure’. They were the same religion, their families didn’t hate each other, and they were inline_0000s_0001_happy-anniversary18 and probably horny. So they got married, and thanks to the religious belief in never, ever getting divorced, they’re still together today. When my parents got married, there was no ‘sure’. He thought she was pretty and she thought he’d be a good provider so they waited for her to turn 18 and married. That was enough. Today, there’s no telling what’s good enough, or even if good enough is good enough.

Sam (Ben Schwartz) and Mollie (Noël Wells) are practically the every-couple. Whether or not you find them funny probably depends on how secure you are in your relationship. I sure found it relatable, sometimes embarrassingly so. But that’s what love is: baring your worst self to someone else and hoping they don’t leave you. We’re all assholes. Finding someone who will put up with it feels like a kind of miracle.

I’ve rarely seen Schwartz in non-obnoxious mode. I didn’t even realize he was capable. It’s kind of nice. And Sam and Mollie are kind of cute together, in a way that makes you want to pull for them, even when it feels like the wrong horse to bet on. Flashbacks reveal both the good times and the bad – because no relationship has ups without downs. Perfection is a fallacy, although it’s exactly that kind of perfection that’s usually sold in rom-coms: guys who aren’t afraid of intimacy, who don’t struggle to communicate, who convey their passion with grand, romantic gestures. But Happy Anniversary is the kind of rom-com we need: one that teaches us to value the idiosyncrasies that make a couple special, perfectly imperfect for each other. “Knowing” is hard. Trusting is hard. Having in faith in someone else is hard. Forever is hard. So good fucking luck.

TIFF: Outside In

Chris has just been released from prison after serving 20 years for a crime he didn’t really commit. That sounds like a cop out but the shades of guilt were complicated and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. But he was sentenced at the age of 17 as an adult and it was only thanks to the hard work of his high school teacher Carol that he’s now out.

A couple of things: Chris (Jay Duplass) had developed quite an intense relationship with said teacher (Edie Falco) but now that it’s not a strictly phone friendship, things are different. She’s married. She has a teenage daughter, in fact. But Chris doesn’t really have MV5BMTc3MTE2MzU2NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDg4ODMzMzI@._V1_very many other people in his life, so he’s leaning very heavily on her. His brother isn’t a lot of help – yeah, he’s staying in his garage, but things are pretty tense since Ted (Ben Schwartz) never visited him in prison, and seems to have had something to do with the crime that sent Chris away. Things are very, very tense.

Also: freedom isn’t quite as free as Chris has imagined. I mean, being outside the walls of his cell is intimidating. But he’s also dealing with the confines of probation – not drinking, not traveling, finding a job suitable for an ex-con, etc, etc. And I couldn’t help but feeling like Carol’s less than ideal marriage is a little more prison like than she’d like to admit. So shit’s complicated.

Duplass and director Lynn Shelton wrote the script together and though it’s not very action-oriented, it’s packed with emotional awkwardness and personal growth. Duplass doesn’t make for a typical criminal, whatever that means. Even 20 years of prison doesn’t seem to have hardened him, he’s sensitive and introverted and a little lost and needy. The movie really follows his struggles to readjust to this life, and it’s quickly obvious that the superficial stuff like texting and bike helmets are the least of his concerns. The world has changed, but more importantly, so has he. He’s struggling to catch up; the film shines in small moments, like when Carol’s daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) teaches him it’s no longer okay to use the word ‘retarded.’

Edie Falco is a wonder. I especially loved the complicated relationship between her and her daughter. But the movie flounders a bit, with Chris’s plight a little too internalized. The story’s predictability makes this film good, but not great.

The Intervention

Four couples convene at a cottage for a weekend getaway, or at least that’s what one of the couples thinks. The other three are there to tell the fourth to get divorced already. Ruby  (Cobie Smulders) and Peter (Vincent Piazza) have been at each other’s throats for as long as anyone can remember, and their friends have determined that this is the time to spring a martial intervention on them. It’s not that easy to tell your friends to quit their relationship though, especially not when your own is on somewhat rocky ground.

Jessie (Clea DuVall) and Sarah (Natasha Lyonne) are in love, but they lead separate lives, perhaps because Sarah is not exactly Jessie’s “type” , but you do you know who is? Jack’s the-intervention-still3-natashalyonne-jasonritter-benschwartz-aliashawkat-cleaduvall-melanielynskey-bypollymorgannew girlfriend! Everyone thinks it’s kind of tacky that Jack (Ben Schwartz) brought a hot young date named Lola (Alia Shawkat) to the shindig, and they doubly don’t appreciate their sloppy pda all over the place. Not when Annie  (Melanie Lynskey) and Matt (Jason Ritter) are on their umpteenth postponement of their wedding and Annie’s drinking again, not that anyone minds so much when her drunken outbursts break the ice during a very tense dinner.

Have you ever guided someone towards divorce when they themselves have never put divorce on the table? It’s a little dicey, but Clea DuVall’s script is often funny in the right places. We don’t get to know the characters very thoroughly, but we do get a front row seat to an epically disastrous friends’ weekend. The plot is a little old-hat but the incredible dynamism between the lead actors gives the movie some verve and even if it plod a little in the middle, it was a good Netflix risk that made me feel just a bit better about the stupid stuff I get up to with my friends, who as far as I know, are pretty comfortable with my marital status.