Tag Archives: Chris Messina

Monogamy

A bored wedding photographer sets up a side business – ‘Gumshoot’, where he’ll surreptitiously photograph his subjects without being seen. Kind of like a private eye (hence the clever name), except he’s actually been hired specifically to do this. One day Theo (Chris Messina) arrives at a park to photograph a woman known only to him as ‘Subgirl’ and what he finds there, at 9am, is a beautiful woman touching herself. He takes her picture from behind his grassy knoll. He takes a whole bunch.

At home, he takes his time perusing them, and his fiancee Nat (Rashida Jones) can’t help but notice the close-up crotch shots. They share an intimate moment together, inspired by the wantonness of the photos. And maybe that would have been nice had Theo left it f0a9f8c6bd1adb17_monogamy-trailerthere. But does he? Oh no. He does not. He becomes obsessed, scrutinizing the photos for every tattoo, every freckle, every…clue?  And then he takes more pictures. Subgirl (Meital Dohan) leads an interesting life that seems to get more and more perverse. Would that excited you? Are you an exhibitionist like Subgirl? Or are you a voyeur like Theo? What would it be like to stalk someone with your camera? To film them in such compromising poses? To know that in a way, they are performing just for you. Sexy? Creepy? Both?

I confess I’ve always had a thing for Chris Messina. He’s dark and brooding and kind of an asshole. Why do we always fall for the assholes? To be clear, I don’t even know Chris Messina. I just lust after his character on The Mindy Project, and then fantasize about breaking all his limbs for all the terrible things he’s done to my precious MindyWhoCanDoNoWrong. My Rashida Jones crush is possibly even stronger. Does she actually emit the light of a thousand suns or have I just soaked for too long in Leslie Knope’s love for best friend extraordinaire, Ann Perkins?

Anyway, I guess you can only photograph cock sucking for so long before your own relationship starts to suffer. So too does his mental health, I think.

But this movie isn’t just about a Brooklyn hipster. It’s about the fraudulent wedding industry, and the stereotypically male knee-jerk reaction to marriage (and its inherent mysogyny), and the sad sac, boo hoo, woe is me, self-pity-party of the man’s end of a breakup. On the head, as my brother-in-law would say (as in, nailed it).

Advertisements

Blame

A trio of high school girls. Already it sounds like trouble, doesn’t it?

Bad girl Melissa (Nadia Alexander) arrives to disrupt the cozy duo of Ellie and Sophie. Melissa’s influence is immediate on Sophie – well, on both, since Ellie is quick to distance herself from Melissa’s cruelty. A fourth student’s arrival makes an even bigger stir. After a 6 month absence (psych ward stay, it’s rumoured), Abigail (Quinn Shephard) walks the halls, eyes downcast. Melissa senses prey, and the bullying is brutal and relentless. Slut or psycho, there’s no consensus, so both slurs are hurled her way on a regular basis.

Their drama class is studying The Crucible thanks to a new substitute teacher, Mr. Woods (Chris Messina). The parallels between the play and the plot of the film are hard to miss MV5BZjZiMjdiZGEtNTA5NS00NDBhLTlkZGEtMWY4ZGQ0NzEyNDNlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTYyMDk1MjU@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_with the ostracizing and vilification of Abigail. Mr. Woods sees a lot of quiet talent in Abigail, and his singling her out for praise and attention only drives Melissa to more cruelty. But it’s ice to see Abigail being appreciated by someone, even if it’s her teacher. Until it’s her teacher’s, um, lips doing the appreciating, and that becomes problematic. Mostly for Melissa, oddly, who is insane with jealousy. To be clear, Melissa has every guy in school running after her, and she doesn’t want Mr. Woods. She just doesn’t want Abigail to have anything except Melissa-inflicted misery. And maybe she can’t stand to have anyone choose someone besides her. You’d have to invent a word above self-involved for the likes of Melissa.

Nadia Alexander is all kinds of hateful in this part. Melissa is perhaps not without her motivations, but Alexander is unwavering in her snarl and sadism. Quinn Shephard is also very confident and comfortable in Abigail’s skin, as she should be as she directs herself in a role she co-wrote.

Blame uses familiar high school movie tropes to construct a larger framework. Shephard uses the imagery and inspiration from The Crucible to build Blame to a heightened emotional intensity. We may not always know what it is, but it’s clear that danger lurks ahead. Abigail begins to identify more and more with her fictional counterpart, and it’s fascinating to watch her wardrobe transform as a result, her clothes reflecting both the puritanical and the temptress, and then to see the other girls’ outfits start to compete, heels getting higher, hemlines getting shorter. Only Ellie serves as a link to the audience and our growing discomfort. Chris Messina does an exceptional job with a tricky character. Mr. Woods clearly makes some bad decisions but Messina doesn’t brand him a predator. His girlfriend thinks he’s a loser so of course he puffs up under Abigail’s admiration and devotion. It makes him weak. And the girls, they perform, and I don’t just mean the Arthur Miller. I mean their sexuality is performative. Largely inexperienced, they project sophistication beyond their means, competing with one another for things they don’t fully understand yet, and may not even want. Placing The Crucible within hallowed high school halls makes it clear it belonged there all along.

The Sweet Life

Chris Messina plays Kenny, the world’s saddest ice cream peddler. He mopes around Chicago in his stupid black bowtie, eventually ending up on a bridge that’s perfect for throwing oneself off of. EXCEPT the bridge is a little crowded: Lolita (Abigail Spencer) is also there, and she’s feeling kind of territorial about her favourite suicide spot. But before you know it, they’re bonding over their mutual depression and the crappy therapist they have in common. They don’t call their respective suicides off, but they do decide that no death is complete without one last road trip – and aren’t the bridges in San Francisco that much nicer for hosting one’s imminent death?

The-Sweet-Life-trailer-700x300.pngSo off they drive in a stolen Mercedes. They have a cross-country adventure that only two people determined to die could possibly have: madcap, in a non-urgent way.  The script doesn’t feel compelled to follow the usual formula for a road trip movie, so it’s sprinkled with surprising pit stops and hijinks. Kenny and Lolita have nothing to lose, so anything is possible.

I usually find Chris Messina quite charming, but he’s dialed way down in The Sweet Life, playing a man longing to die. It sounds quite grim but actually Messina and Spencer manage to keep things fairly light most of the time, though I’m not sure that’s a compliment. The actors are talented enough to try to convey more than the script itself allows, but the truth is, the movie treats mental illness pretty flippantly, as if suicidal ideation is just a means to a meet-cute. It also sort of implies that their mental health problems are directly attributable to one specific person, and confronting that one person should cure them for good — right?

If you aren’t too concerned about the movie’s messaging about mental health, it’s a quirky little indie dramedy that’s a great character exercise for two fearless actors. Their struggle to connect feels real, the emotional dissonance sometimes a challenge, but The Sweet Life is not as hopeless as it sounds.

Tribeca: Ordinary World

Note: when this film premiered at Tribeca, it was called Geezer.

Perry is the Geezer in question, a middle-aged suburban dad with edgy hair and a family he loves, but he’s just a little bit checked out of his ordinary life. As he turns 40 he’s stewing in what-ifs, foremost among them, what if I hadn’t left my punk rock band just as it was maybe about to take off?

He’s no semblance of a musician now. He works in a hardware store and only manages to sneak in a few chords around his kids’ morning routine. But on the occasion of this milestone birthday he decides to treat himself to the wildest party a has-been can muster before noon and he runs in to an old flame who reignites old dreams.

Geezer_filmIt’s not exactly ground-breaking material but here’s the gimmick that’ll put butts in theatres: it’s Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong playing Perry. And is it pretty effing cool to see him play the guy he might have been had his own post-punk outfit not taken off when it did? Yes, yes it is.

So then the question you’re next going to ask is: Holy shit, can Billie Joe act? And the answer is no, no he can’t. I mean, the director, Lee Kirk, told us he was a great actor, but the movie seemed to indicate that the Kirk’s pants were on fire. Sean thought he was okay – inoffensive, but he never forgot for a 720x405-Geezer_press_1moment that he was watching Billie Joe Armstrong. I, on the other hand, thought it was a scootch worse than that. Unnatural. Self-conscious. Very “you can tell I’m acting because my hand is over here on my hip, which means I’m going through some internal conflict I’m not subtle enough to convey any other way.” And yet I’m not going to condemn him because the movie really is a vehicle for him. He’s what makes it cool and relevant, makes the movie rise above the other mid-life-crisis\path-not-taken meditations. Plus, Kirk pads the cast with some better talent: Judy Greer as the old flame, Selma Blair as the current wife, Chris Messina as the scowling brother, Fred Armisen as an ex-bandmate.

The theme may be familiar, but I still admired the writing. Kirk tries to take a fresh perspective, never blaming the wife and kids for Perry’s lack of success. geezerThe regret without resentment shows maturity I’m surprised to see in a character like Perry. Billie Joe never quite transcends the role, but there is an honest vulnerability there that’s a little charming. And Billie Joe is not just a casting liability, he’s an asset to the soundtrack because he’s written some original music for it, and the movie is never more confidant than when Armstrong is performing. In this he excels. The songs he wrote are great and I imagine they’ll be invading your radio waves sometime soon, lending the movie some major credibility.

I can be certain about the music because we were treated to a concert immediately following the screening. Billie Joe had Green Day drummer Tré Cool backing him up and Jesse Malin on rhythm guitar. They launched into the film’s first song, Devil’s Kind, with Cg0_FVfWYAAgOcuan energy that defies the fact that Armstrong is in fact a middle-aged father of two. They played a couple of Green Day tunes as well, Scattered and then American Idiot, which morphed into Bad Reputation. Oh, did I not mention that Joan Jett was in the house? Yeah, she has a small cameo in the film but she got up on stage and showed the boys what a scene-stealing badass she still is. Her voice hasn’t aged a single minute and the woman’s still sporting leather pants. Armstrong closed the night with Ordinary World, the film’s acoustic ballad, and I couldn’t help but wonder at the twinkly goodness of my life. In the movie of my life, there is no path not taken.

 

Note: Geezer has since undergone  name change. Now known as Ordinary World, it will see a release October 14 2016 – on DVD\streaming and in select theatres.

Odds & Ends – Netflix Edition

longestweekThe Longest Week – Jason Bateman plays a dependently wealthy man-child chronically working on (or at least thinking about) the great American novel until one day his parents cut him off, he gets evicted, and he shows up on his best friend’s (Billy Crudup) doorstep, begging for a place to stay. And this might have gone well if he didn’t immediately start crushing on and sleeping with his best friend’s girl (Olivia Wilde). Likeable leads. Aiming for quirky but falls into been there, done that.

Touchy Feely – Rosemarie DeWitt plays a massage therapist suddenlyTouchy-Feely-Poster1 stricken with a complete aversion to touch. She can’t do her job anymore but that’s the least of it: all of her personal relationships start to suffer too. Luckily her brother the dentist starts to do really well healing his patients thanks to his daughter (Ellen Page) breeching protocol. The uptight family does some X and wander around and just like this movie, they never really go anywhere.

Life of Crime – Tim Robbins is a rich old white guy with a young, hot wife (Jennifer Aniston) but leaves his wife for a younger, hottlife-of-crimeer mistress (Isla Fisher). Too bad some dumb criminals pick this exact moment to kidnap the wife and demand a hefty ransom. Sure he has the money, but now that he thinks about, he wouldn’t mind if his wife just disappeared – in fact, it would save him on alimony. Not the best Elmore Leonard adaptation but solid, and sometimes charming.

The Giant Mechanical Man – Jenna Fischer plays a woman who’s a little too old to still not know what she wants to be when she grows up. Temping isn’t paying what it used to andmechanicalman she has to move in with her uppity little sister. She feels comforted by the giant mechanical man (Chris Messina) when she spots him around the city – one of those street performers who dress up like a metal statue and never move. Turns out the mechanical man is going through a transition period himself. His girlfriend’s left him because he spends his day wearing silver paint rather than being gainfully employed. The two finally meet when they both take jobs far below their stations, and bond over their common loserdom. It’s quietly sweet, but it’s hard not to think that Pam belongs with Jim, and Danny with Mindy. Call me crazy.