Adam Neumann really, really wanted to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. Or Jesus Christ. I’m not sure which he thought was more attainable, but either way he founded a real estate company and ran it like a tech company, and he was its messianic leader.
Maybe you know about WeWork. Not long ago, it was the next big thing in terms of office space. Aimed at freelancers, entrepreneurs, and start-ups, it wasn’t just a flexible, communal place to work, it was a lifestyle choice. Adam Neumann claimed he wanted to change the world, but first, he’d change the way we work. Charismatic like a cult leader and with an inflated sense of self also like a cult leader, Neumann talked a big game, attracting clients, employees, followers, and crucially, investors. And office space was just the first stop on his quest to dominate the world; next came housing, and education. But as WeWork readied for an IPO, a company that was once valued at an astounding 47 billion dollars went from magical unicorn to bloated corpse in a brisk 6 week death spiral that shocked the heck out of everyone.
What happened? Hulu’s glad you asked, and they can’t wait to tell you all about it.
Soleil Moon Frye starred on an 80s sitcom called Punky Brewster when she was just 7 years old. When the show ended, she’d had a strange and abbreviated childhood. Only a wild and weird adolescence could possibly follow, but this one she would spend behind a camera rather than in front of it.
She and her friends, all of them young Hollywood royalty, had the money and access to do whatever they pleased. It was the 90s; the internet wasn’t a worry yet, going viral meant something else entirely, they could do what they wanted with no consequences. And they were young: they hadn’t learned yet to be jaded or guarded or filtered. Among friends, they let it all hang out, and it didn’t matter that one of them constantly hauled around a camcorder because behind it was Soleil’s friendly face. Thirty years have gone by, and Frye is only now taking this footage out of the vault to share with us. She’s created a living portrait of a lot of famous faces, but also of a time and place that no longer exists.
Frye’s famous friends include Stephen Dorff, David Arquette, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Jonathan Brandis, Charlie Sheen, Balthazar Getty, Jenny Lewis, Brian Austin Green, and briefer appearances by Robin Thicke, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joey Lawrence, Mark Wahlberg, Sara Gilbert, Corey Feldman, Mark McGrath, Kevin Connelly, and way more besides. Hard-hitting topics covered include Brian Austin Green’s misguided rap album, Soleil Moon Frye’s breast reduction, a live Bronco chase watch party, and the meteoric rise of House of Pain. And more seriously, suicide, a subject that comes up much more often than average within Frye’s set.
Soleil Moon Frye, who is the documentary’s subject as well as its director, constantly challenges the notion of memory – does she remember these heady days correctly? The same as everyone else? Does it even matter? It’s an act of remembering and remembrance – sometimes wistful, sometimes painful, sometimes playful, sometimes tinged with regret. Fry had hundreds of hours of footage but crafts something that is very watchable, and that serves a greater narrative. It’s fun to see some famous faces de-aged, it’s fun that so many of her famous friends were musicians who contribute to the soundtrack. But this, for a young woman who didn’t have a normal high school experience, is her yearbook. Many of the faces she’s lost touch with over the years, others she’s grieved and lost. But these images live on, telling a story with one common theme: we were here.
Kid 90 will stream on Hulu on March 12 2021; the Punky Brewster reboot is already available on Peacock.
High school senior Marcus (Keean Johnson) isn’t trying to be rude but yes he is wearing two different sets of headphones because maybe he wants to listen to Radiohead and a gentle field breeze at the same time. He’s that guy, a total audiophile, most of his music taste inherited from his big brother who died saving him from a house fire. He’s teased about the burn marks on his back but Marcus is proud to wear such visible proof of love. He’s a little less enthusiastic about the toll these events have taken on his mother, who is the living, breathing embodiment of “overprotective.” He takes off his double head phones to hear some live music, but mom says he’s got to be home by 10, and he fully intends to comply. Except the opening act is transformative in many ways; Wendy (Madeline Brewer) is beautiful, her voice like gold to him, and when her set is finished, Marcus makes to follow her but gets elbowed in the head and falls to the floor in the throes of a seizure.
At the hospital they tell him he has brain tumors that need to be removed as soon as possible. Just one problem – well, aside from the obvious: this brain surgery is going to leave him deaf. With only a month to hear all there is to be heard, he embarks on a road trip toward New York City, completing a bucket list of all the best noises, and recording them all on his ultimate playlist of noise. Which noises would you choose? And more importantly, at least to a red-blooded teenage boy, who would you choose to accompany you on this quest? It’s a no-brainer for Marcus, particularly because she doesn’t exactly give him a choice. He and Wendy take off in his mom’s minivan without a plan or permission, determined to record everything worth hearing.
It sounds like a fairly typical young adult film, but Keean Johnson finds layers to his character, and I think most audiences who bother to will find layers to the film as well. Marcus’s trip is an attempt to find some peace with a looming loss, but he’s dealt with loss before, and perhaps he knows grieving, and coping, better than most. The script remembers to touch base with Marcus’ whole life – his friends, his family, the brother he never stops thinking about – but in his pursuit to hear all the sounds, he brings along a brand new person, the last new voice he will ever know. Of course there’s a certain melancholia to this act of goodbye, but the film is also a celebration of sound. Kudos to the guys in the sound department for their dedication to detail; even noise that doesn’t appear on Marcus’s list is paid special attention to.
The first half of The Ultimate Playlist of Noise played in a familiar way, much like that dying teen trope that movies like this just can’t stay away from – and yet this one has. Despite Marcus’s struggle to cope, losing his hearing isn’t a death sentence, it’s just the start to a new way of living, and yes, the end to the old way. But Marcus’s road trip isn’t just a recording session, it’s also a reminder that there are still plenty of beautiful things to see and think and feel, and that life will go on and be worth living and indeed be very good, hearing or no.
Nyles (Andy Samberg) is in Palm Springs (I assume – the title might have you believe this is of even the slightest importance, but it’s really not, could be anywhere) for a wedding. His girlfriend is a bridesmaid and he’s her plus one, which doesn’t quite account for just how uninvested he is in the proceedings. Even if you’re not close to the couple, you generally want to be respectful of their big day. Nyles shows up in a bad Hawaiian shirt, pops beers all ceremony long, and then hijacks the maid of honour’s speech to the bride. You can’t quite pinpoint how or why Nyles seems just a little bit off, but he is, considerably, and yet when he directs his charm toward the bride’s sister and maid of honour, Sarah (Cristin Milioti), even she seems unable to resist, and she doesn’t appear to be having a great day herself.
What gives? Turns out, it’s one of those infinite time loop situations you might have heard about. You know, like Groundhog Day? And a dozen other copycats, none of worth mentioning? Yeah, like that. Nyles has been reliving the same day over and over for goodness knows how long (you know who does know? The screenwriter. Excellent source. His answer: about 40 years. Forty fucking years!). Anyway, after a particularly nice day spent with Sarah, she follows him into the time loop cave of doom despite him cautioning her not to. The rest isn’t so much history as an infinite present. Nyles has 40 years of this under his belt, so he’s given himself over completely to nihilism (hence the Hawaiian shirt), but Sarah is new enough to the game to be fed by her anger, resentment, and frustration. She wants out, and she’s so determined to solve or win the time loop, she’ll try anything, including but not limited to: exploding an innocent goat, getting hit by a truck, making the ultimate sacrifice, and learning quantum physics.
Time loop movies are a dime a dozen and I haven’t liked a single one since Bill Murray, but now, suddenly, there are two. Like Groundhog Day, Palm Springs is a rom-com of sorts, or perhaps an anti-rom-com – there is no worse romance killer, not even death, than too much time together. But one man’s existential crisis is another man’s pure entertainment. Samberg and Milioti not only have a viable chemistry, she brings a darkness that balances Samberg’s goofball energy perfectly so that, despite the extreme challenge to mental health in this film, we don’t fly off the deep end of either side of the continuum, but we do enjoy a sliding scale of extremes and a lot of laughs because of it. Writer Andy Siara keeps us intrigued with a script that is unpredictable and unexpected, but most of all coated in well-earned giggles that are executed perfectly by the cast, including JK Simmons as Roy, someone else caught in the infinite loop thanks to Nyles, and not super gracious about it either. Siara and director Max Barbakow work well together to subvert our expectations and challenge what we think we know about rom-coms.
Palm Springs was bought by Hulu at Sundance for a record-setting sum: 17.5 million dollars and 69 cents. The 69 cents set the record; Birth of a Nation held it before this, and that turned out to be a bit of a debacle, didn’t it? But Palm Springs was a great investment for Hulu, becoming the most-streamed in its first weekend Hulu had ever seen. Since Canada doesn’t have Hulu, it is now available to stream on Amazon Prime, and that’s a good thing, because Palm Springs is one of the brightest spots in an otherwise dull year.
Someone literally accused it of being the hap-happiest season of all, but that’s not always the case, is it? Edward Pola and George Wyle wrote It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year specifically for Andy Williams to have something original to sing on the holiday episodes of his show. The song boasts hosting parties, spontaneous visits from friends, universal social gaiety, spending time with loved ones, sledding for children, and roasting marshmallows as prime causation of holiday happiness, but not only do these things not guarantee joy, rarely does a Christmas song mention the other side of Christmas reality. The dry turkey, the overspending, the cranky kids, the ubiquitous pine needles, the dangerous driving conditions, the kids table, the inevitable disappointment. While the happiest seasons are happy in the way described by Pola and Wyle, the worst seasons are distinctly terrible in their own ways. Happiest Season tells us about Abby’s.
Abby (Kristen Stewart) isn’t that into Christmas, but girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) is, so Abby makes the effort, pawning off her holiday pet-sitting duties to pal John (Daniel Levy), and spontaneously joining Harper on her trip home for the holidays. Abby’s never met Harper’s family, so this is a pretty big deal. Big enough that Abby plans to propose to Harper over Christmas dinner since the season means so much to her, making it the first of many happy holidays together. Except.
Except it turns out that Harper isn’t out to her family, and she’s been lying to Abby about it. Frantically confessed at the last possible moment, she implores Abby to keep her secret, and to lie about her own sexuality as well, because dad Ted (Victor Garber) is running for mayor in Homophobe, USA, and we wouldn’t want to hurt his campaign. Actually, it seems Harper’s sisters Sloane (Alison Brie) and Jane (Mary Holland) also govern their lives in order to best impress their parents. Ted and Tipper (Mary Steenburgen) make no bones about expecting perfection, playing favourites, and rewarding success with affection. When Harper arrives, mom Tipper literally says “You get more and more beautiful every time I see you. Did you bring concealer?” And Harper’s the favourite! It’s not a great situation to be walking into, but Abby reluctantly agrees with the fateful line “It’s 5 days – how bad can it be?”
You’ll have to tune in to Hulu on November 25, 2020 to find out just how bad it can be – and then be thrilled, surprised and titillated when it gets even worse.
Happiest Season is a comedy but as a rare LGBTQ holiday romance, it also tells a stark reality: that Christmas (and other obligatory family time) can be really hard on queer people whose families aren’t accepting. Kristen Stewart literally gets shoved back into a closet in this movie, which isn’t exactly an uncommon occurrence. Gay members of the family may be forced to suppress foundational facets of themselves, to deny lovers and celebrate separately from partners. And that’s the “lucky” ones who haven’t been outright rejected and ostracized. It isn’t a happy time for everyone, and it gets increasingly unhappy for Abby.
John is the unsung hero of Happiest Season, the friend Abby can call when things get emotionally turbulent, the friend who will always champion her happiness, the friend who will show up for her when things get tough. Daniel Levy, recently named one of People’s Sexiest Men Alive (and how!), is great in this, as he’s great in everything. But truly, this is an ensemble comedy and it succeeds on the backs of many fine performances. Mary Steenburgen plays Icy Snob to utter perfection, Mary Holland is lovably awkward and hopelessly clueless, Aubrey Plaza has a small but sweet part – even your favourite drag queens, Ben DeLaCreme and Jinkx Monsoon have a campy cameo. But most of all: Kristen Stewart. I do believe even Stewart’s harshest critics (and they are harsh) would have to admit she’s natural and lovely and relaxed in this role, but she’s also able to communicate with subtle signals that she’s going through more than she says. As a supportive girlfriend, she understands this is difficult for Harper, but as a woman with self-respect, she’s uncomfortable quashing her authentic self. While Harper and her competitive sisters are clashing in the kitchen, and at the mall, and right into the Christmas tree, Abby’s conflict is internal. And Harper’s dilemma might feel painfully familiar to some – whether to choose Abby, or her family – and the accompanying fear that in trying to have both she might lose both.
Director Clea DuVall wrote the script along with Mary Holland but they aren’t delivering some gay powder puff Hallmark movie. They haven’t shied away from the tough truths of queer Christmas, but they do manage to pull it all together into something that is as entertaining as it is festive.
Chloe (Kiera Allen) is a super smart teenager who’s hounding the mail carrier every day for some news of her college acceptances. With many medical challenges including diabetes, a heart condition, and paraplegia, Chloe’s been home schooled all her life by devoted mother Diane (Sarah Paulson), but that’s left her incredibly sheltered, with no friends and no other family, she has very little contact with the outside world.
Which makes it extra difficult when she begins to suspect that her mother might be dosing her with medication she doesn’t need…or medication that’s deliberately making her sick. The more Chloe tries to get to the truth, the more her mother tightens the vise. It’s not until Chloe is trying to escape that she realizes her mother has carefully constructed a prison.
Run is an incredibly effective thriller. Diane is inarguably deranged and psychotic but Sarah Paulson underplays her to such perfection that we never truly know what to expect from her, and the ambiguity makes her feel even more threatening because of it. Allen, a newcomer to the big screen, is surprisingly strong playing her opposite. Director Aneesh Chaganty runs a tight ship; Run’s pacing leaves you breathless, it keeps ramping up the stakes and then exceeding your expectations. Chloe is obviously a vulnerable young woman but Allen plays her with such grit and strength she’s got more staying power than you can possibly imagine.
If the film has a flaw it’s that it suffers from the heavy presence of the Munchausen by Proxy subgenre recently. But while the plot may be a little familiar, the suspense is taut and nerve-jangling, to say nothing of the worst terror of all, the one that speaks to our most base fear: that a mother could turn on her child, and hurt her.
Run is available to stream via Hulu on November 20th.
Big ups to Aneesh Chaganty who prioritized casting a disabled actor and found a very strong one in Kiera Allen. Even bigger props for writing a character, not a disability.